Imagine going a year without toilet paper, TV, coffee, a refrigerator and many other creature comforts we take for granted. Even convicts in prison don't have to give up all that.
A couple of years ago, guilty-liberal Manhattanite author Colin Beavan, wife Michele, their 2-year-old daughter and even their dog embarked on a yearlong crusade to drastically reduce their carbon footprints (and paw prints). It was Beavan's idea. His wife, a Starbucks-addicted writer for Business Week, reluctantly went along with it. I'm pretty sure the toddler and the dog weren't consulted on the decision.
Beavan was deeply concerned about the environment. He was also keenly interested in getting a book and movie deal. The result is "No Impact Man," a breezy, funny and informative reality show/documentary that chronicles the Beavan family's adventures as they go "off the grid" for an entire year.
No car. No subway. No elevators. No TV, no taxis, no air conditioning, no newspapers or magazines, no shopping for new clothes, no refrigerator, no disposable diapers, no food that wasn't produced within 250 miles of their home, no coffee, no toilet paper -- and a worm-filled compost box in the kitchen.
It's like "Jon and Kate Reacclimate."
Beavan is an earnest and likable sort who throws himself into the experiment, cheerfully riding his bike around Manhattan, whipping up healthful meals in the kitchen, inviting their friends over for candle-lit games of charades, and shamelessly promoting his project on "The Colbert Report," "Good Morning America" and other media outlets. (At times, Beavan's attitude grates. When he pedals his glorified tricycle onto a talk-show set for yet another media appearance, you can't help rolling your eyes at his look-at-me sanctimony.)
His wisecracking, cynical wife is a welcome counterpart to the mix, as she pleads with her husband to let her fall off the no-coffee wagon, bitches about some of the more ridiculous sacrifices they're making and pines for the days of restaurants and designer clothes. (Michele, clock ticking, would also like a second child, but Colin is adamantly opposed, though he says in classic passive-aggressive fashion, "I want to want what you want." The soap opera surrounding that debate takes the story on an unexpected and moving detour.)
"No Impact Man" remains consistently entertaining because directors Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein keep the focus on the Beavan's family triumphs and setbacks instead of pounding us over the head with statistics and charts. A visit to the Bronx, where the trash heaps are like mountain ranges and some 12,000 diesel trucks rumble through every day, plus shots of congested traffic and the piles of trash bags in Manhattan -- that's enough to drive home the point that we are an incredibly wasteful society.
Nor do the filmmakers shy away from the criticism that the Beavans received. Some environmentalists ripped them, saying they were providing easy fodder for critics. A New York Times article noted the Beavans were living in a very nice building on lower Fifth Avenue, and the experiment "may seem at best like a scene from an old-fashioned situation comedy, and, at worst, an ethically murky exercise in self-promotion."
Then again, didn't Thoreau go to Walden Pond with a book in mind? And wasn't that pond a mere mile and a half from his home?
As someone who recently wrote a book (and is eyeing a reality TV show) based on a stunt of gambling every day for 30 straight days, I'm not about to criticize Beavan for coming up with a media-friendly idea -- especially one that required him to make real sacrifices for an entire year. Sorry, but if you go 12 months with no toilet paper, a diet dominated by root vegetables, no TV, etc., etc., you deserve a book deal and a documentary. And he does make some unassailable points about the way we live today.
There's even a feature film version of "No Impact Man" in the works, with Will Smith as the possible lead. Coming one day to 5,000 air-conditioned theaters! Ahem.
If it happens, maybe then we can ask Will to ditch the limo and take a bicycle to the set every day.