No Impact Man, No Impact Mankind

No Impact Man is an incredibly influential documentary. Because it is a film, meant for both educational and entertainment purposes, I am skeptical about some of the content. For any documentary, we must ask ourselves, “how much of this is real and how much is staged?”. For example, when Colin and Michelle argue over having another child, I question if it was a true argument or if it was scripted. Because the project lasted a year, the audience is only exposed to a bare minimum of the family’s experience living a no-impact life. Did they cheat more often than we realize? Were there any conflicts they chose not to show, conflicts that might steer the audience away from helping the environment?

But like Colin said himself, this project wasn’t about limiting themselves. It was about “finding a way to get what [they needed] in a sustainable way…in a way that doesn’t hurt the planet.” My favorite part was the project’s consequential benefits. The family lived a healthier physical, mental, and social lifestyle. Physically, they ate healthier and lost weight without excessive exercise. Michelle’s struggles with diabetes subsided. Mentally, they felt unexpected happiness. While Michelle was angry and frustrated in the beginning (as I’m sure I would have been too), she even admitted that the project became fun after a while. She looked forward to shopping at the Farmer’s Market and stepping outside her comfort zone. Socially, they grew closer as a family. Forced outside their apartment, the “days lasted forever” and it truly seemed like they lived a happier life.

All these benefits make it seem like a fairytale, but Colin also said this: people are “traumatized if they have to make do with something”. Throughout the documentary, I often said to myself, “there’s no way I could do that.” And I find it sad that society has come to rely so heavily on what’s “easy”: electricity, packaged grocery food and takeout, transportation, and more. If living no-impact was a matter of life or death, than I could certainly live this way. Colin and Michelle have proven that it’s possible. But the fact is we don’t have to do this, because we can’t see the immediate effects of our over-consumption on the present-day planet.

After watching this documentary, however, I would love to try living no-impact for a shorter amount of time. Perhaps a week, or maybe just a day to start. What’s more important is what Colin said: finding ways to live without hurting the environment. If everyone simply made small changes to his or her lifestyle, the earth may not be restored to perfection, but it would help. And many of the family’s lifestyle changes were not overwhelming: shopping at the Farmer’s Market, riding my bike, and spending more time outdoors are all activities I enjoy.

I do think that there is one key component of this project: Colin was not alone. He completed this project with a family, so there was a strong sense of togetherness. You see this everyday: fitness classes, support groups, volunteer groups – the sense of “community” drives people to accomplish tasks. I think it is always easy to make changes when there is another person or group of people doing it with you. If we started decreasing our impact as a community, I believe it would have a much stronger effect than decreasing our impact as individuals.

-Brenna Thummler


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