by ANNA RABHAN
More powerful than a single-panel portable solar power system. Able to motivate whole groups of citizens in a single evening. Look there! On the FSCJ campus! It’s an environmentalist. It’s a catalyst for teaching good writing through reading. It’s No Impact Man!
Colin Beavan captivated the world when, in 2006, he and his family began a project aimed at living with as little impact on the planet as possible. They didn’t just change their lightbulbs and start recycling. Oh, no. Motivated by dismay at his own complacency and at his tendency toward liberal finger wagging backed up by, at best, token actions, he decided it must be all or nothing. No trash, no fossil fuel-guzzling transportation, no non-local food, no emission-creating electricity, no buying new things, no needless planetary resource consumption of any kind. For a year. In New York City. Throughout the process, Beavan blogged about the experience, providing a means by which to attract broad public attention to a range of pressing environmental crises as well as to get people starting to wonder if the things for which we are killing our planet are the things that really make us happy (www.noimpactman.typepad.com).
Word spread of this crazy New Yorker and his experiment and, at the end of it all, Beavan published No Impact Man, his account of the year spent trying to make a difference as an individual and of his discoveries about our Western way of life and the nature of happiness (www.us.macmillan.com/noimpactman). At the same time, Oscilloscope Pictures released a documentary, also called No Impact Man, chronicling the year on film (www.noimpactdoc.com/index_m.php). “Paradoxically,” Beavan says, “it may not have been the creating less trash and other measures per se that made the greatest difference. Instead, what made the difference was publicly letting people know that I was trying, and trying hard, and having them see the efforts.” The latest result of those efforts, the book, and the film is the No Impact Project, which uses those tools to improve the environment by empowering people on an individual basis to change their behaviors and habits. Those interested can participate in a week-long No Impact experiment (www.noimpactproject.org).
Meanwhile, on a college campus in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Heidi Marshall, professor of English at Florida State College at Jacksonville, had been trying to ensure that students read, think critically and write well. For three years, Dr. Marshall has facilitated learning communities at FSC like the No Impact Man program. Dr. Marshall says, “Learning communities are when classes join together in some common project, often combining disciplines, campuses, full-time and part-time professors. … We have over 30 professors teaching [Beavan’s] book this year in disciplines such as English, Speech, Psychology, Digital Media, Art, Biology, Humanities and more.”
In the English classroom, students have been reading and discussing the book together. They have also used the book and the topics it touches on to learn about and produce descriptive, cause and effect, compare or contrast, and persuasive types of writing. They have done oral presentations, and some students have even gotten involved with community environmental projects. “Clearly,” says one English Composition professor, “many students appeared to be shocked and fully unaware of the world’s current problems … but then they warmed up to [Beavan’s] family, started to care, and became very vocal about environmental issues and the seriousness of the problem.”
“We chose the book,” says Marshall, “because we want our students to have meaningful learning experiences outside of the classroom. … We also wanted to have our students join in real global conversations, and environmental concerns definitely fall into that category.” In addition to coordinating sponsorship for the program with the book’s publisher and making related resources available to faculty, Dr. Marshall coordinates community involvement. “Our students [are] reading the book, going to [the author’s lecture], and participating in river clean-ups,” Marshall says. There are, in fact, several activities going on that Marshall has coordinated with organizations such as the St. Johns Riverkeeper (www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org) and the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service (http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/about_us.shtml).
The feature event of this learning community project will be a visit by the author, Colin Beavan (www.colinbeavan.com), to FSCJ’s campus on March 8. Students and instructors will get to talk with Mr. Beavan, and the event, to be held at 7 pm in the South Campus Wilson Center theatre, is free and open to the public so that the whole community can get involved. Marshall says, “Reading a book and actually having the author visit the school leaves a lasting impact on our students.” Get your copy of No Impact Man, Jacksonville, and join FSCJ in making a positive difference.
No Impact Man makes huge impact on FSCJ students
by ANNA RABHAN