You’re a practitioner of Zen and Buddhism. Does this coincide with your environmental work?
Both environmentalism and spirituality ask questions, like “How do I live? What’s my relationship to my community? What should I really spend my life doing?” Our consumer economy has a bunch of answers to those questions, but increasingly people are finding those answers unsatisfying.
All religions are about understanding our relationship to each other and to the world. There are types of environmentalists who think that our problems will be solved if we just create more solar power and wind farms. I’m not one of those.
I think that to save our habitat, we have to change how we relate to everyone and everything around us.
Tell us about your No Impact Project.
I started the No Impact Project in 2009 and we run weeklong no-impact engagement programs for colleges and businesses. It’s about living as environmentally as possible and some people call it a “retreat from consumerism.”
So far, over 70,000 people around the world have been part of it. Our research shows that even after two years of going through No Impact Week, people are still three times more likely to maintain environmental living habits.
Sounds great. And you also have a new book coming out!
When I first started the No Impact Man book, it wasn’t about living as environmentally as possible. It was about creating a story that attracted attention to the environment. As a communication strategy, it was wildly successful. It used narrative nonfiction to engage people in the quest for better lives. It was really a spectacle to subvert people’s thinking.
The new book will subvert self-help. People want to be happier and live better, but it’s about how to find the kind of happiness that helps the world, too. I’m not interested in your being happy and driving an SUV. A good life is one that’s good for you and good for your neighbors.
I’d imagine it’s hard to do environmental work without becoming discouraged. How do you stay positive?
It’s a matter of what you put your attention on, and I try and stay focused on the now. By all appearances, in any given moment, we have the best lives in the world. Keeping your eye on those amazing things is not a way to excuse yourself from the not amazing things that are happening — it’s just a way to give yourself energy. Happy people have more to give.
This conversation has been edited and condensed
Photo courtesy of colinbeavan.com