"It is mid-afternoon in an airy, lower-Manhattan flat, on the ninth floor of a posh-looking building with a doorman.
It is a bit dark and there are no lights on. There is a strange quiet feel to the flat, perhaps due to the lack of any appliances - no fridge humming, no TV interference, even no air conditioning, though it is hot and humid outside."
Some of the steps they've taken seem really waaaaaaay out there for us ordinary folks, but some seem entirely doable. We can all take our own bags to the store and make efforts to cut down on our water use. [Note to self: try this last one. It might get certain family members to stop yelling at you.] But I'm not so sure that I'm ready to forgo toilet paper and, much as I want to have a compost pile, I'm am NOT keeping worms in my kitchen.
Anyway, it's interesting how they've divided their actions with respect to "reducing impact" into phases (reducing waste, then eliminating carbon-producing transport, then turning off the electricity, and now focusing on water usage). It makes the environmental impact of various activities more apparent than going off the grid in one fell swoop would.
It's also interesting to flip the concept around and instead of looking at the impact of their action on the environment, to see how their experiment has affected them. In the article, Beavan's wife mentions that "[i]n essence, the project has really slowed down time, which is pretty amazing considering how fast time has become, and especially with us living in New York - you come home to a quiet, soothing cocoon."
Isn't that what a home is supposed to be - a refuge from the world? How does this play out with our hyper-connected lives? (Personally, I'm tethered not more that about 12 inches from my laptop for the greater part of my waking hours.) When are we not surrounded by things that buzz and hum and require electricity? (A: Ummm...ya, like never.) Beyond the obvious differences, how does their urban oasis of (almost) gadget free-ness compare to the more Walden-esque method of going completely off the grid in philosophy, actual impact, etc? Which is preferable? More feasible?
The scale of their year long experiment is another issue to consider. Obviously, zero impact for 3 people for 1 year is an infinitesimally small change in the global scheme of things. (To borrow from Thomas Friedman's very interesting NYT column today--which you all should read--Doha just ate that for lunch.) Since it's not making that much of a difference in real terms, is the point of their experiment a personal quest to have a guilt-free conscience? Or is it to raise awareness? If so, are not projects of grander scale, but lesser "depth" more likely to do that? (See: Hour of darkness; A former Google spokesman wants people in San Francisco to see the stars and save energy by turning off their lights for one night in October. [LA Times])
From my ramblings above, it's clear that the Beavan's social experiment raises more questions that it can possibly answer, but that's the point--to spark a discussion and make all of us be more mindful of our choices and whatnot. Anyway, I'm going to shut up now 'cause I'm not prepared for my next class and my books (aka: my new best friends who go everywhere with me) are calling out for attention. Discuss amongst yourselves in the comments, if you please.
For more information, check out Beavan's blog about the family's experiences.