No Impact Man book/film by Colin Beavan– ‘about my little family’s one-year carbon fast’

8/9/2010 Guardian Recently, my book  was released in France.During my many interviews with French journalists, I realised that there was a bashing of the American people going on. The American
people were being blamed for the failure of the climate treaty talks in Copenhagen last year.
That American-bashing wasn’t fair. People are people and American people, per se, are no less generous and love their children no less than the French, the Germans or the British.
And it is not the American people who have stopped worthwhile climate
legislation from passing through the United States legislature. It is
corporations. The corporations – multi-national corporations – whose bottom
lines would be affected by a higher price put on fossil fuels.
So the problem is not the “American” way of life. It is that the American way of
life has sadly become the corporate way of life. The way of life in the United
States is largely under the control of corporations.
Even our food is grown on
industrial mega-farms.
To blame the American people for the failure of meaningful international action
on climate is to miss the point – and dangerous. Because let’s not forget that
there is now a Starbucks on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. And check out the
number of American-style fast-food restaurants you can now find in British city
In other words, the American way of life, if that’s what you want to call it, or
the corporate way of life, is moving to Europe. Corporations, sadly, are
unlikely to lead us to meaningful change when it comes to climate or any other
major social issue if it turns out that it will affect payments to shareholders.
Failing to draw a line in the sand when it comes to corporatisation is not only
to lose ground on climate change, but it is also to allow a culture to be run on
the basis of what is best for shareholders instead of what is best for people.
This is why, as part of my No Impact year, I bought from local farmers, who I
knew cared about the land they farmed and the animals they tended. It is why I
always advise people that campaign finance reform (the drive to get the
corporate money out American politics) may be a necessary precursor to
meaningful movement on energy reform.
But the question remains what else “we, the people” (as we say in the United
States) should do, beyond our shopping choices. Waiting for the politicians to
do something is not the answer, because, as my friend David Korten writes in
Agenda for a New Economy, “The leadership for institutional transformation
rarely comes from those who depend on existing institutions as their base of
power.” Real change comes from the grassroots.
So what can be done?
We must counterbalance the corporate/political power axis with citizen power.
For starters, this means not abandoning the political system but flooding it.
Citizens must become civically engaged until voter numbers outweigh corporate
dollars in political decision making.
But citizens must also exercise their power independently of the politicians. At
its simplest, this is a matter of citizens acting to nurture the cultural
institutions that support human rather than corporate values – local farms,
community banks, independent merchants, renewable energy – and starving
institutions that don’t, ie Wall Street and City banks, petrochemical and
military industries etc.
Examples of explosive citizen power can be found throughout history. Think of
non-violent independence and civil rights movements. Many of them started in the
same way.
People begin by reflecting their values in how they live their lives, by
changing the businesses they patronise or adapting their lifestyles. They search
for people who share their values and support their choices. Eventually, they
realise that their power increases exponentially when they work together in
In large numbers, we can starve the cultural cancers and enliven the societal
healthy tissues more quickly. So it’s also a matter of seeking out, or even
starting up, organisations that network people with shared values together. And
then moving beyond conversation to action.
This may sound onerous but things are not changing fast enough. And we will get
much in return, including the feeling of lives fully lived in a world where we
are not victims of the system but leaders of it.
• Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man film opened last week in the UK.
Go to: