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.

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