Review: No Impact Man

Fin and I have been on a documentary kick here lately, so when our next movie choice came up, we decided on “No Impact Man”. Fin was fairly excited to see it – “No Impact Man” is one of several environmentalist blogs she follows. As far as documentaries go, the film itself was fairly interesting and well put together.

Colin Beavan decides to put his views into action by making “no impact” on the environment for a year. He does this by removing various modern conveniences from his life (the biggest of which is apparently toilet paper), and attempts to reduce the amount of trash he outputs.

While I found the film interesting, I don’t think it really had any point besides being something of a human interest film. Other documentaries do a far better job of explaining the effects of modern agriculture, pollution, or attempting to be “Green”. However, seeing some of the normal arguments environmentalists might have with each other, or the general public, did provide some food for thought. The value of being an environmentalist is taken as a given at the start of the film. Lacking however, was any real advice on how to put ideas into action – most of the things highlighted in the film weren’t things everyday people would find useful.

If documentaries are your thing or you’ve heard about “No Impact Man” otherwise, you might want to watch it. Unlike some other movies I’ve seen, it doesn’t hit the level of “need to see” or even my giving a strong recommendation.

That said, while it is a documentary, be warned if you read further for spoilers.

Watching the documentary, I do have some very strong thoughts as to environmentalism and what an environmentalist lifestyle would be like. Now, I’d like to start by saying that the primary focus (for me) of writing here isn’t exactly environmentalism. It’s about focusing on the reality of the world around us. At one point in this movie, an older New York hippie highlights the hypocrisy of Mr. Beavan’s lifestyle when his wife writes for Business Week. That one moment highlighted my main objections to the whole idea of his “No Impact”.

Like it or not, the mere act of being alive has an impact. Nature isn’t an all giving kind and nurturing place with fluffy bunnies and puppies that never grow up. The documentary never addressed it, but I found myself wondering throughout the movie if the “No Impact” show piece wasn’t actually at times, causing WORSE impact for the environment. After removing electricity, “No Impact Man” continues to use gas service (lighting an oven with a match) and water service. He enjoys fruit cooled by ice from his neighbour’s freezer. He keeps light at night using candles. Not having the thermostat turned to warm the apartment during the winter, means his apartment mates are subsiding his heat. These examples to me is where “No Impact Man” moved from environmental activist to performing a stunt.

Sadly, part of that stunt seems to be the message “going back in time is an improvement”. The “how things were done in the past is better” idea proves just as fallacious as the “new is better” idea. When it comes down to it, so much of what we’ve discovered makes our lives easier and simpler. Our ability to modify the environment and live in luxury should come with a sense of responsibility.

About halfway through the film, it occurred to me that a lot of what I saw was only sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. I don’t think good things come when people sacrifice to assuage their guilt, it comes when people decide to take responsibility for their actions. The difference is subtle, but it is there.

Sprouts and Walkways

Yesterday was a beautiful day and I got a couple outside projects finished up. I cut down and bundled some tree branches and my parents house for them and also finished the walkway at our house between the house and the garage:

I really should have taken a couple before pictures. It used to be mud and you could barely see the stepping stones. The mud turned out to be mud mixed with a bunch of rock that I dug out and found a tarp serving as a barrier. Those black edgers were there already. The only think I had to buy was new rock because I couldn’t get the old rock to wash off, the mud was very much clay. It made a big difference and I like the way it turned out.

Here’s a couple sprout pictures:

That would be Tomatillos and Early Girl tomatoes. The peppers are just barely starting to peek out, we should really be seeing those in a couple days.

My next project? Researching growing my own edible mushrooms. I’m curious how hard/cost effective it is. I know you can get kits for that, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. Also planning on looking into growing my own sprouts, bean and alfalfa. I know it can be done easily, just not sure how to get started. Research away! :p


Seeds are Small

“Duh” you say, “Yes, I know seeds are small”

Ok, ok, but, really, have you ever stopped to think about how small seeds really are compared to what they produce? An 80-100 foot elm tree from a seed the size of a peanut. An entire 8-12 foot tomato plant from a seed the size of less then half of a grain of rice that reproduces itself over and over and over and over in the fruits that you eat. Its just amazing to me is all.

I planted some seeds for the garden yesterday (planted 5 of these trays, although the picture only shows two):

4 different kinds of tomatoes (3 heirloom)
Hungarian wax peppers
5 color bell peppers
Sweet peppers

Seems there was some other stuff but I don’t remember what it was right now. I planted them in 4 packs so we’ll see what comes up. I’m a bit late on the planting I think but I guess any head start is better then none!

I have some flower seeds that I bought last year that I am going to try to plant today in flats and we’ll see what happens there. I’m not sure if the seeds are even any good anymore, especially since I only paid $0.20 each for the packets.

Dad took the tiller carburetor to get overhauled and we should have that back some time next week. Hopefully we can get the garden all tilled up and start getting some things planted out there soon. For our zone it looks like the last frost date is typically April 15-30 so there are a lot of plants we can’t get into the ground until after that, but we can start planting colder weather plants now like: lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, carrots….the list goes on.

Potatoes need to be going in the ground here soon as well. I am planning on trying the container method this year. Sort of. I’m actually going to be using fencing instead of a container, but it should work out ok. It might turn out a bit more like compost potatoes. Its basically the same thing though.

I am going to be setting up a bed on the south side of the house for some rhubarb, I will be getting that in the ground this week. There used to be rhubarb over there once upon a time so I think it will grow well. There isn’t a lot of sun, but there is some, and it stays cool over there even in high summer so the rhubarb won’t get burned out. I got 3 crowns this year, and next year should be able to split them into 3-4 so I should have plenty after a couple years….or even have rhubarb coming out of my ears!

I cut down a bunch of brush growing in the fence line (you can see it in the background of the picture) as well as trimmed up a couple of trees, plus we took down a tree last year, plus we had a whole shed full or branches…, I’ve been burning.

A bunch.

There is so much brush to burn its absolutely ridiculous at this point. We’re lucky in where we live we can have a burn pit, but we can’t have bon fires with no pit. Believe me when I say we have enough brush to have one HELL of a bon fire. Its crazy. I’m trying to find somewhere to just rent a chipper and chip it all up and then we can use the resulting chipped wood for mulch in some of the parts of the yard that get muddier all year long. That would be nice. Not having any luck at this point, but I’m going to keep trying.

I also have been busy with the composting. We have an almost full composter going on right now and will have to get another one here soon so we can stop adding to the one we have and it can cook, then we can use it. I also set up the other composter we have for just kitty litter (and other misc “green” components to fill it out.) That one won’t be able to be used on the garden for edible stuff but I will be able to use it elsewhere on the yard. I just hated throwing away the kitty litter since it *can* be composted so that’s what we’re going to be doing.

I’m excited about having a garden this year. I can’t wait to start planting outside. Getting some seeds planted yesterday helped a bit but man, its been a hard, cold, miserable winter and I am so ready for spring and the smell of growing things in the air.

Oh, and did I mention warm weather?!


All About Soap Part Two

Sometime toward the end of my college career, I made a sudden switch away from the standard bar soaps into the domain of “body wash”. One of the common questions I get when discussing soap is if I can make a liquid soap. The answer is yes I can, but it wouldn’t be body wash. Body wash is interesting to me, in that it’s recently become more and more popular.
On the package, you’ll find this ingredient list:

Water, SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Sulfate, FRAGRANCE, Sodium Lauryl Sarcosinate, Lauryl Alcohol, Decyl Glucoside, DMDM Hydantoin, Lauryl Glucoside, Tetrasodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Polyquaternium-10, FDC GREEN 3, Green 5, Red 33

Now, let’s compare these ingredients to another ‘liquid soap’:

water, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium pareth-23, sulfate C-12-14-16, dimethyl amine oxide, SD alcohol, undeceth-9, propylene glycol, cyclohexandiamine, polyacetate, protease, fragrance, FD&C blue, no phosphate

Of note for us are the first two ingredients in this recipes: “sodium lauryl sulfate” (SLS). This is actually the common surfactant in just about any ‘liquid soap’ you find. It’s also the primary active ingredient of (wait for it) dish washing detergent, our second soap here.

Interestingly enough, the primary reasons why people prefer “Body Wash” to soap are based less on how their skin feels, and more on the “shower experience”. Making this even more interesting to me is that women are more likely to prefer body wash than men. Why is that interesting? Sorry guys, but women tend to care more about skin care than we do.

Despite what a few pages on the internet will tell you, SLS, is NOT going to turn you into a mutant cancerous growth while deforesting the world and killing puppies. SLS is known to be a skin irritant. It’s also a strong part of the body wash pull. A major effect of using it as the primary ingredient is the extremely “sudsy” nature of a body wash. But still, SLS is not good for your skin. And so, the manufacturers of body wash usually add other concocted surfactants (the vast majority of the chemical names in the ingredient list). These others often are milder and known to be “more gentle” on the skin. Sometimes, manufacturers will even include moisturisers to help reduce the effects of the detergent.

From the aspect of this blog, body wash suffers from being environmentally unfriendly. Soap is distributed in easy to recycle paper, body wash is distributed in plastic. And then, in the case of the actual product, body wash often contains multiple chemicals which aren’t nearly as biodegradable.

For a final note, I’d like to point to the one item that bothers me most about standard commercial soaps: “FRAGRANCE”. I have no way of knowing the breakdown of oils or chemicals used. This is in stark contrast to the more premium or natural soap makers, where the full ingredients are listed.