NAUreads Book Changed a Freshman's Life

By Emily Litvack, NAU Freshman

No Impact Man

NAUreads annual book selection:
Colin Beavan's No Impact Man

In the spring of 2011, NAUreads announced its annual book selection: Colin Beavan's No Impact Man. All incoming first-year students (myself included) were given a complimentary copy of the book at orientation and asked to read it.

In July, the book was still resting, untouched, on the nightstand next to my bed. I had every intention of reading it, but simply hadn't had the time; I was, after all, preparing to leave for college. But then a wide-open Saturday came along, and with a sudden onset of ambition, I finally opened No Impact Man. By Sunday morning, I had read the entire book.

No Impact Man is an account of the author's yearlong attempt to live a happier, healthier life while making as little impact on the environment as possible. By the end of the year, Beavan and his family dramatically reduced their carbon footprint, eliminating such items as take-out food, television, motorized transportation, and eventually, electricity. Beavan writes of his experiment in a way that is both informative and humorous, a combination that kept me enthralled with each turn of the page.

Beavan's message is simple and powerful: We are wrecking our habitat without bringing ourselves true, lasting happiness. (During his packed lecture at Ardrey Auditorium, which I attended in September, he explained this in more metaphorical terms: "It's like we're throwing a party while mom and dad are out and we've completely trashed the place without even getting with the person we wanted to.") This message made perfect sense to me, and it inspired me to make changes in my own lifestyle. I resolved to trade consumption for social connection, just as Beavan had.

Eco House

The Eco-House Learning Community
volunteered to remove invasive species
from the Grand Canyon.

So, I did some research. I looked into what NAU had to offer a freshman trying to somehow make a difference.  Although there were many options, one in particular - deciding to live in the Eco House Learning Community - would change the course of my freshman year. Eco House allows for environmentally conscious freshmen of any major to live together in Reilly Hall and make positive environmental changes together. In the fall (2011) semester, for example, we did things like buying and cooking with ingredients from the local farmers' market, writing a grant proposal for eco-friendly hand dryers through the NAU Green Fund, and volunteering to remove invasive species from Grand Canyon National Park. So not only have I been able to "try to do enough good to outweigh the harm," (as Beavan puts it) but I have also made friendships along the way.

Now, instead of (metaphorically) throwing that disappointing party and trashing the place, I am working towards a sometimes elusive sense of happiness. I don't ever feel I'm sacrificing my quality of life by making more environmentally sustainable choices; instead, I feel I'm trading nonessentials for a happier, healthier existence.

Highlights from my interview with Beavan

After his lecture at NAU, I was able to interview Colin Beavan about his book and his environmental activism. When I asked what aspects of the experiment he has continued to incorporate into his life, Beavan responded: "What really interests me is the synergy between human happiness and the environment. So it makes sense that we stick with things that are actually good for us. I still bike because it is healthier for me, and I still eat local food. I prefer local food because I trust the farmers more than I trust the directors of food corporations to make food for my little girl. I buy mostly second-hand because it is cheaper and it is quality controlled by the person who owned it. It's free of manufacturer's defects usually. The list goes on and on. I'm still vegetarian. I don't drink bottled water. But, most importantly, I continue to be an engaged citizen and use my voice to try to make the world that I envisioned for myself and my community."

Beavan is proud of the ripple effects of his experiment: "I'm happy because I feel as though I've advanced the conversation for the question of how we should live." In fact, "How Shall I live?" is the working title of Beavan's next book. "It's one thing to be ‘No Impact Man' but it's another to actually face the realities of everyday life," he says. The bottom line for Beavan is "how to live a happy life that doesn't wreck the planet." This has become my quest too.

Download NAU's Carbon Nuetral Plan (pdf)

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