We’ve been in the process of moving and I have also ramped up my studying for the professional engineers exam (taking in 3 weeks), so the posting will be a little light for the next few weeks. We did manage to break away last Friday to see Colin Beavan’s book signing at our local bookstore. It was quite illuminating, here are my thoughts on his book No Impact Man.
It is pretty easy to fall into habits that we know are bad – but we do them anyway. Maybe yours is coffee or alcohol or TV. It doesn’t really matter, in the end these things provide escape from “the daily grind” or the all-consuming weight of things (e.g., “real life”). What happens when our life becomes just the means of escape? When do we stop to face it and all the questions it has for us?
When the end comes and the final breathe leaves my lips I hope my last thought is not about stuff I wish I had in my life. When I make that final thought I hope it’s not a worry that I could have gotten a better score on a video game. I hope my last thought is of the life I lived, the love I was blessed with, and the difference I made for the better in the world.
Efficient Resource Use
We’re using all these resources to make all these “conveniences that make our lives better,” but we’re wrecking the planet while we’re at it. Worse yet, it doesn’t seem to be making us any happier.
“So many people are now taking Prozac that unmetabolized traces of the drug, excreted in their urine, show up in our drinking-water supplies. So many people are depressed that the Prozac in their pee is tainting our water!”
It would appear that most of our resources are used not just for material trash and waste, but to fuel an ever growing consumption rate without increasing our well being. We’re not just trashing the planet and it’s resources, but we’re wasting our lives in the process.
“Many of us work so hard that we don’t get to spend enough time with the people we love, and so we feel isolated… Those of us lucky enough to be well compensated for these sacrifices get to distract ourselves with expensive toys and adventures – big cars and boats and plasma TVs and world travel in airplanes. But while the consolation prizes temporarily divert us from our dissatisfaction, they never actually take it away.”
Why are we here?
The big philosophical question, “why are we here” is one that we don’t usually ask ourselves in day-to-day life. However, Colin uses his experiment to ask that question in every aspect of his life. Throughout the book he recants on how removing something typical (yet environmentally harmful) would often mean adding an alternative that was not only better for the environment, but better for his quality of life. Colin questions the very meaning of our consumption lifestyles.
“Sit down with your trash and you see your life laid before you on the floor… you wonder: If life begets life and death begets death, does was beget waste? If my life begets waste, what does that say about my life? Is a waste of resources a sign of a waste of life?”
When you ask yourself that question, “why are we here?” think about if it is to make our lives better or worse, to wreck the planet and waste our lives, or to slow down and enjoy what little time we have here on this beautiful planet.
Live with Impact
It is ridiculous to think that we don’t create an impact on our environment. Just breathing creates an impact. The question comes down to whether or not that impact is worthwhile. Is it worth killing off our oceans in order to have disposable plastic bags at the grocery store? Is it worth the lungs of children living in the Bronx for the rest of New York to have a fossil fuel driven garbage collection? Is it worth your childern’s future to have more things in the present?
Perhaps we can all take a look at our daily lives and make a more conscious decision about out actions and their impacts. The individual action is just as important as the system action, as Beavan says, “We cannot wait for the system to change. We individuals are the system.” You cannot engage a system to act without first acting as an individual.
“We need to pick up a new model of engaged citizenship and realize that the ways we live affects everyone around us. We need to develop new ways to take up and assert our responsibility. We need to take ‘participatory democracy’ to a new level, where we don’t just vote for leaders who will bring us the culture we want, but where we take responsibility for making the culture ourselves.
And what we get in return is the feeling of a life fully lived, in a world where we are not victims of the system but leaders of it. Where we choose instead of inherit. Where we stride purposefully instead of sleepwalk. Where we are true masters of our destiny.”
I would recommend this book to anyone, it appeals to many with just a simply amount of common sense and asks the big questions: “Why are we here? Are we having any fun? What’s the point?” If you don’t know the answers to these questions, I think now is the time to start looking for them.