The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection
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"Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue Style"Plus: Defecating on an American Flag
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The toilet paper-offsetting life: It stinks.

A “guilty liberal” family tries to live a “no impact” lifestyle in New York City.

The New York Times reporter, Pamela Green(!), chronicles the family in “The Year Without Toilet Paper.” They use baking powder instead of toothpaste. Scooters instead of the subway. And no utilities in their no-impact home:

A sour odor hovered oh-so-slightly in the air, the faint tang, not wholly unpleasant, that is the mark of the home composter. Isabella Beavan, age 2, staggered around the neo-Modern furniture — the Eames chairs, the brown velvet couch, the Lucite lamps and the steel cafe table upon which dinner was set — her silhouette greatly amplified by her organic cotton diapers in their enormous boiled-wool, snap-front cover.

A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.

…Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Mr. Beavan, who has written one book about the origins of forensic detective work and another about D-Day, said he was ready for a new subject, hoping to tread more lightly on the planet and maybe be an inspiration to others in the process.

Also, he needed a new book project and the No Impact year was the only one of four possibilities his agent thought would sell. This being 2007, Mr. Beavan is showcasing No Impact in a blog ( laced with links and testimonials from New Environmentalist authorities like His agent did indeed secure him a book deal, with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and he and his family are being tailed by Laura Gabbert, a documentary filmmaker and Ms. Conlin’s best friend…

…The television, a flat-screen, high-definition 46-incher, is long gone. Saturday night charades are in. Mr. Beavan likes to talk about social glue — community building — as a natural byproduct of No Impact. The (fluorescent) lights are still on, and so is the stove. Mr. Beavan, who has a Ph.D. in applied physics, has not yet figured out a carbon-fuel-free power alternative that will run up here on the ninth floor, though he does subscribe to Con Ed’s Green Power program, for which he pays a premium, and which adds a measure of wind and hydro power to the old coal and nuclear grid.

The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. (Consider the ramifications of no-elevator living in a vertical city: one day recently, when Frankie the dog had digestive problems, Mr. Beavan, who takes Isabella to day care — six flights of stairs in a building six blocks away — and writes at the Writers Room on Astor Place — 12 flights of stairs, also six blocks away — estimated that by nightfall he had climbed 115 flights of stairs.) And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).

Until three weeks ago, however, Ms. Conlin was following her “high-fructose corn syrup ways,” meaning double espressos and pastries administered daily. “Giving up the coffee was like crashing down from a crystal meth addiction,” she said. “I had to leave work and go to bed for 24 hours.”

Toothpaste is baking soda (a box makes trash, to be sure, but of a better quality than a metal tube), but Ms. Conlin is still wearing the lipstick she gets from a friend who works at Lancôme, as well as moisturizers from Fresh and Kiehl’s. When the bottles, tubes and jars are empty, Mr. Beavan has promised her homemade, rules-appropriate substitutes. (Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.)

So, they refuse to wipe their two-year-old’s bottom and have sworn off paper to save the trees.

But Daddy will kill how many of those trees selling books bragging about their impact-less lifestyles? (Beavan promises: “…the book will come out some time in 2009 (assuming the world, me and FSG all still exist). It will be printed and produced in some, yet to be determined, sustainable way.”) Uh-huh.

Like Al Gore, these people are beyond parody.


From the “No Impact Man’s” question-and-answer page, I kid you not:

Can your wife use tampons?

Let’s just say this. Disposable culture is a big problem. We’re moving away from it. And I promised Michelle I would not discuss this for now. She has to be allowed to draw a line somewhere (at least that’s what our couples’ therapist says—joking). Anyway, for more on the tampon topic, read the comments in this post.

Have you considered the climate/waste/energy input associated with eating diary?

Please don’t try to make us give up our milk and cheese and homemade yogurt. I’m begging you. Since we’re eating only unpackaged local and seasonal food, that would pretty much leave us with nothing but apples a la cabbage and cabbage a la apples. Besides, we buy our milk from the local Ronnybrook Farms, where the cows are fed grass and homegrown corn.

How do you make fruit scrap vinegar?


Great book: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Get your scraps of fruit—apple cores, dregs of berries (though no berries for us cause they’re not in season), whatever—and chop up coarsely. Dissolve a quarter cup of honey (recipe calls for sugar but I can’t get it locally) in one quart water. Throw the scraps in and cover with a cloth. Let ferment for two or three weeks, stirring occasionally. Adds great flavor to—you guessed it—cabbage.

But what about after peeing, do you still wash? Isn’t that a waste of water?

To the tune of Oh Christmas Tree: Oh polar bears, oh polar bears, I bared my bathroom habits just for you… I bet you can figure out a solution. You don’t need me for this. Just picture our bathroom. There is a special bowl for cleaning water near the toilet and a towel for drying. What would you do if you didn’t want to waste water? I’m not usually coy but people have started calling me No Toilet Paper Man instead of No Impact Man.


While we’re on the subject of liberal crap: It wasn’t enough that Portland anti-war thugs burned a US soldier in effigy, and tore and burned the American flag. According to the Portland Tribune, they also knocked a Portland police officer off his bicycle and committed yet another disgusting act:

This splinter group of protesters showed its support for “peace” by burning a U.S. soldier in effigy. It exhibited its supposedly pacifist nature by knocking a police officer off his bike — an action that brought out the police riot squad.

Perhaps the most disturbing scene of the afternoon, however, involved the man who pulled down his pants in front of women and children and defecated on a burning U.S. flag. This disgusting act actually elicited cheers from some members of the crowd, but we hope that the emotion it produces in the community is one of revulsion…

The anti-war demonstrators who behaved responsibly this past weekend have an obligation to denounce — and distance themselves from — those protesters who purposefully offend others and consequently destroy the intended message of peace.

Still waiting.

A few fringe actors? Not.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Al Gore