When we at the No Impact Project first launched our immersion program in extreme environmental living—No Impact Week—I didn't dream that more than 15,000 people would participate in only a year and a half. After all, we’ re not talking about 15,000 people taking a couple of hours out of their day to attend a political rally or protest environmental issues. We are talking about 15,000 people who have taken an entire week out of their lives to experiment with socially and environmentally responsible lifestyles.
That’s a lot of people taking on a big commitment. It’s a lot of people with big hearts, who care about how we live and are questing for a better life. It’s humbling how many individuals around the world truly want to take responsibility for our planet’ s problems and find a better way to live—a way based on human values rather than economic ones.
These are people who understand that all of us are in the throes of a huge crisis, and also that this crisis provides a wonderful opportunity—a wake up call—to ask what actually makes a good life. Proponents of this movement perceive that the truly good life and the life that preserves the habitat we depend upon for our health, happiness and security are one and the same.
We are not short on major problems. We have war, climate change, political divisiveness, and over-stressed ecological systems, and we teeter dangerously close to economic collapse. Americans (and even some Europeans) suffer from depression and anxiety disorders in epidemic proportions. And that’s just in the developed economies. In the Global South, one billion people don’t even have access to clean drinking water. What's more, it is clear that the way of life behind many of these symptoms is not making us as happy as we might be. If it’s not making us happy, then what are we trashing the planet for?
There has to be a better way, and millions of us know it.
That’s one reason why No Impact Week has attracted so many participants. It is an opportunity for people to retreat from consumerism and ask themselves what their lives are really about. It’s a chance for each of us to strip away the bling from our lives and look for the true substance. What is actually important to us? What is most precious about being human? And how much do we really attend to that?
These used to be philosophical questions. But with dwindling planetary resources, they have become practical: As these resources become less abundant and more expensive, we must be sure that we are using them in ways that are in line with a purposeful way of life.
No Impact Week gives people a chance to confront these questions and share honest answers—which is why I am so happy that readers of YES! Magazine are taking up the challenge to join in. The week will be frustrating at times and joyful at others, but the point is to learn—to learn what kind of lives we really want for ourselves and our communities, to what extent the economic system permits these best lives, and how we can step up with kindness and love to do what is needed.
For some of us, this is an overwhelming task. We wonder if anything we do can make a difference at all. But ultimately, this stumbling block misses the point: The real question is whether we can live our own lives embracing the values we hold most dear. History proves the immense power of social change when individuals choose to live according to their values, participating in what they believe in and turning away from what they don’t.
In the words of Ghandi, whose vision of the transformative power of non-violence is very much present in our own hopes for a healthy, holistic, and happy society:
“The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. It may seem a distant goal, an unpractical utopia. But it is not in the least unobtainable, since it can be worked from here and now. An individual can adopt the way of life of the future—the non-violent way—without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can do it, cannot whole groups of individuals? Whole nations? Men often hesitate to make a beginning because they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. This attitude of mind is precisely our greatest obstacle to progress—an obstacle that each man, if he only will it, can clear away.”
I look forward to the time when all of us have the courage and the faith to “will it.”
Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man