Beavan is the author of this year’s Common Read book, No Impact Man, which radically addresses the issue of sustainability, one of the foremost values of the campus mission. This year, for the first time, UMass Amherst has extended Common Read events through the first nine weeks of the fall semester and has widened its compass to include members of the local community. This conversation with Beavan is the culminating event of the 2013 Common Read program.
In No Impact Man, Beavan humorously chronicles his 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.
Beavan was the highlighted speaker at the New Student Convocation on September 3. On his return visit to campus he will check back in with students, tour the Franklin Permaculture Garden, speak to several classes, and meet with Amherst town officials and other members of the community.
The environmental issues Beavan addressed in No Impact Man eventually led 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?
The Common Read, created to foster critical thinking and discussion among students, faculty, and staff, provides a shared intellectual experience for all first-year and transfer students with hopes to jumpstart the global, adaptive outlook of the Class of 2017 and their sense of living in a shared world.