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Interview: Colin Beavan

By TOM MEEK  |  October 2, 2009

Why go green in phases and not just jump in and go cold turkey from the get go?
It was extreme, so it wasn't about make less trash or fewer emissions, it was about making no emissions or waste. If you decide you're not going to make any trash for a year, you're deciding not to eat any food either, because how can you buy food that's not covered in packaging that you're going to have to throw away? So the reason for the phases was because we had to learn. It took time to figure everything out. The transition is gigantic, because our systems are not sustainable, so you have to find ways around it.

You did make some allowances for electricity, like for your PC to maintain the blog?
There were some exceptions, because it's impossible to live with no impact, so the conceit was to reduce your negative impact and increase your positive impact.

How do you make a positive impact?
Volunteer to plant trees, work with charities that are trying to clean up the river banks and stuff like that.

Some people have called your experiment a stunt.
Sure, there was a stunt element to it, in that I did something deliberatively to attract attention to it. Top climate scientists have been saying that if we don't stop burning coal to make electricity in the next eight years, we could irrevocably upset the planet's ability to support us as a species. We need to look at the way we live and I am trying to draw attention to that.

So what did you learn from your experiment?
In the No Impact year, we discovered that you could replace consumption with connection and life is better. Before it started (the year), a typically evening would be that we'd rush home from work, turn on the TV, plop down on the couch, order takeout, shovel bad food in and get up in the morning and do it again. When the No Impact year started we couldn't order take out, we had to cook good local food and there was no TV, so to entertain ourselves we started to talk to each other and had our friends come over more often. So our harried, fast consumer lifestyle got replaced by a more social lifestyle.

You use the word sustainable a lot. It sounds like the buzz word du jour; how do you define sustainable?
To live in a way that the earth can keep going forever, which means we have to use fewer resources than the earth can provide. And we're way off of that. If everyone lived like the average American, we'd need five planets. And so to be sustainable, we need to winnow that down to a way in which we only need one planet, because that's all we have is one planet.

So what was the deal with toilet paper? It seemed to be a subject that was oft dodged in the movie.
To me that is such an unfortunate topic. I spend two days with a New York Times reporter talking about our climate crisis, the opportunity to find a better way of life and she decided that she wanted to write about toilet paper. Two thirds of the world doesn't use toilet paper and instead they wash themselves and they're happy with it and at the same time, they're not using up six football fields of trees in the Amazon forest.

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Related: Review: No Impact Man, Hardboiled hub, Going Green Guide, More more >
  Topics: Features , Science and Technology, Laura Gabbert, Nature and the Environment,  More more >
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