Ciara's Reviews > No Impact Man

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
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's review
Nov 22, 09

did not like it
bookshelves: autobio-memoir, read-in-2009
Read in November, 2009

it's kind of amazing to me that this book doesn't have more one-star reviews, considering how insufferable it was. i went on a jag a couple of months ago, where i read every eco-gimmick book out there, almost all of which were dreadful. i put this one on hold at the library during that time & then forgot about it & moved on to better books. when the library let me know the book was in & waiting for me, i felt a pang of dread. i didn't go in expecting the book to be any great shakes, but i was not prepared for it to be so boring! other reviewers have summed up the main problem with the book: it's less a memoir of this one guy & his family attempting to reduce their carbon footprint to zero over the course of a year as it is this one dude spending 225 flipping out about climate change. there are many excellent scientific books already written, detailing the potentially disastrous long-term consequences of climate change, many of which are actually written by scientists (as opposed to "guilty liberals" like this guy), many of which end up in beavan's bibliography. i didn't come to this book wanting to read twenty pages of beavan wringing his hands over drowning polar bears & starving sea turtles. i was looking for more about the changes he & his family implemented, the problems they bumped up against, & the conclusions they came to about what they need to be happy & healthy. i am one of those people that beavan seems to take to task at the end of the book--the folks who think over-emphasizing small individual changes as a solution to the climate change issue possibly does more harm than good to the environmental movement, but that doesn't mean i don't enjoy occasionally reading about the foibles of people who try to live with refrigerators.

but this was just shit. on the very first day of the project, beavan wakes up & wants to blow his nose. but--oh no! he's not supposed to produce trash, & how could he possibly blow his nose without using a paper towel? he explains elsewhere that he was trying to start the no impact project from where he was, but seriously, dude. it's called a handkerchief, look into it. he finally figures it out & starts using handkerchiefs all the time, i supposed to think this is any kind of breakthrough? i can't even remember the last time i used a tissue for blowing my nose, even in the depths of the flu. handkerchiefs are where it's at.

ten minutes later, his toddler needs a diaper change, & beavan reaches for his supply of handy plastic diapers. seriously? seriously?! this dude wants to make "no impact," which means composting in a new york city apartment & getting a worm tub, & it didn't occur to him until the first day of the project, the first time his kid needs a diaper change, that maybe part of making no trash means switching to cloth diapers? the mind boggles. i don't even know how i can take him seriously at this point, & we're like ten pages in (we would be about two pages in, but eight pages of ink were spilled summarizing better writers' ruminations of the role of trash in producing climate change).

later in the book, he is seeking a solution to the problem of his wife's forty-minute walking commute. it occurs to him to buy her a collapsible scooter. so he does. he calls the company & has a scooter delivered the next day & is pleased with himself for helping make his wife's commute faster & more fun. nowhere does he acknowledge that the delivery person probably did not ride the scooter over to beavan's apartment from the warehouse. it probably came in a box & was delivered via truck, hence contributing at least a smidgen of pollution & trash packaging. this is also a textbook example of buying something to make life simpler--throwing money at a problem. it's great that she liked the scooter & everything, but jesus eff. taking the train would have been lower impact, since the train runs everyday, whether beavan's wife is on it or not. no delivery trucks would have had to come to their neighborhood with new scooters (that are not manufactured using rainbows & happy unicorns, by the way) in big cardboard boxes full of packaging.

& then there's the whole issue of deciding to wean his family off toilet paper. he mentions this repeatedly throughout the book & his feelings are hurt when he is profiled in the "new york times" & the toilet paper issue ends up in the headline. never in the book does he answer the most-asked media question about the no impact project: 'what did you do instead of toilet paper?" he just insists that this question is somehow puerile & "embarrassing". but i can tell you that in the feminist movement, it's pretty common for women to discuss what they use in lieu of mass-produced dioxin-leaching pads & tampons. menstruation is a more taboo topic than pooping & peeing, & beavan himself had no qualms about suggesting that his wife switch to the diva cup or some other more environmentally-friendly menstrual product. every single person in the world goes to the bathroom several times a day, & many many many of those people employ toilet paper in the process. here we have this guy not only acknowledging that toilet paper isn't the most environmentally-friendly product in the world, but actually saying that he & his family found a way to go without. most people, even ones who care a great deal about the environment, are hard-pressed to imagine what would substitute for toilet paper. throw 'em a bone, beavan! it's hypocritical & ridiculous to get up on your high horse & refuse to discuss it while getting in everyone's face about living in the suburbs & having long commutes & how hard life is for you because people in your family have died.

i could go on, but suffice to say that this book was even worse than i expected it to be. a lot of these crappy eco-stunt memoirs are at least kind of funny, if nothing else. this one bored me half to death. i hated everything about it, right down to the cutesy little rounded corners & the tiny font in the appendix & the three glaring misspellings in the first 125 pages (my corrections: "municipal," "eked," & "demurred") & the fact that the whole thing was cooked up with the dude's literary agent over a nice lunch. yuck.
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03/11 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Tinea (new)

Tinea Ciara, your reviews are always great, but this one had me sniggering the whole way through. brilliant!

Lesley I was going to write a review but now I don't have to. You summed up my opinion perfectly. I was hoping for more of a memoir and was disappointed to find that the book turned out to be badly strung together "scientific" information that should have been cited in-text as footnotes. I found him arrogant and the whole book boring and badly done.

Aldra I have to admit, I liked the book, but I can totally understand why you loathed it so. I just want to toss this horror out--I don't think Beavan's first few "duh" moments are terribly uncommon. Granted, I live in the Los Angeles area, which is the birthplace of sheer idiocy, but I encounter countless people who have absolutely no concept of how to do the most basic daily tasks (e.g., blowing one's nose) without throwing money at it. I've had several conversations with folks about using hankies, because it has NEVER occurred to them to do so.

Call me a misanthrope, but I think you give the average person too much credit. I doubt Beavan is as dense as he portrayed himself. I think he was simply trying to make the average idiot feel a little less threatened.

Ciara yeah, you might be right. i guess it hadn't occurred to me that someone might go out of their way to make themselves look stupid in order to make others feel a little better.

this is the first time anyone has ever suggested that they may be more misanthropic than me! i'm not used to giving people more credit than they deserve!

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm glad someone found Colin Beavan as annoying as I did. I'm not too convinced that he isn't as dumb as he seemed when it came to tissues and diapers. I couldn't take how tragic he found not being able to have pizza because it came on a paper plate (I guess he wasn't eating local at the time). Bring your own damn plate! It's not rocket science.

Lisa I loved the book and Beavan's self-deprecating story. If you can't figure out reusable toilet paper in the light of your comments about reusable menstrual products -- well, I think you're just knocking Beavan to make yourself look amusing and kooky. Well done.

Ciara i know you're biased because you gave the book five stars, but maybe you need to look at my review again before you comment. i specifically state that it was disingenuous of beavan to be so reticent about the details of the toilet paper issue when he is so completely free & open about alternatives to disposable menstrual products. i think it may say something about beavan's character that he doesn't mind sharing his wife's intimate business with the world, but when it comes to an personal hygiene issue that also concerns himself, suddenly he won't discuss it. i've been to enough punk houses in my day to be well aware of what a person might employ instead of toilet paper, but obviously it's a total mystery to most people, & indeed more unfathomable than reusable menstrual products. i think he's a hypocrite for bringing it up only to say that he won't discuss it.

trust when i say i have no desire to make myself look "kooky".

Jasmin I totally get your opinions about this book, but I have to say that your part about him not writing about the changes implemented or the conflicts along the way are untrue. Almost every chapter included at least one measly change in the family's lifestyle; whether switching to solar chargers or abstaining from heat in the New York winter. This book was about Mr. Beavan's journey to become a better, " greener" person and to say he didn't make any changes or implement any new habits would be a lie.

Ciara take a second look at the review. i specified that i didn't care for the parts where beavan regurgitated research that other, smarter people have done about climate science just so that he could wax all philosophical for a page or two about baby sea turtles or whatever. i said i wanted less of that & more of the goofy stuff about trying to live without a refrigerator (ie, writing about changes he tried to make & the conflicts that arose). in fact, the lion's share of the review specifically addresses the writing about the changes he made. & i must say, it would have been great if ANY part of the book wasn't shitty, but i guess you can't always get what you want. like what i want right now is for people on this website to accept the fact that opinions about books are relatively subjective, & to stop commenting on reviews that critiqued books they liked unless they actually have something truly insightful to say.

Aldra Ciara, I think it's perfectly reasonable to take strangers' opinions about books as a personal affront. Oh, wait. Maybe I meant perfectly bizarre.

Anyhoo, in your honor, I'm going to post a couple of reviews of books I hated. I can only hope strangers find it personally offensive. Maybe I'll get some ad hominem attacks?! Oh. The excitement. *cough* Oh wait, you wanted this kind of commenting to stop. I will shut up now.

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