Book Review – No Impact Man

Joanna Schroeder

So you’re a bit frustrated with the state of the climate and pretty concerned with our fossil fuel use. So what do you do? You become the No Impact Man. Colin Beavan, a writer from New York who was struggling with how to deal with climate change, decided that he, along with his wife, two year old daughter and dog, would spend a year trying to have no negative impact on the climate. This experience, which he blogged about every day, led to the book, “No Impact Man The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet.”

Beavan was extreme. No “throw away” products made from trees, rarely any motorized transportation including elevators (did I mention he lives in NY?), all locally grown food within 250 miles and no meat, no buying of new things (but they could purchase used items), and if that weren’t enough, no electricity for three months! So what did he learn? We should be able to keep the things that improve our lives, yet not at the expense of the environment. And yes, he says, this can be done.

As an energy writer there was one chapter that I felt was extremely compelling and that was when he and his family turned out the electricity. Yep – no electricity for three months with the exception of a solar panel he used to power his laptop. In this chapter, Beavan talks about the true cost of fossil fuel use – something that many are trying to get consumers to understand, including me.

He writes, “The fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are not less costly than renewable energy. Fossil fuels cost us and our planet much more to use. The problem is that the true costs of the use of coal and oil are not immediately apparent in the price.” He then explains that the fact that the true cost of fossil fuels to our society and our planet is much higher than what is reflected in the price is known as “market failure,” and this market failure causes us to use the more costly resource. “We need to correct this market failure before it causes the temperature of the plant to skyrocket and we all, not so metaphorically speaking, fry,” Beavan warns.

Beavan offers two suggestions to end this market failure, citing that both will require government intervention.

1) Account for externalities by making the price of fossil fuels match their true costs by forcing the industry to pay for the permission to emit greenhouse gases. The idea being that this would bring down the cost of renewable energy.

2) Invest huge amounts of government money into research, development and deployment of existing and future renewable technologies.

While yes, Beavan went to the utmost of extremes for a year, his ultimate piece of advice is to ask yourself, Can I help? Do I help. Just reading about his experience caused me to take stock and I’m now considering things I can do to leave less of an impact on the Earth without, I admit, going to extremes. But in my defense, Beavan didn’t continue to be No Impact Man either, but he and his family have stuck to many of the changes they made. If you’re interested in reading about ways you can lesson your impact, then this is a great read.

book reviews, Energy, Environment, global warming