When we watched the first half of “No Impact Man” in class I walked out of class annoyed, not at the wife, but at the husband. It was hard for me to put it into words, but I felt like I was watching a biased political debate. Something in me sort of became a bit bitter and I went back to my roommate and yapped about how we watched a video about a guy in NYC who didn’t bathe.
After some time of sorting my thoughts out, I realized what had really irked me the most about Colin’s project was that the method he was trying to raise awareness depended solely on two things: the fact that he felt like doing it and the message he was trying to get across.
“Feeling” like doing something is different from “having” to do something. “Feeling” like doing something is waking up one day as a middle-class consumer and thinking “I want to clean my house today!” while having to do something is waking up as a minimum-wage earning maid who has to wake up early everyday to wipe down dust on every corner of several households, everyday, for god knows how long. “Feeling” like not using any electricity, not buying things they don’t need, not using air conditioning is a choice that only certain people with a certain degree of privilege can make. “Having” to live without electricity or the benefits of first-world commodities is very, very different from “feeling” like you can do without it. What annoyed me the most was almost how oblivious he was to this at first. Colin almost had the mindset that what he was doing is justified, without acknowledging the fact that there are people in the world that live in those conditions that he is just starting to get his feet wet in.
Of course, this dissipates later in the film, about nine months later, when he talks about the exact things I wanted him to talk about. This alleviated my annoyance with Colin.
Secondly, what popped into my mind as I watched the video was his goal as a whole. Colin made this documentary to highlight just how much Americans waste on a daily basis. By cutting back, he showed that people can cut back on the amount of water they use and the amount of trash they throw away. While this is good for personal benefits and for the community, I feel like the goal as a whole does not pinpoint on the exact problem that has to be talked about. While individual humans do contribute to the pollution and rising temperatures of the earth, what is it that is allowing us to do so? If energy consumption is used mostly by big energy corporations that depend solely on taking earth’s resources and trying to make people use it, how does just not using electricity for a year do anything? Corporations will still dig into the earth for coal and suck up oil. All of American cutting back will still not do anything, because in this consumer economy we will still be fed the fossil fuels and petroleum, and the corporations will continue to get money and continue to shred the earth. All these sort of less water, less electricity done on an individual scale does nothing to move the power that corporations hold that destroy the planet. If Colin wanted to truly show just how much energy and resources are being depleted from earth, it would have been better to write or do a documentary on the process and ways corporations use the earth for its own personal benefit. His entire project was how one individual can avoid corporations for a year, but cars are still being used to carry the produce in the farmers market around. News outlets still churn electricity when they are filming him. He is still using energy when he uses his computer to blog about it. The candles that he bought are still made in factories. The house that he lives in exist because of chopped forests. Colin may not think he is a byproduct of America’s consumer economy but unless he stops supporting anything that is remotely linked to a corporation that wastes, then he is still fueling the system.
While this video may highlight our wasteful culture, I honestly feel like the video did little to nothing to give us a solution on how we can really stop climate change. There have been so many videos and talks like this, about clubs and groups and people who bike and eat vegan and wear only cotton, but in the long run those actions will not do anything for the betterment of our environment, as bitter as that sounds. If we really wanted to make a change, perhaps aiding developing countries with ecofriendly technology instead of berating them for not having any, educating the general population about the direct effects of waste instead of guilt tripping them, and lobbying against corporations that only want money.