Call them what you will–hippies, quacks, dreamers, weirdos–but I find myself sympathizing with the Beavan family, experiencing a little of what they are as they adjust back to a more normal life after living a year without impact.
Colin Beavan, his wife and two-year-old daughter set out on a bold experiment that is now immortalized in a movie and a book, both called No Impact Man. They attempted to reduce–actually, eliminate entirely–their environmental impact. They turned off their electricity. They gave up toilet paper and diapers. They washed their clothes by hand. They walked or biked. They experienced frustration and freedom. And now their experiment is over, they’re freaking out.
It’s been hard for them to adjust back to riding in airplanes or even using lightbulbs again, to find that middle ground where comfort meets sustainability in a world where it’s increasingly clear drastic measures have to be enacted for us to halt the destruction of the planet. The Beavans know this intimately, and they don’t take it lightly.
I didn’t live a year without electricity or tree products, but in my first week back in the greater New Orleans area seems similar to the Beavan’s adjustment. In Seattle, I went weeks without using a car. I walked to the grocery. There were entire weeks when I bought almost exclusively local produce. I recycled, and I would have composted had the property manager of my apartment building not been a complete…well, nevermind. I turned off lights. I unplugged plugs. I reused plastic bags of every shape and size.
And now that I’m living in a more rural setting in an unincorporated part of Louisiana that does not have mass transit of any sort or bike lanes or even sidewalks, for crying out loud, I cannot reasonably do any of these things. This goes with the territory of living in a rural-ish subdivision, but still. We do have local produce, but to get it you have to go to the farmer’s market on Saturdays and that market is about 10 miles away. You can’t reasonably walk to anything. You can bike, I suppose, but you put your life on the line in a much more acute way than you would in a high density area where bikeways are plentiful and people–usually–know to watch out for cyclists. So I’m having my own freak out moment here.
There is a period of adjustment, sure, but I feel like I’ve seen the light. I wish we didn’t value private green space as much as we did public green space, and that buses ran even in less dense areas here (it’s possible–they do it in the Northwest.) That quality of life is possible everywhere, especially in places where it doesn’t rain all the damn time and where we grow tomatoes the size of your face.