Ed Driscoll

No Impact

Dan Hayes of Reason reviews a documentary titled No Impact Man, or as Hayes dubs it, “The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal”:

Colin Beavan and his two-year-old daughter Isabella are in the bathroom cleaning out mommy’s cosmetics when they decide to wash their laundry by stomping their feet on a tub full of clothes and all-natural Borax detergent. It’s one of the many inconvenient and impractical things Beavan and his family do in the new documentary No Impact Man. Beavan explains that he normally thinks in terms of “collective action” because “as a liberal” he’s weak on “individual action.” The film chronicles his attempt to “develop and live a no impact lifestyle” for one year in the middle of New York City.

The Beavans give up toilet paper, any products with packaging, cars and public transit, elevators, plastic bags, and shopping for anything new. In addition, they won’t use washing machines, disposable diapers, or food grown outside a 250-mile radius of NYC. It’s an ambitious plan and the Beavans engage it in more dramatic phases over time. At the six-month mark, Beavan turns off the electricity in his apartment, relying instead on the small amount of juice produced by a solar panel on his roof (which allows him to blog and video chat). The film follows the family as they take a variety of steps to move in the direction of minimizing their impact on the environment. Colin’s wife, Michelle, is a shopping and reality TV addict and a self-described “high fructose corn syrup-addicted, screen-addicted, meat-eating girl” who writes for Business Week. She’s not eager to start what she describes as “his project” and Beavan describes as “our project.”

Directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, No Impact Man is a well-made film with good pacing, photography, and sound design. While the film accomplishes the broad goal of making the audience think twice about daily consumption habits, it falls short in at least one important way. The film starts with Beavan asking, “At the end, we will come out of it and see what were we willing to give up. What was too hard? What wasn’t too hard?” Unfortunately, Beavan doesn’t adequately address the questions he set out to answer. Nor does he acknowledge the many benefits of living in a capitalist, consumer-driven economy.


Not the least of which is a century of technological progress (built on a previous millennium of innovation) that allows a documentary to be photographed, edited, distributed first to theaters, and then adapted for home viewing on DVD, cable, satellite TV and the Internet.

That’s one helluva carbon footprint to tell us not to have much of a carbon footprint. I’m happy to watch Mad Men, a show set in 1963. Forgive me for not wanting to join No Impact Man back in 63 BC.

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