Living and working with a group of dedicated environmentalists, I’m constantly thinking of ways to reduce my impact. I’ve bought a CSA share, make my own yogurt, and fanatically reuse everything from plastic bags to concrete blocks in the backyard. But part of me wonders how much of my new resolve will survive when I return to NYU this fall. Voluntary simplicity comes easy in a small green-leaning town, but as a full-time college student in trend-obsessed New York, it won’t quite feel so natural.
After reading “The Year Without Toilet Paper” in today’s Times, though, I’m a little more confident. The piece profiles Colin Beavan and Michelle Conlin, a Manhattan couple undergoing a year-long experiment to live a zero-impact lifestyle: for every action they take that harms the planet, they’ll be taking another one to improve it. Even for dedicated greens, that’s a lofty goal; for Colin and Michelle, self-described “convenience-addicted, New York City take-out slaves,” that’s tantamount to a lifestyle change of Extreme Makeover proportions. The couple, who are raising a toddler and both have full-time jobs, have committed themselves to buying only local food, giving up cars, elevators, and mass transit, and making household cleaners out of baking soda. The whole thing is being chronicled on Colin’s blog, No Impact Man.
Ultimately, the experiment is still somewhat of a grand gesture: I don’t think anybody living in Manhattan in 2007 can truly live a life with no negative impacts. But if people like Colin and Michelle can take it this far and reach millions of people – a book and documentary are in the works – it makes me think that there’s some hope yet for us urban environmentalists.