Ministry of Controversy

Sustainable happiness


When mentee Ron emailed me Thursday with a heads-up on a radio show, I wasn’t too enthusiastic. Yet another discussion of our carbon footprint on NPR? Sure, there are less appetizing topics (economic forecasts, for one), but for some time green living has inspired a media feeding frenzy. How much more guilt needs to be heaped upon us? How many more dire scenarios must we envision? But as I obediently listened to On Point on Thursday, I found myself intrigued by the equation one of the guests, Colin Beavan, had devised to make sustainability work for him and his family.

A “don’t freak out; don’t be self-righteous; do what you can” mindset appeals to me and that’s at least partially a driving force behind Beavan’s famous blog, No Impact Man, though Beavan takes sustainable living farther than most of us ever will. Here’s Beavan’s opening manifesto:

A guilty liberal finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, composts his poop, and, while living in New York City, generally turns into a tree-hugging lunatic, who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, four seasons-loving wife along for the ride.

Yes. Humor. That’s what’s needed. But I appreciate Beavan’s on-going rationale even more. On the NPR program, he continually paired the word “happy” with his advice and in the blog always uses words like “abundance”; the idea is to focus less on deprivation/restriction and more on changes that work, and that actually make life better, not just more sustainable. Sort of like effective dieting I guess (but probably equally as difficult!).

Beavan’s initial concept was to take a year to develop a no impact lifestyle, a year that is now up. After the year, he would assess what worked, what didn’t, and how to proceed. For a typical day in a no impact year, this post tells it best. I particularly liked the premise of “escaping city life by embracing it:” using mass transportation, hanging out more with neighbors, and families spending more time with each other.

OK, the gardening part. Beavan started a vegetable plot in a nearby community garden; stuck to a locally-grown (local trumping organic), meat-free, minimal-dairy diet; and vermi-composted (no garbage allowed!). His posts on the problems of eating meat are very compelling; particularly since after years of always preferring the side dishes to the main course, I’m feeling more and more inclined to give it up as well. Maybe.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the No Impact Man project and blog, but to me it was new and—I don’t hesitate to say—inspirational, particularly given its urban setting. Will I follow suit? Not to the same degree, certainly, but finding a way to do all I can happily and abundantly sounds more like fun and less like punishment.

Posted by on April 13, 2008 at 5:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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4 responses to “Sustainable happiness”

  1. Willi says:

    Thanks for the edging info. I’ve been pouring over my options for some new beds I’m building and your recommendation definitely fits my garden’s look (and budget)! Thanks!

  2. deb says:

    Hi Joy,
    I have been trying to live greener since I was 12. I learned a lot from my grandparents. As farmer/ranchers they simply could not waste. The new way of treating this as a “guilt trip” really turns me off. Glad you added a sense of “Come on, I can’t save the world on a quarter acre lot, but I will do what I can and enjoy it.


  3. deb says:

    Whoopsie, sorry, I know you are not joy.

  4. susan harris says:

    I love this post and the “don’t freak out, don’t be self-righteous” message from the No Impact Man. It’s a huge challenge to write about environmental issues WITHOUT sounding self-righteous or fear-mongering, but definitely worth the effort.