Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No Impact Man - Let's all have no impact!

The following post was written for the Memphis (Missouri) Democrat, as part of a regular series on Dancing Rabbit.

Hi all. This is Alline with the latest news from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

Things here at Dancing Rabbit are pretty much the same – folks coming home from holiday travel, others leaving for trips. Gatherings, dinners, and our first snowfall of the year – yay!

But what has been on my mind most lately is movies. Last night we watched the documentary “Food, Inc.” It features two of my personal heroes; Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (http://www.michaelpollan.com/), and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms (http://www.polyfacefarms.com/). Among other things it focuses on the importance of small local farms, of being aware of where our food comes from, and just exactly what it in it.

I also previewed the documentary film “No-Impact Man” in preparation for this weekend’s free public screenings at the Milkweed Mercantile. I wasn’t sure what to expect – the film is billed as “Colin Beavan and his family turn their small Manhattan apartment into the site of an experiment in radical non-consumption.” They go off the grid for a full year—while still living in New York City—to see if it’s possible to make no net impact on the environment.

There are many parallels between the No Impact Project and Dancing Rabbit that, for me, elicited a kind of kindred admiration for the Beavans. While the project was, admittedly, a ploy for his next book, he genuinely wanted to learn how one person could make a difference. By doing so, he opened himself up to criticism and ridicule. No where in the movie or book does he suggest that others do what he is doing. But when the New York Times gets wind of the No Impact Project they write a sneering article, calling the project “an ethically murky exercise in self-promotion.”

Here at Dancing Rabbit we’ve spent countless hours with reporters and journalists, documentary makers and students – sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they completely miss the point. The New York Times focused on the Beavans’ lack of toilet paper (the article was entitled “The Year Without Toilet Paper”) while the Colbert Report honed in on DR’s composting toilets. The Beavans learned what members of Dancing Rabbit continue to learn – living one’s life in a demonstration community, willing to showcase both the successes as well as the challenges, is not for the faint of heart.

The evolution of Colin and Michelle’s marriage was much more entertaining that many soap operas; this also struck a bell of recognition. Michelle’s disdain for “nature” was hilarious, and reminiscent of the attitudes of many of our friends who don’t quite get why we’re living in rural Missouri.

About halfway through, the film takes a surprising turn. Colin starts to seem more humble and less domineering, and Michelle turns from whiny skeptic to good sport. The family bikes around the city and cooks organic food by candlelight, and the no-impact regimen mutates from family issue to family adventure. We get to watch Colin and Michelle deal with questions that we at Dancing Rabbit ask ourselves every day – how much of what we consume really adds value to our life vs. how much of it is filler, or worse, inhibits us from living our lives to the fullest? The Beavan family discovers that when they remove many things from their lives, they spend more time enjoying each other instead of wandering around the mall or staring at the television. They discover that eating locally and using human-powered transportation result in reversing pre-diabetes indicators and losing 20 pounds. They discover that their 2 year old daughter really enjoys gardening and the beach and riding on a bicycle. (One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Isabella sees fireflies for the first time.) Without No Impact Project they'd have missed out on all of those discoveries.

I think that in the end the movie presents us with a choice: instead of casting environmental activists as either hypocritical or self-righteous, are we able to watch the movie and then find a change in our own lives that will not only reduce our negative impact on society but also more positively impact our life? It could be more human-powered transportation, more local food, buying fewer new and more used goods, having things repaired instead of replaced, adjusting that thermostat, improving one’s home to be more energy efficient, buying 100% green energy through the utility company, drinking less bottled water... or any other number of things. We all have the opportunity to make a choice: how will the world be better today because of our/your changes?

So come see for yourself. The movie will be shown at the Milkweed Mercantile at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage Friday, December 11th at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, December 12th at 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, December 13th at 2:00 p.m. Admission is free. For directions please call 883-5634.

The Milkweed Mercantile has donated a copy of both the “No Impact Man” book and film to the Scotland County Library in Memphis.