A year without toilet paper - The Interview
You wouldn't necessarily know it from watching him on his appearance on The Colbert Report. He comes across as a soft-spoken, good-natured guy, for sure. But he must have a very impenetrable hide to still be blogging after being on the receiving end of the recent Gawker snarkfest about his family's infamous experiment, a year of extremely low-impact living in Manhattan.
This enviro-aesetic lifefstyle includes giving up toilet paper, consuming only food that has been grown within a 250-mile radius, avoiding all carbon-producing forms of transportation, no air conditioning (in New York! in the summer!), and buying nothing new.
I wrote a rather critical blog post about Beavan's adventure last March, after reading about his family's exploits (can you use that term when talking about someone who DOESN'T exploit stuff?) in the New York Times. If you had asked me then, I would have said that Beavan's experiment was all a publicity stunt, and that the extreme conditions that he and his family were subjecting themselves to were really overkill. In fact, I did say something along those lines, but with more sarcasm. Many other people responded in a similar fashion.
Months later, after having written a few blog posts of my own that caused people to freak out ("How DARE you criticize baby carrots?! Do you want us ALL to be obese?") because their lifestyle choices were being challenged, and nobody likes that. In addition, I've learned about the dangers of plastics, both to our bodily health and to the environment at large. My stance towards Beavan's experiment softened considerably.
For one thing, it's really hard to pick on someone who is just trying something, while sharing the experience with the world. Anyone who talks to Beavan, or reads his blog, No Impact Man, can tell that he's not the type of guy to foist his ideas on anyone. He's just an environmentally-conscious guy who got sick of talking the talk, and decided to walk the walk. Plus, he's got a sense of humor about the whole thing.
I recently asked Beavan, whose blog is also a part of the Life Remix Network, to answer a few questions about how is experiment is progressing, and how he feels about the furor surrounding his attempt to decrease his impact on our planet.
What has been the overall response been to your experiment? The internet can be a vicious place, and I'm sure you've received a fair share of malicious criticism. But your own site seems to have many supportive readers. Do you find that the reaction is about 50/50?
What you can't see is the emails I get. I've become so used to getting supportive email that it is quite a shock when something critical comes in. People come to the blog, I think, because they sense for themselves that there may be a way to live that is not so frantic and consumption-based that can both be kinder to the planet and make us happier.
How do you deal with some of the attacks leveled at your family? Is it difficult to balance sharing your life and protecting your own emotions?
By concentrating on the huge level of support and on my mission with this project, which is to allow people to examine the lessons I'm learning this year as one method to make more positive choices for themselves. My style is not for everyone, though, and that's okay.
I imagine it's nice to avoid having to buy lead-painted toys from China for a while. Do you find it easier to raise a child in your apartment now than it was before? Are there challenges with the experiment specifically related to child-rearing?
With no TV or electricity or video games, this experiment has meant that Isabella gets so much more of our attention than she might have otherwise. We play, we ride around on our bikes, we go to the park, we splash in the fountain. This is the biggest gift of the project.
Has this endeavour helped you to save money, or is it more costly in the end? Fluorescent light bulbs, for instance, are quite expensive.
CFLs, over their lifetime, work out cheaper, thanks to electricity savings (though of course we don't use electricity right now). Our grocery bill is higher, but our restaurant bill is lower. We don't fly or drive. We're saving money and eating better and getting more exercise and feeling healthier and sleeping more.
When your year is up, do you think that you will continue to practice any parts of this experiment? Are there any aspects of this lifestyle that are more difficult than others?
Which bit shall I give up? Spending time with Isabella or eating better? Just joking, but honestly, much of what we've changed we'll keep. But probably not all. Still, that's all hypothetical. We're not there yet.
Do you feel like this lifestyle is made easier due to your work-at-home status? Could a family with two parents who work outside the home, making a net income of $60K, engage in the same kind of practices?
I'm not hoping to make everyone live like me. I'm just hoping people might feel encouraged about the possibility of finding their own suitable options that might both be better for the planet and make them happier.
Many people have questioned your motives in this experiment, suggesting that you're only doing it to sell books. Also, there's been a bit of snarking in the blogosphere that your book is going to "kill millions of trees". How to you respond to those attacks? Is there any validity in them?
There might be easier ways to sell books! The good news, for me, is that FSG plans to publish my book by the most sustainable method they can find. I'm happy about that. Every time a book like mine gets published in a sustainable way helps smooth the way for the publishing industry to eventually publish all books sustainably.
How do you apply the no-impact lifestyle to your dog? What do you feed her, and how difficult is it to clean up after her without using SOMETHING plastic?
I pick up her poop with found plastic bags.
Overall, are you enjoying your new lifestyle? Are there some aspects to it that you just can't WAIT to finish up?
Although the experiment will be officially over in November, the investigation may never end. It's fascinating and satisfying to take the life you've inherited from your past and your culture, to question the underlying assumptions, and see how you put it back together when you choose deliberately.