Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

“No Impact Man”

with 4 comments

I went this evening to one of the community showings of this new DVD, at St James Hall on Vancouver’s West Side. The hall was indeed crowded, and mostly a young crowd at that, and they were all very receptive to the message. No Impact Man was first a blog, now a movie and a book. The bog covered the year in which Colin Beavan tried to have no net impact on the planet, which of course was also covered by the film crew and a surprising amount of main stream media coverage including an appearance on the Colbert Report and regular updates on Good Morning America. As well as all sorts of press, radio and other media. Indeed the extent of the coverage was such that there was an immediate backlash from other bloggers, casting aspersions on his motivation. After all he had already two published books and the project was designed to provide the material for the third. Beavon himself is unabashed and deals with all of this in the movie, admitting it all would help sales of the book but that he would have been using his talents in this way anyway on some other project but at least this one would be doing some good.

The entire family is in the film, with Beavon’s wife acting as a neat foil to much of his unrealistic idealism, but she is, of course won over in the end. The small girl child steals every scene she is in – naturally. Only the dog has a small walk on part. And Beavon is clear that not everything worked, that he had to make all kinds of exceptions – and some things just don’t get mentioned, like the carbon footprint of the film crew who follow him everywhere. He even tries to exist for six months without electricity except for one small solar panel, which he is lent, that allows him to run his computer to keep up his blog. It is not clear how he recharges his cell phone, but that also plays a significant role. Everybody is calling him. He gets all kinds of speaking dates.

While the media seem to have been obsessed with the fact that he managed to exist without toilet paper, he himself made it clear that for the family the real successes were in the fact that Beavon lost twenty pounds without once visiting a gym, his wife’s health greatly improved due to her new found vegetarianism and the kid had a ball. The laundry scene (leave to soak in tub with borax for three hours in cold water then all jump in and stomp it) alone is worth the price of admission.

The idea of course is not that we all try to emulate him but that this will raise the possibilities for everyone to consider what they themselves might do. Interestingly he says that if there is only one thing you are prepared to do that should be joining a community project to improve your local environment. He points out that we have lost a very important thing we once had when we embrace consumerism and that was the ability to act together. And that there have been and are many groups all over the place all working hard to make small but significant improvements and where one more pair of hands will make a big difference.

It is for this reason that he has chosen community showings of the film rather than the usual commercial release. It has already attracted attention at film festivals. It is indeed an entertaining and thought provoking film. And it is not just about the environment but relationships – and has a genuine drama at its core, which is touching and relevant to how we are all going to have to change and what that means for all of us. I recommend it.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 7, 2009 at 11:06 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I found it revealing that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, about to depart to the Copenhagen meeting, chose to couch her Agency’s pronouncement in terms of “pollution and health” rather than “climate change”:

    “[T]he announcement was to talk about the science to the American people, to talk about the fact that the science leads you, really, to only one conclusion, and that nothing we have heard — and EPA’s duty was to assess that science rigorously — changes our belief that the science means that greenhouse gases are pollution, and that pollution endangers public health and welfare.”

    She continues:

    “[T]his finding gives us authority. We have proposed and now finalized an emissions inventory. So, large emitters of greenhouse gases, starting January of 2010, now have to report. That information will be out there for the American people to see.

    Much has been talked about the new clean car rules. EPA has proposed rules. The president actually announced them in the Rose Garden with automakers and with labor and environmentalists to jump-start our move towards cleaner automobiles.”

    Later in the interview:

    “Then we can talk about the $80 billion in funding under the Recovery Act, much of which went through the Department of Energy, or we can talk about transportation with a renewed emphasis on light-rail…”.

    The significance of the carbon inventory is of first order. The principal challenge of an effective cap-and-trade legislation is getting the initial “actual numbers right”. If industry is allowed to under-report, then cap-and-trade benefits will take longer to materialize.

    The importance of launching what amounts to the re-invention of the automobile with a broad-based consensus of stake holders is equally critical.

    Detroit has not connected the dots, and has yet awaken to the possibility that the reason behind their demise has been failure to deliver the product we want: clean cars. A think tank approach might be the most effective way to get them to listen.

    So, score one for the Obama administration. Their first step is not decrying that ice in Greenland is melting, but stating out right that the black stuff in the air is killing us.

    Armed with that pronouncement, the government is empowered to move the issue forward. As the U$80 Billion in the Recovery Act attests, the U.S. Government is not short on muscle.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    December 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

  2. Great to see you among the crowd last night, Stephen.

    A note on the carbon footprint of the film-making: the film-makers actually made some interesting efforts to reduce their impact, too. You can read about that here: and in the press packet (which you can also download) they add a few details including using all natural light, transporting all their production equipment by bike or subway, renting a rickshaw to shoot the bicycle scenes, using 4 rechargeable 9v batteries (saving hundreds of batteries compared to most film crews), and using yousendit & skype for post-production communication with editors in L.A.

    I hope we can write soon about how we’re building on the positive energy in the crowd last night to get off the “hedonistic treadmill,” and enjoy what really matters. Probably through the “no impact project”,

    Lorin Gaertner

    December 8, 2009 at 10:48 am

  3. I was born at the end of WWII in Western Europe not far from the Atlantic Ocean. I remember German soldiers living across the street, hearing air raid siren, being dragged to a place–bomb shelter-and hearing bomb exploding in the distance.
    Because of the economic disruptions caused by WWI and WW II (men at war no longer had wages, many towns, businesses, homes were destroyed etc.) life until the mid to late 1950s was basic. Most working class families didn’t have a car, a TV, a fridge, a washing machine, a phone etc. and most everything was paid in cash. Many did own a house or, if they rented a place, rented it for a modest sum with security of tenancy and a small increase every few years. Our food was also mostly organic, so to speak.

    So our life was similar to the one of the “no impact man”. There were some good points: formal clothes and the furniture (all wood, no plywood) were all custom made and not expensive (even for blue collar workers).

    However buying food by going to several specialized stores (butcher, baker, greengrocer etc., then cooking, doing the laundry etc. were all very time consuming and back breaking (especially boiling the laundry in a huge pail then scrubbing it by hand etc. and the unavoidable ironing). My grandmas and their friends, neighbours etc. had a part-time job (pensions were minimal) while also taking care of the extended household duties while their children (my parents generation) worked full time and long hours.

    It is true though that they didn’t have to go to the gym!!! all my great grand parents, grandparents, their friends etc. lived to a ripe old age (90s) in good health to the end! The midwife that delivered my maternal granddad, my mom, me and my younger brothe, worked until she was 95, still going around a busy town with a horse and buggy!

    Until her death at 101 one of my grandmas read and wrote without glasses, walked several km around town twice a day to keep in shape and gossip with buddies, scrubbed floors on her hand and knees AND could still climb on a table to do high dusting.

    On one hand my teens years were idyllic. The freedom to explore, after school and with buddies, on bikes that we never locked, a medium size town and its suburbs. Summers spent in the country just goofing off, swimming in lakes, in the ocean, playing games until dusk..exploring ruined castles…BUT it wasn’t very romantic for parents and grandparents. Working hours were long and everything took time.

    Mind you, we could be “low impact” right here and now if our homes, appliances etc. were as energy efficient as those in other countries. I just read a magazine from Western Europe, with 3 dozen pages about energy saving devices, including solar panels to produce electricity or heat etc. and info on the GOVERNMENT grants, 0% interest loans, income tax rebates (around up to 30 000 Euros per family).

    Many families here would no doubt love to renovate their homes, just to save energy therefore $ but is just financially impossible for most families, even with 2 working parents.

    By the way I live very happily without a car, a cell phone, an I-pod, designers clothes etc. and buy as few processed foods as possible. Should I write a book?

    Red frog

    December 8, 2009 at 2:15 pm

  4. […] for saving two Vancouver landmarks [CTV] Vancouver planning more homeless shelters [The Hook] “No Impact Man” [Stephen Rees's blog] CANADA Toronto passes sweeping new billboard rules [Globe and Mail] […]

    re:place Magazine

    December 9, 2009 at 8:16 am

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