File this under Astonishing Human Antics of the Recent Past
That didn't stop them from making a movie about him of course (trailer below).
Here's the excerpt and continuation which prompted yesterday's response.
And needless to say, we don't make this stuff up.
2006, Colin Beavan, the author of two works of popular history, was casting about for a book idea. Beavan was living in lower Manhattan, near N.Y.U., and that winter there was a weird heat wave that sent bevies of coeds out onto the streets in tank tops. He didn’t know much about global warming, but the sight of all those bare-armed girls in January got him thinking. Maybe his next project should be “about what’s important.” Over lunch at a pricey midtown restaurant, he told his agent that he wanted to “find a way to encourage a society that emphasizes a little less self-indulgence.” His agent reacted coolly. “The way you talk about it is a bummer,” he said. “How will I be able to convince a publisher that people will spend twenty-four ninety-five on a book that tells them how screwed up they are?”
At a second lunch a few weeks later (presumably at another restaurant), Beavan came back with another idea. What if, instead of encouraging society to change, he set about changing himself? For a year, he and his family would attempt to live, in his words, “as environmentally as possible.” They would not be satisfied with well-meaning but relatively easy measures, like switching to compact-fluorescent light bulbs and diligently recycling, or even with wildly ambitious, fantastically difficult ones, like eliminating their carbon emissions. No, they would try to live in a ninth-floor apartment in Greenwich Village without producing any environmental impact whatsoever—“zero carbon . . . also zero waste in the ground, zero pollution in the air, zero resources sucked from the earth, zero toxins in the water.” All the while, Beavan would write a blog about it. This time, his agent was intrigued.
“One guy tries to save the world?” he asked. “Like Superman or Spider-Man?”
“How about No Impact Man?” Beavan responded.
Beavan’s stunt, or, as he likes to refer to it, his “experiment,” is now complete. He, his wife, Michelle, and his young daughter, Isabella, spent twelve months striving, under increasingly trying circumstances, to reach zero. As planned, Beavan has chronicled their efforts, and named the book after his favorite superhero, “No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $25).
The basic setup of “No Impact Man” is, by this point, familiar. During the past few years, one book after another has organized itself around some nouveau-Thoreauvian conceit. This might consist of spending a month eating only food grown in an urban back yard, as in “Farm City” (2009), or a year eating food produced on a gentleman’s farm, as in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (2007). It might involve driving across the country on used cooking oil, as in “Greasy Rider” (2008), or giving up fossil fuels for goats, as in “Farewell, My Subaru” (2008).
Here's the kicker from Kolbert.
All of these stunts can be seen as responses to the same difficulty. Owing to a combination of factors—population growth, greenhouse-gas emissions, logging, overfishing, and, as Beavan points out, sheer self-indulgence—humanity is in the process of bringing about an ecological catastrophe of unparalleled scope and significance. Yet most people are in no mood to read about how screwed up they are. It’s a bummer. If you’re the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the Pope or Al Gore, you can try to fight this with yet another multivolume report or encyclical. If not, you’d better get a gimmick.
Anyway, it continues in the laugh-out-loud way below, and there are several more pages where this came from.
On the first morning of his experiment, Beavan wakes up with a stuffy nose. Back in his high-impact days, twelve hours earlier, he would have just used a Kleenex and tossed it in the garbage. But the initial challenge he has set for No Impact Man is eliminating trash. After wandering around the apartment for a while in his underwear, he has an inspiration. He will blow his nose in a cloth napkin, and then throw the napkin in the wash.
No sooner has this problem been solved than another presents itself. Isabella, awakened by his honking, wants to get out of her crib. Beavan finds that she has a wet diaper. This eventuality, too, he seems not to have anticipated. He puts her in a new disposable diaper and throws away the old one. Isabella next demands milk. Beavan pours her a sippy-cupful, only to discover that he now has an empty milk carton to deal with. Yet another unforeseen complication!