If you’re like most environmentalists, you’ve tried putting your life through one of those online carbon footprint calculators — you know, the kind that tells you we’d need 4.5 Earths or so to sustain your current lifestyle. And if you’re like most, you’ve managed to bring down that number of Earths somewhat — though not down to one.
Colin and Michelle’s experimental year actually began back in November 2006, so many of the details of the No Impact experiment — from cutting off the electricity to foregoing elevators, subways and even toilet paper — will be familiar to fans of the No Impact Man blog, launched back in February 2007. But the film brings to life the personal joys and struggles of the experiment — and the personalities of the experimenters.
Michelle, for one, was a woman who’d spend $900+ on a pair of designer boots — but comes to love getting around town on a scooter or bike. Colin initiated the No Impact experiment, but goes through low moods when he questions whether his efforts will be worthwhile or meaningful at all. And the two have heartfelt fights, not just over maggoty compost and hippie coolers that just don’t work — but also about Michelle’s desire for a second child.
In the film, Colin notes that the year-long experiment is more philosophical than scientific. After all, no hardcore number crunching went into figuring out exactly what environmental impact the No Impact lifestyle made. Much of the experiment, in fact, hinged on intangible, unmeasurable effects — the community created by pitching in at an urban garden, the relationships strengthened by turning off the TV, the less hectic plans that seemed to let weekends stretch on and on.
No Impact Man in fact shows how our perceptions of pleasure — and appreciation of simple joys — change as we change our lifestyle. When the fridge and freezer are excised from the No Impact lifestyle, some family friction results. But after a while, the couple adjusts — and Michelle begins to cheats a little by getting ice from the fridge at her workplace. The big smile that a simple cup of ice water puts on her face makes you rediscover how much of our lifestyles of conveniences and satisfactions we too often take for granted.
Directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, No Impact Man opens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 11 — then goes national on Sept. 18.
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