12 One-Year Personal Stunts We Can't Stop Talking About
Ocilloscope Laboratories/Promo image. The No Impact Man movie poster.
Call them New Year's resolutions on steroids: The past few years have seen a variety of people publicly pledge to spend 365 days living a more environmentally friendly life, whether by eating locally, eschewing plastic, making one small change a day, or giving up money altogether.
Often snapped up eagerly by the media, such initiatives have also been criticized as attention-seeking green stunts that don't make a difference. And while it's true that going a year without toilet paper won't stop global warming, it will get a lot of people talking about environmental issues -- and that just might bring about the change we need. Here are 12 stunts -- one for every month of the year -- we can't stop talking about.
1. No Impact Man
Colin Beavan's project to reduce his family's net environmental impact to zero by the end of the year has been both a media darling and a punching bag for critics, but with a blog, book, and documentary film, there's no denying No Impact Man has made a big splash.
Back at the end of 2006, this self-described "guilty liberal" embarked on a quest for himself, his wife, their 2-year-old daughter, and their dog "to live in the heart of New York City while causing no net environmental impact... in other words, no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV..."
Their "crazy-assed endeavor" to eliminate garbage from their lives, reduce the impact of their food choices, and consume only what is necessary in the most sustainable way was followed by people around the world and has spawned a nonprofit No Impact Project to help others do likewise.
2. 365 Days of Green. Vanessa Farquharson in her unplugged refrigerator.
Toronto-based journalist Vanessa Farquharson took the small-steps approach to her green lifestyle transformation, picking one new thing to do each day -- including giving up bottled water, getting a rain barrel, turning down the thermostat, and ditching her car -- for a year, documenting the changes on her blog, Green As a Thistle.
"The idea was that everything I did, I kept doing (so if I switched brands, it was a permanent switch; if I turned down my thermostat, I kept it down), so that by day 365, I'd be living as green a lifestyle as it gets," Farquharson wrote. "It was a grueling year, but in the end, it proved that being an environmentalist doesn't necessarily mean being a smug hippie, nor does it have to mean compromising aesthetic values or good wine." Like Beavan, she attracted both fans and foes with her effort, and got a book deal, for this year's Sleeping Naked is Green.
The change-a-day idea is a popular one, though many bloggers with surely the best intentions seem to have fallen off (or at least stopped writing about it) after a few weeks, or even a few days. A couple in Alberta and a family in South Carolina appear to still be going strong.
3. The Moneyless Man
Mark Boyle/Promo image. Mark Boyle outside his off-grid caravan.
"The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that we're completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the stuff we buy. The tool that has enabled this separation is money," Boyle wrote in a blog post for the U.K.-based Guardian. "If we grew our own food, we wouldn't waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn't throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn't contaminate it. So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up cash."
Living in an off-the-grid caravan parked on an organic farm where he was volunteering, Boyle cooked outside on a rocket stove, ran his laptop on solar power, scavenged wood for heat, and foraged for wild food. A book about his experience will be published next year and Boyle promises to donate all the proceeds to creating a Freeconomy Community. To his critics, he wrote: "I decided that if [my project] encouraged even one person to reduce their impact on the planet, it would be worth being called a hypocrite... I just wanted to show that you can live a really happy, healthy life without so much money or stuff. That's all."
4. The Compact: Saying No to Consumerism
Joann Jovinelly /CC BY-SA 2.0.
Opting out of consumerism is the goal of The Compact, a group that originated in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since spread around the world. Members pledge to buy nothing new for a year (or more), with a few exceptions allowed for medicines, underwear, food, and certain other items, relying on borrowing, bartering, and secondhand purchases to meet their needs.
Among the thousands who took up the challenge, documenting her experience on the blog My Year Without Spending, is Angela Barton in Los Angeles. At her mid-year mark, Barton wrote: "The woman who set off on a panicked shopping spree for the perfect pair of jeans hardly seems like the same person." She's avoided the mall entirely, begun line-dying her laundry, makes her own granola and mayonnaise, joined a CSA, started sending handmade cards, planted a herb garden, and de-cluttered some rooms in her house.
Before she started, Barton wrote: "I was sort of digging in for the deprivation, and looking forward to a challenge. I was definitely more focused on what I'd be giving up than on what I'd be gaining from my experience. And that's been my favorite discovery so far: that I've gained so much that I never even knew I wanted."
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