Friday 29 April 2011

10 things I've learned

I can’t believe it. The no-impact month is officially over, as of a couple of days ago. Of course, it’s just another beginning, not just because I'm not yet living with zero impact, but because I want to make this an ongoing project. For now, though, here are 10 things I’ve learned so far...

1. You can start wherever you are. No matter how big or small your carbon footprint, you can start, right now, reducing your impact on the environment, and that’s kinda empowering. My favourite quote of the month is: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, we are all crew” (Marshall McLuhan).

2. It can be hard. Going completely “no impact” is a tall order. I didn’t realise how challenging it would be, mostly in terms of there being a lot to learn, before you make the right choices. Quite a few times I felt overwhelmed by information and possibilities. But at least there are possibilities, right? That’s a good thing.

3. It's fun. Yes, it is. There’s a perception that going “green” means wearing hair-shirts and never washing your hair, or at least not enjoying life in all its glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, there are inconvenient truths – we've watched Food IncThe End of the LineHomeThe Cove and Sharkwater – but I’ve found all these docos motivating rather than despairing; most end with the conviction that human beings are clever, creative creatures (on our good days) more than capable of solving the problems around us.

4. It takes commitment. This waxes and wanes like the moon. Some things are easier than others. Writing it all down kept me going, if only because it reminded me that it’s about the process, not the end-point. Having Craig as my eco-partner also helped. It’s definitely more do-able if you have company.
5. Everything’s connected. And we’re part of the natural world. Sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but it’s easy to forget. As Cam Walker at Friends of the Earth once told me: “We’re embedded in the ecological system every time we breathe, every time we drink water or turn on a light switch. Everything you do has impact, but that also means that you have a relationship with the ecological systems of the planet. Once you realise that, it broadens your sense of self and your sense of human community and beyond that it places the human community within the natural community.”

6. It makes you pay attention. Trying to live with less impact is an exercise in living mindfully. The more we notice what we’re doing, and attend to the seemingly inconsequential acts that make up every day, the more we're able to do what needs to be done, instead of just buying, switching on, tuning out unconsciously, out of habit.

7. Electricity-free nights rock! Having one “unplugged” candlelit night a week was one of the highlights of the whole project. It was mid-week time-out. Like camping, with home comforts. And I’m getting better at Scrabble…

8. We live in energy-hungry times. I’m not advocating going back to washing clothes by throwing them against rocks in a stream, or using two tin cans joined by string to "phone" your friends, but we do use more energy now than our parents did. That’s a call to action in itself.

9. People are supportive. I didn’t expect this but whenever we mentioned that we were going low-impact or trying to reduce packaging or something else that went against the grain, people were curious and interested. That inspired me to keep going.

10. Colin Beavan is a legend. I admire him now more than ever after this month – not only did he go extreme (no public transport, no electricity, no flying, no tv, and he solar-powered his laptop), he did it with a small child, in New York, for a year. Many times throughout the project I thought: what would Colin do? And it would inspire me to dig deeper and try harder to relinquish comfort or convenience for the sake of the no-impact mission. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the No Impact Man DVD, get it screened at your local cinema, buy the book and do whatever you can do live no-impact.

Lastly, there’s no going back. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the (non-recyclable plastic) tube. Making changes, big or small, changes you. So it’s onward from here. Now to write next month’s to-do list.

Have the ripples spread to your pond? Any no-impact experiences to share? Let's all inspire each other. 

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