The Daily Gamecock

Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man, speaks as part of USC's First-Year Reading Experience

Environmentalist author stresses need for strong community to combat problems

Colin Beavan, an environmental activist and author of “No Impact Man,” spoke about the need for strong community to solve the world’s problems at the Carolina Coliseum Monday.

Beavan’s speech focused on his book, which documents a yearlong experiment in which he and his family strove to produce no net environmental impact — depriving themselves of electricity and fossil fuel transportation, generating no trash and eating only locally grown foods. Freshmen were assigned “No Impact Man” to read as part of USC’s First-Year Reading Experience.

Though the selection of “No Impact Man” was an effort by the university to promote sustainability, Beavan did not select environmental issues and green initiatives as the primary theme of his lecture. He instead spoke about the need for cooperation in the modern world, with a prominent emphasis on global climate change.

“What we need to emphasize now is how we’re the same,” he said, offering an alternative to gridlocked politics and a fractured populace. “The only opinion that I would like you to leave this auditorium sharing with me is that, even if we have different opinions, we should work together to make the world a better place for ourselves and for our communities.”

Community was also a prominent theme among the program’s other speakers, including Helen Doerpinghaus, USC’s vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Studies, and James Barilla, an assistant English professor.

Barilla compared Beavan’s experiment to those of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Christopher McCandless. But Barilla also distinguished Beavan’s experience from theirs by arguing that “‘No Impact Man’ disconnects from the grid, not the community.”

Doerpinghaus preceded Beavan’s call for community by offering the university’s goals for the First-Year Reading Experience.

“We believe that having everyone read the same book creates common ground for discussion across our campus, and it brings us closer together as a university community,” she said.

She also said she hoped the experience would compel students to engage in intellectual discourse with faculty, staff and other students.

Indeed, “No Impact Man” elicited a number of reactions from the freshman class.

Some, like Emily Muldrow, a first-year studio art student, found the book thought-provoking.

“It definitely makes you re-evaluate how much stuff you throw away,” she said.

Others, such as Kathryn Appelbaum, a first-year broadcast journalism student, thought it lacked workable solutions for the environmental problems Beavan writes of. She argued that Beavan’s experiment was relatively easy in a city like New York but not in a suburban setting, where going green is less convenient.

Speaking at the West (Green) Quad on Monday afternoon, Beavan acknowledged that problem, saying that the “big problems with living environmentally is that it’s context-specific.”

Beavan, though, did suggest that students might challenge their own consumption by participating with his nonprofit organization, the No Impact Project, and its initiatives, including the No Impact Experiment, a weeklong experiment similar to that described in his work.