Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Impact Living...on 5th Avenue

Just when you thought you were taking a stand for the health of our planet by recycling all your recyclable materials, composting all your compost-ables, and buying only organic foods at your local Whole Foods, you find out about Colin Beaven and Michelle Conlin.

Living in a bourgeois 5th avenue apartment is a far cry from a strawbale house in Colorado. But the new face of urban environmentalism has just taken a new turn. The Beaven-Colin family (including 2 year-old Isabella) has committed themselves to a year-long experiment in living a life that leaves no imprint -- or at least one that leaves very little -- one they call No Impact. Since, Mr. Beaven is a non-fiction author he is writing a book chronicling these experiences and has already secured a book deal as well as a documentary filmmaker who will track their every move over the course of the year. Could this be the first ultimate reality-show for No Impact style living?

No Impact style living embodies significant changes to one's daily routine. Here are few commitments the Beaven-Conlin family have agreed to:

  • All food must be bought locally inside the 250-mile radius around Manhattan.

  • Carbon-free transportation (Mrs. Colin rides her scooter to work everyday, even in the March snow).

  • No purchasing of ANYTHING except food related items.

  • Using no paper.

  • Produce no trash.

That third one is a doozy. I think it entails simply extraneous purchases outside of the needed grocery shopping list. Regardless, I have never gone more than 3 months without buying something extraneous -- be it a pair of shorts or needed running shoes.
The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. (Consider the ramifications of no-elevator living in a vertical city: one day recently, when Frankie the dog had digestive problems, Mr. Beavan, who takes Isabella to day care — six flights of stairs in a building six blocks away — and writes at the Writers Room on Astor Place — 12 flights of stairs, also six blocks away — estimated that by nightfall he had climbed 115 flights of stairs.) And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).

Until three weeks ago, however, Ms. Conlin was following her “high-fructose corn syrup ways,” meaning double espressos and pastries administered daily. “Giving up the coffee was like crashing down from a crystal meth addiction,” she said. “I had to leave work and go to bed for 24 hours.”

While some regular followers of the couple's daily routine (you can follow on his blog) have expressed disdain with the way in which the couple has publicly showcased this experiment, I welcome it. Its exactly what society needs to see. We have enough of the pop culture, reality-show, beauty and the beast, temptation island crap that has nothing to do with our lives and serves no real benefit other than burning up our free evenings. But here, we have an opportunity to actually learn a little something about what it takes to live that much lighter on our planet and about how little we really need to be happy.

Three cheers for the Beaven-Conlin household. Oh, and they do accept gifts if indeed you feel so obliged.

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