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One Book. One Community.

In 2010, the University of Arizona BookStores, College of Humanities, and the UA Alumni Association launched a new venture called UA Reads, a campus- and community-wide common reading program. This exciting project provides students, especially first-year students, with a common reading experience that enhances critical thinking and promotes the exchange of ideas across disciplines. UA Reads is your opportunity to build connections with faculty and staff and be actively engaged in an intellectual community will enrich your journey into lifelong education.

This year’s book, No Impact Man, is available at no cost to first-year students thanks to a grant from UA’s Parents and Family Association. If you’re interested in receiving a copy, contact UA BookStores

This year, UA Reads will work in conjunction with campus and community sustainability groups such as EcoOps, Students for Sustainability, Compost Cats, Residence Life Sustainability, Solar Cats, and others. Check the UA Reads blog for events and projects that combine an appreciation for well-crafted stories with the desire to preserve and improve our environment.

About the book.

UA Student Union Memorial Center

The 2012-2013 UA Reads selection: No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. Order book online »

A guilty liberal finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, and generally becomes a tree-hugging lunatic who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, Four Seasons-loving wife along for the ride. And that’s just the beginning. Bill McKibben meets Bill Bryson in this seriously engaging look at one man’s decision to put his money where his mouth is and go off the grid for one year—while still living in New York City—to see if it’s possible to make no net impact on the environment. In other words, no trash, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no air-conditioning, no television....

What would it be like to try to live a no-impact lifestyle? Is it possible? Could it catch on? Is living this way more satisfying or less satisfying? Harder or easier? Is it worthwhile or senseless? Are we all doomed or can our culture reduce the barriers to sustainable living so it becomes as easy as falling off a log? These are the questions at the heart of this whole mad endeavor, via which Colin Beavan hopes to explain to the rest of us how we can realistically live a more “eco-effective” and by turns more content life in an age of inconvenient truths.

Discussion Questions

Join the discussion on the UA Reads blog!

  1. Colin Beavan asks, “Is it true that a guy like me can’t make a difference? Or am I just too lazy or frightened to try?” What answers to these questions did he come up with by the end of the book? Which of the family’s actions made the most significant impact?

  2. Beavan traces much of our wasteful culture back to consumerism and the “hedonic treadmill,” the notion that there is always something better out there than what was just purchased. Can you identify purchases or habits in your own life that fit this psychological profile? What consumer products truly improve your life? What could you do without altogether?

  3. Food plays a major role in this story. How much of the food you eat is locally grown? Organic? Processed? Did No Impact Man inspire you to change your eating and drinking habits?

  4. Beavan runs into many situations in No Impact Man regarding the profusion of packaging waste: paper or plastic at the grocery store, paper plates at the pizza joint, delivery in Styrofoam clamshells. How much packaging waste do you accumulate? How does your community manage landfills and recycling programs? Should it be up to individuals, businesses, or governments to reduce waste?

  5. At first, Beavan’s wife, Michelle, is a reluctant partner in the No Impact experiment. Discuss her transformation. Why do her attitudes change over the course of the year? How would the project have been different if Beavan had tried it solo?

  6. Did Isabelle have a harder or easier time than her parents in adjusting to the No Impact lifestyle? Did the perspective of a child make the project more challenging, or less? What would the world be like for Isabelle’s generation if all parents set the No Impact example?

  7. Colin and Michelle run into friction with their respective families for proposing that flying for twice-yearly visits is too carbon intense. How have family expectations changed since the rise of interstate highways and the airline industry?

  8. Happiness forms a theme in No Impact Man. Would you be happier if you slowed down, dispensed with the instant conveniences, and did more things the old-fashioned way? What are your options for slowing down? What holds you back?

  9. Colin Beavan’s experiment is similar to Henry David Thoreau’s sojourn to Walden Pond in the mid-nineteenth century. Is it human nature to want a simpler life (Thoreau craved it before the Industrial Revolution), or is it natural to want to be a consumer? What were the challenges and benefits of performing the experiment in New York City?

  10. Who has the greater responsibility in addressing climate change and pollution: the government or individuals? How can individuals most effectively help usher in change, locally and at the federal level? What does No Impact Man teach us about persuading naysayers?