Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No Toilet Paper Man

My wife and I watched the "No Impact Man" documentary a week or so ago on the Green Channel. You remember this guy, the one who made his poor wife live without toilet paper for a year. Steven Colbert had him on and zapped him by running an empty microwave.

To sum up, this guy decided to try to live for a year without any impact on the environment or causing any greenhouse gases to be emitted. He went so far as to shut off the electricity in his Manhattan apartment, eschew the elevator and force his wife to give up toilet paper. They never say what she did about tampons and female sanitary supplies. I suspect that she put her foot down on that one and, really, who can blame her? You only want to live like great grandma so much.

Here's a link to the New York Times story that made him famous. I remember reading it and wanting to park an idling Hummer outside his building.

Which is not to say that I am anti-green. Exactly the opposite. I am frustrated and maddened by the wholesale waste of energy in this country, the cavalier consumption of resources that Americans view as their birthright. To consume without regard for waste or overkill is to be an American, or so it seems.

But to me, No Impact Man hinders instead of helps. He was so extreme, so over the top, that he plays right into the right wing caricature of the tree-hugging hippie who wants everyone to live on sprouts and dive peddle cars to work. Serious Limbaugh bait, the kind of person Rush lives to make fun of, undermining any serious consideration of the inevitable big changes we must make. He' s just a nut. Let's go to the mall in our SUV.

This is a food blog and I'm getting to it. I found No Impact Man's food choices particularly extreme and ludicrous. To stop using olive oil because it wasn't local was absurd given that this nectar has been a trade good for more than 3,000 years, since the time of Homer and beyond. He is in effect suggesting we should back-peddle into prehistory.

His attempt at using African pots to create a primitive fridge is equally absurd. Refrigeration is one of man's greatest inventions, and no one is ever going to give it up. If he wanted to make a point, he could have used an old-fashioned ice box and hauled ice up the stairs of his apartment every week. He didn't even bother to do that, resorting to taking ice from a neighbor for a cooler to keep his daughter's milk cool. And the point was . . . ?

The key moment in the movie for me came when he is talking to a community gardener who let him help cultivate his plot in Manhattan. The rotund ex-hippie notes that No Impact Man's wife makes her living working for Businessweek, a magazine dedicated to glorifying "American corporate capitalism," the very thing that has created the excess he is rebelling against. No Impact Man is rendered speechless. What could he say? The former flower child had all but undermined his entire project in a single sentence.

The movie confirmed my initial reaction: No Impact Man's stunt was about self-aggrandizement, thirst for fame, selling book and making a movie. What he did had no impact beyond making him a celebrity and earning him some cash. So in the end, it wasn't really about the environment or saving the earth or making a point. It was about him.

How much more mainstream American can you get?

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