August 27, 2013

No Impact Man

Common Reading for the class of 2017

How can one’s lifestyle actually be improved by reducing consumption? Do we have to be a disposable culture? What does our trash tell us about how we live? These are some of the questions that UMass students, faculty, and staff will be addressing with this year’s Common Read.

For the first time ever, UMass Amherst is extending Common Read events through the first nine weeks of the fall semester, and widening its compass to include members of the local community. The expansion celebrates this year’s Common Read book: No Impact Man, which radically addresses sustainability, one of the foremost values of the campus mission.

The Common Read offers a shared intellectual experience for all first-year and transfer students. Faculty and administrators created the Read to foster critical thinking and discussion among students, faculty, and staff.

Colin Beavan, the book’s author, will speak at the New Student Convocation and attend faculty chats and other New Student Orientation events. He will return to campus in early October to check back in with students, tour the Franklin Permaculture Garden, and meet with officials from the town of Amherst and other members of the community.

No Impact Man chronicles Beavan’s yearlong experiment attempting to reduce his family’s environmental footprint to zero… while living in Manhattan. This feat involved, among other demands, no carbon-based transport, no paper, no waste, and eventually no electricity.

The Pioneer Valley, with its small farms, and emphasis on sustainability, regional agriculture, and the environment, is a supportive laboratory for students and community members to examine their own habits of consumption and resource use, and possibly even to implement new practices.

The environmental issues No Impact Man addresses eventually lead to an exploration of existential themes: What is the definition of a good life? And how much are we attached to the self we have created out of our desires?

Discussions will also cover the values of participatory democracy, the importance of individual action as well as collective action, and the demands and rewards of living with conviction and integrity to one’s own principles. The Common Read hopes to jumpstart the global, adaptive outlook of the Class of 2017 and their sense of living in a shared world.

Use hashtags #UMass2017 and #NoImpact Man on Twitter to find out more about this year's Common Read.