When I thought about talking to fellow eco-colleagues about how they’re parenting, taking action, and feeling at this very moment, in the face of climate change, I reached out to Colin Beavan right away. You may recognize his name; he’s No Impact Man. His 2009 documentary with that name detailed his attempt to give up modern creature comforts, including his New York City elevator and even his fridge (!), in an effort to drastically reduce his environmental impact. His daughter Bella, who was four in the film, is now a teenager.
“I felt all of the feelings you are talking about and of course I have grappled with them, which is why I feel like I can speak to them,” he told me.
His approach to the climate crisis is to embrace what we don’t know. As in: I don’t actually know that I’m not going to have grandchildren, as he pointed out. Fair enough. “We are stuck in the face of mystery perpetually. We make up ideas about what life is and what is going on and we live out those stories but we just live in mystery,” he said, adding: “Sometimes we push the mystery away with stories about how we can help and how we can’t help.”
Staying with the mystery, Beavan chooses to act on climate in ways that come naturally to him. “The parts of our nature we love to express — love and compassion — and the expression of that is an end in itself. We don’t know if it is going to fix climate change, but we do know a life lived in love and compassion is better than a life not lived that way, because it feels better.”
This spoke to me. As did this: “This whole question of, Is there hope/is there not hope? – is unanswerable. It’s actually a distraction. Though it’s great when we have hope and it gives us energy to move forward. The real question is: Who do we want to be in this world as we see it.”
Since No Impact Man, Beavan has been on a path to find out what it means to be a human being. His most recent book is How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World. Some other actions he has taken include being a 350.org messenger and a dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. He sits on the board of Transportation Alternatives and has tried his hand at running for office (as the Green Party congressional candidate for New York’s 8thdistrict back in 2012). Beavan also has a coaching practice, helping clients find more authentic ways of living and aiding them to feel more connected to their families, communities, and lives.
As for how he talks to his daughter about the climate crisis, he shared the following story: “We were showing the film a few summers ago at Omega Institute and at the Q&A, someone asked Bella what she thought about climate. She said, Well if you’re scared, acknowledge that you’re scared. And then just ask yourself what you can do.”
I acknowledged my confusion. “It’s really good if you’re confused,” Beavan said. “A state of confusion opens things up to you. It doesn’t mean stop. Keep doing what you’re really good at, what you love doing.”
I’m following Beavan’s advice that the most powerful way anyone can help right now is to proceed from a place of passion, from what we like to do. For me, that includes writing these very words.