Can you become rich just by changing the way you think? There's an entire sub genre of self help books dedicated to this premise, the best known being The Secret. The problem with The Secret -- well, OK, one problem with The Secret (there are others, but that's a discussion for another day) -- is that it promotes the fatally flawed equation that more stuff equals greater happiness.
What if the opposite is true? What if it turns out that true fulfillment comes from having less stuff, simplifying our lives, trading money spent badly for time spent well? That's the premise of the No Impact Project, the non-profit foundation that grew out of Colin Beavan's No Impact Man blog and book.
Admittedly, I'm closer to this project than most folks, both literally and figuratively; I live around the corner from Colin and share his passion for environmental issues. Like Colin, I believe we'd benefit from living a less fossil-fuelish way of life, whether by adopting alternative modes of transit, growing some of our own food, shopping secondhand, or turning off the TV and turning to each other for entertainment.
I wasn't always a fan. When Colin embarked on his year-long ecological experiment to see how far he, his wife Michelle Conlin, and their little girl Isabella, could go to lighten their 'carbon footprint,' I wrote him off as a shameless self-promoter. The long list of creature comforts the family gave up made the whole endeavor sound like a contrived reality TV drama about drastic deprivation.
But I defected from the anti-Colin camp early on, after encountering several folks who'd been genuinely inspired by the No Impact project. Colin turned out to be a compelling advocate for "engaged citizenship," a twofold approach to ecologically minded living that calls on us to act both individually and collectively to improve our own lives, our communities and the world beyond.
Colin and his family discovered the upside to downsizing; that real wealth accrues from cultivating relationships and resources, from spending time with friends and family, and developing skills that help you achieve self-sufficiency. If we invested in these intangible assets instead of accumulating more things, we'd amass a fortune that couldn't be wiped out by fires, floods, market meltdowns, or any other disaster, man made or natural.
Of course, this would undermine our consumer driven economy, which relies on keeping us in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction in order to sell us all that stuff we don't need. So it's kind of heretical to suggest that we flee the mall and seek refuge at the Church of Life After Shopping.
But, as Michael Moore so aptly documents in Capitalism: A Love Story, a society that permits a wealthy few to prosper at the expense of the rest of us is a morally bankrupt culture that impoverishes us all. And can we really justify burning through nearly 25% of the world's resources when we're just 5% of the population? How can we tell folks in India and China that they can't drive everywhere and eat meat three times a day just like we do?
By hopping off the consumer treadmill and living more mindfully, Colin and his family have sparked a national discussion about our way of life and the things we choose to value. And now, Huffington Post's asking you to join this crucial conversation by participating in the inaugural No Impact Week challenge. Starting today, October 18th, and continuing through the 24th, we're encouraging you to share Colin's experiment with low impact living and become an environmentally engaged citizen.
The No Impact project asks you to rethink a particular area of your life each day, beginning today with consumption. Tomorrow, it's on to trash, then transportation, food, energy, water, and community involvement. The No Impact Project guide is full of great resources, relevant links and helpful tips for each category. Your fellow No Impact participants will offer virtual support and share their own adventures and experiments over the course of the week. Us Huffington Post Green page bloggers will be giving our take on each day's chosen topic, too.
I've signed up for this "carbon cleanse" and it's my sincere hope that you will, too. What better way to flush the toxins of contagious consumerism out of your system? The No Impact Project can empower you, help you connect with your fellow citizens and counter what author Barbara Ehrenreich calls the "empathy deficit" -- the disconnected, self-absorbed mindset sanctioned by The Secret and other advocates of the new-agey narcissism that conflates net worth with self worth.
Ehrenreich appeared last week on the Daily Show to promote her new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. She bemoaned our tendency to offer glib exhortations to "think positive" in lieu of becoming actively engaged in addressing the crises that confront us. Ehrenreich suggested that we "...try to see what's happening in the world and figure out what you can do to change it if it's going wrong."
Well, when it comes to our environment, plenty of things are going wrong. You know it, too. It's enough to make you want to curl up into a defensive, defeated little ball of doom and gloom. The climate change experts are even admitting that their worst case scenarios may have been too rosy. What can one person possibly do, at this point?
A lot, as it happens. Join us for No Impact Week and you'll find out that there are plenty of choices you can make that do matter. And you won't be making them alone; you'll be part of our community of carbon cutters. Let the No Impact Guide be your low impact life coach. Once you reevaluate your needs and wants, you might just discover, as Colin and his family did, that you're a lot richer than you think.