Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why stories on No Impact Man annoy me

When I first came across an interview with No Impact Man, I was delighted. Most of us who are trying to live eco-friendly lifestyles aren't visible to the public, and here was someone who was getting in newspapers and on TV talking about the benefits of bicycling, buying books used instead of new, etc.

Then, as I read more and more features on No Impact Man, I became increasingly annoyed. Story after story made it sound as if Colin Beavan was a revolutionary who was the only person on the planet living environmentally. Writers gaped at the notion of someone getting around town on foot or bicycle. Even those writers who self-identified as green seemed stunned by the thought of washing clothes by hand and hanging them up to dry.

I don't understand these reactions, and am annoyed by them. So many of the "radical" things Colin Beavan did have been a part of my life, or the lives of people I know, for years, even decades.

Let's take clothes drying as an example. When I was a child, I knew one family who owned an electric clothes dryer. Every other family hung clothes to dry on a line in the back yard. Line drying clothes wasn't the act of an eco-radical. It was simply what people did. I confess that after moving to my current home, I used a dryer, but eventually I realized how idiotic that was and now always hang my clothes indoors to dry.

Another thing we did when I was little was compost our food scraps. This wasn't something everyone did, but frugal gardeners did it. It wasn't difficult, and we didn't consider ourselves special for doing it.

As for walking and bicycling, almost everyone I know does one or the other of them, and has since early childhood. The only close friend I have who owns a car has bad knees and can't walk well. Other locals with cars are regarded as lazy idiots who could save a fortune if they stopped driving. (I should mention that I live in a densely populated area. Driving may well be a near necessity in some places, but this isn't one of them.)

I can't honestly say I've ever attempted to go without toilet paper, but that, too, is something that's common among certain populations, generally those living in warmer climates where washing with water doesn't lead to frostbite. It's certainly not unheard of, even here.

No Impact Man isn't even that much of an environmentalist, now that No Impact year is over. His family was ready to hop on board airplanes as soon as their one year commitment to planet-friendly living was up. Couldn't they at least have traveled by train instead? Sure, it would have taken longer, but a point Colin made again and again in his writing was that slow travel gives people time to stop and smell the roses. Air travel is horrible for the environment, and many other environmentalists have chosen to walk the walk and avoid flying.

So, why, oh why, is No Impact Man afforded accolades for doing things like bicycling to work that millions have done before him? Is the media really that oblivious to all the other environmentalists that could be featured in news stories? Can't we please move beyond being wowed by someone whose lifestyle would have seemed unremarkable to my grandparents?

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