Inane Impact Man

UPDATE: [[I should have been more familiar with No Impact Man’s blog–and the scope of his activism– before being so dismissive of him. Thanks to the reader below for providing a larger and fairer context.]]

I’m not above stunts myself, especially if it scores me a long feature assignment. The last one I undertook in earnest involved following my garbage eight years ago.

But this No Impact Man schtick has rankled since I first read about it in the Times. No question, it’s a brilliant idea and maybe I’m just envious that I didn’t dream it up first. Even then, it wouldn’t have mattered since I have no self-discipline. Hell, I must have blown a brownstone down payment on a depot full of Thomas the Train merchandise, which now sits largely unused in a messy clutter in a precious corner of my postage-stamp sized apt.

Anyway, the lack of a larger, humanitarian awareness by No Toilet Paper Man is something that Elizabeth Kolbert articulates well in this essay review. For example:

Even during the year that Beavan spent drinking out of a Mason jar, more than two billion people were, quite inadvertently, living lives of lower impact than his. Most of them were struggling to get by in the slums of Delhi or Rio or scratching out a living in rural Africa or South America. A few were sleeping in cardboard boxes on the street not far from Beavan’s Fifth Avenue apartment.

What she’s getting at here is something that annoys me about many of the moralizing climate advocates who shriek about the looming end of civilization if we don’t pass the Waxman-Markey bill or Get back to the Garden. What about the world we live in today? And the masses of people presently consigned to lives of despair and deprivation? Where’s the righteous outrage?  Where’s the collective “green” conscious and social movement that will, to cite one glaring planetary injustice, bring safe drinking water and sanitation to the 2.6 billion people that go without it?

3 Responses to “Inane Impact Man”

  1. Jen Schneider says:

    Hi Keith!  I’m a great fan of your blog, and think you usually get stuff right.  But I think in this case, the critique of Beavan (and Kolbert’s critique, for sure) is unfair.  In fact, I’ve been following Beavan’s blog since he started the project, and he has developed an impressive sense of collective action and community organizing.  He frequently uses the blog to organize activists on various actions, and he’s very self-reflective about the uniqueness of his position as a Westerner who chooses this particular experiment.  He’s pretty good about avoiding moralizing and preachiness, I think.

    My guess is Kolbert is going only off of the book–which is more about the stunts, perhaps?  I haven’t read it yet b/c it’s just being released.  But the blog is actually a really impressive artifact for thinking about how to develop individual action into an awareness of the need for collection action on this stuff.  And he definitely does not do the Rommian doom-and-gloom bit.  He looks at how average folks can enter the environmental conversation, make some differences in their personal lives, and then parlay that into social/political action. 

    In short, Beavan’s no navel-gazer.  It would be a shame if his book leaves the impression he is.

    Asst. Prof.
    Colorado School of Mines

  2. Keith Kloor says:


    Thank you for your generous praise of my blog–and for correcting me on this particular post. I made sure to note your comment in an update at the top.

  3. Jen Schneider says:

    Thanks, Keith! 

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