According to the New Yorker, I’m a slut who loves to fly and couldn’t give a s#!% about the environment

So have you read the latest edition of The New Yorker? If so, you might have noticed Elizabeth Kolbert’s rant about green memoirs. In it, she rips apart authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, authors of The 100-Mile Diet, as well as Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, and myself (you can read the full story here; the bits about Sleeping Naked is Green and me in particular are here). Basically, Kolbert takes a stab at my decision to move from a small apartment into a house with three storeys (she actually misspells it as having three “stories” — last time I checked, my house wasn’t a storyteller, but I definitely would’ve paid more if it was), as well as my trips to Banff, Oregon, Tel Aviv (it was actually the West Bank) and New York (she forgot to mention Spain), where she reveals how I met up with No Impact Man and “sniffed” at his choice of café, WHICH IS TOTALLY UNTRUE —  if anything, I felt embarrassed because I ordered a bagel with cream cheese before checking that the cream cheese was organic. Later, she mentions how Colin’s project was “almost as incoherent as [mine].” Does anyone here think my green challenge was incoherent? If so, I can explain it to you in one sentence: I made 366 eco-friendly changes to my life. That’s pretty much it.

Anyway, I’m not so much hurt by the article as confused by it — it seems Kolbert has taken the time to read through my book, or at least scan it pretty thoroughly, which makes me wonder how she missed the point of it all. In fact, the point of all these green memoirs is more or less the same: We wanted to find out what happens when the average person tries to be as eco-friendly as possible, and what our struggles and triumphs ultimately say about the green movement in general. What should we be doing? What should we not be doing? All four of us have taken plenty of time to acknowledge the hypocrisy and sense of futility that comes with such challenges, and we’ve all admitted that we’re far from being perfect environmentalists. True, perhaps we should have spent more time lobbying governments and less time debating whether or not to use toilet paper, but again, the point was to look at everyday habits — last time I checked, not everyone has time to be a professional activist.

But what do you think? Does Kolbert have a point about these “eco stunts”? Or does she have an unnecessary hate-on for green bloggers and memoirists? Leave your thoughts below!

P.S. Check out the post that Crunchy Chicken wrote about all this; she was much more on top of the game than me and there are almost 30 comments on her blog now (mostly supportive, occasionally critical).

P.P.S. I’m adding this very funny retouching of my book cover, done by one of the National Post’s graphics guys who I refer to as Stevetastic. Note the revised title (thanks, Steve!):

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77 Responses to According to the New Yorker, I’m a slut who loves to fly and couldn’t give a s#!% about the environment

  1. Barbara says:

    I think Kolbert is off base here. Instead of examining her wasteful ways, she spends her time attacking those who are making an effort to be kinder to the planet. You can be part of the solution, or you can be part of the problem. The changes you made throughout your book really did make a difference to the health of the environment, and while I was struck by the figures you presented as proof of your success, I also saw a lot of personal growth from you throughout the book, and that was inspiring.

  2. Lloyd Alter says:

    I have met Betsy Kolbert, and she has written some very serious journalism. As I said in my post on TreeHugger, she probably finds these kinds of “stunts” profoundly unserious. I really think she just doesn’t get it, does not understand that the world is changing, and that a book is just a slice of a life, rather than the finished product. I concluded:

    Kolbert read the books; I followed the blogs from the start of these experiments to their finish. While they all ended after a year, it was very clear that the people involved were profoundly changed, and that there is more to come. They are unfinished works.

  3. I thought Kolbert comes off sounding very petty in her article. I’m not sure why she focused so much on your trysts (without mentioning your eco sex tips, no less), it was hardly relevant.

    Anyway, we still love you Vanessa! And, at the very least, you can chalk it up to free publicity.

  4. EcoYogini says:

    I also thought she sounded like a huge petty snob. It’s so easy to be critical, but where does she talk about HER changes? Further, how many people have you affected, Vanessa, from your blog and your book? Just the blog and the book are a form of activism in that they reach everyday people and encourage them that this whole “eco” thing is within their reach.
    Not everyone wakes up and decides to lobby the government, political stuff takes time, and passion- which both need to be fostered.

    Her article is a very nice example of eco-backlash. I ADORED your book and thought it perfectly coherent. But then, I can spell… lol.

  5. aimee says:

    What I want to know is, did you write a letter to the editor indicating the gross misstatements and factual errors in the article? That writer should be fired, so while I’ve definitely got your back, I hope that you are directly approaching the publication as well.

  6. Emma says:

    Exactly, it’s all the Vanessas and No Impact Mans of the world that have that ripple effect on huge oil companies. They’re all now making massive changes to their energy sources to help better the world and it IS starting to make a difference. Cold’bert doesn’t know wtf she’s talking about and obviously is a cold-hearted bitch with no real friends or loved ones. That’s what you get for writing about hate all day long. It’s called positivity – you can’t buy that at Bergdorf’s. She’s the Slutface. lol.

  7. I wrote a blog post about this too. I think Kolbert must have rushed through your book and Colin’s so that she could write an article sh**ting on you guys. Her criticisms of both you and Colin seem really petty. My feeling is, do YOU want to make 366 green changes in one year? No? Okay, then shut up about it. Also what does she have against you getting some action?!

  8. G-Spur says:

    Welcome to the big time! If you had the opportunity to write something reductive of Ms. Kolbert, you could begin your first literary feud! Alas, you are far too nice for such things.

    I’m glad you posted on Crunchy Chicken about starting the year as an honest exercise, not as a stunt for a book.

    And that’s really what it all comes down to: the word “stunt.” It’s an unseemly word, full of deceit and public clowning. It allows Kolbert to focus on the acts themselves, rather than their overall impact on you and Beavan and Smith and MacKinnon. And on those you have shaken to insight.

    I’m a colleague of Vanessa’s at the Post. We know each other a little and share some of the same friends. And if there’s one thing people should know about Vanessa, thinking of her as engaging in stunts is preposterous.

    The other word in Kolbert’s story that jumped out at me was describing Vanessa as an “entertainment” reporter. Again, it’s the use of a minimizing word that offers insight into Kolbert’s intent. It costs the writer so little to describe Vanessa job more accurately as a reporter for the Arts & Life section, since she covers both aspects.

    In his speech in Toronto yesterday, Bill Clinton mentioned there would be more effect on climate change made by retrofitting buildings for greater efficiency than from all grand schemes to introduce wind and solar and other alternative energy sources. I may be oversimplifying his point (or perhaps he did it himself), but it is a reminder of the truism that we should all take from Vanessa’s effort and the efforts of the others mentioned: a small change is so often more effective than a big change. A small change is easier to accomplish. A small change is easier to maintain. A successful small change offers incentive to try another small change. A small change inspires others to try it themselves. After a while, the small changes add up. And along the way, the big answers come from adding up all the small answers, not generally from dreaming up the big answer and figuring out the one-in-a-trillion path to making that reality.

    Kolbert makes fun of Beavan for not anticipating the answers on his first day. Well, that’s preposterous. Sure, the revelations seems self-evident after the fact. But if we sat down and thought about the implications of every decision beforehand, we would all be sitting around thinking instead of trying. And failing. And trying again. And succeeding.

    At the end, Kolbert seems to be lost wondering where the big answers are and taking these writers to task for choosing a different (and I would suspect, better) way. Too bad for her.

  9. pat says:

    Like Julie and Julia, the blog and by extension the book, was about a personal journey of discovery. It is not about being preachy, consistent, or perfect. It is more about writing about a new experience and passing on those insights and experiences in a way that is interesting and engaging. Perhaps a few people will feel encouraged to try something new, perhaps not. I guess Ms Kolbert was looking for something else and thought you were all political activists. Maybe next time but I dont think that’s what most writers are interested in.

  10. Q says:

    I think most of us know that you(and colin) were not here to pull some kind of “stunt”, the reason we all read your blog is because we respect what you did and are doing. Heck. Some of us idolize(SP?) you a little bit.

    But, the trouble with having a book and a “world famous blog” is that there are always going to be critics. Roll with it. More people out there like you than hate you. My grandpa always told me(Cause you know grandpas always have the best lines) “If you can’t take the criticism, don’t do something worth criticizing.”

    But you can take it right?(Not saying that you’re not, just trying to be empowering) You’ve got so many people behind you!

  11. Amy says:

    Hey, she called Walden a “stunt,” you’re in good company! If only Thoreau had written more about his sex life…

  12. Amanda says:

    We do actually spell it “stories” in America . . haha.

    But anyway, that article would actually make me want to read your blog/book if I hadn’t already – just to see what all her fussing is about.
    :)

  13. gettinggreen says:

    Haha — thanks, guys! And yes, honestly, I’m not that disturbed or offended by this article; I get tons of angry, hateful letters being a journalist (who gets her email address put at the bottom of every single article), so I can roll with the punches. Amanda — can’t believe you spell it “stories”!! What has the world come to? :) And yes, Amy, I thought the same thing: “What? I’m in the same company as Thoreau?? Bring it on!”

  14. Hey, slut! Yeah, us Yanks spell it “stories” down here.

  15. Kimberly says:

    How does she presume to know all of these “facts”? She presents herself as some sort of omniscient being, but seriously, private conversations between writers and editors, and who you’ve slept with. How is this relevant? Where did she get this from? I just can’t take it seriously. I read the entire thing, and it left me wondering why she wrote it. There wasn’t actually any point to the piece. I would honestly just take it as an example of someone’s self-righteousness getting in the way of doing a good job. Some people can’t help it, I suppose…

  16. Green Me says:

    I think Kolbert needs to start reading again from the very beginning and take some time to come down to Earth. The very first of these “stunts” that I came across was the “100 Mile Diet” and it got me thinking. Next I came across AMV after which I decided I really needed to be more involved in changing my daily habits, starting with how my family ate. As time went on I saw that our friends and family were not making the same changes and or saw the ones that we had made as overly difficult, so I started my own blog and journey.

    I am not a writer by profession nor do I have the discipline or sense of wit to have a popular (or even daily) blog and story such as yours or Colin’s or any of the other many green stories out there and yet I’ve still managed to lead by example and have thus encouraged both friends and family to make green changes to their daily lives. And so, if I, with a readership of about 45 folks can get 5 of those folks to make a serious change in the way they live, the rest of you “stunt” makers are truly an inspiration (even if some of the changes are only temporary).

    Yes, we all know that folks in developing countries couldn’t even throw a stick at the waste we create, but that doesn’t mean taking the time to look at our excess and try to change our ways to be the joke that Kolbert implies. The good news is that the culture and the comradeship created by blogs (and books) such as yours has created a a support network of sorts, for those of us that do care.

    The bad news is that despite reading all these books, the point behind them has failed to penetrate Ms. Kolbert’s psyche. Perhaps she needs to look up the Green Phone Booth and see how those gals are leading by example with daily “stunts.” They don’t come from the professional world of writers, so perhaps she might take their works with a grain of salt.

    On another note, Kolbert fails to get the point that unlike Thoreau who lived in the woods, all of the folks she mentions, have chosen to live within current society and effect change within society. Perhaps, she would have preferred that you start an all weather Toronto shanty town rather than buy a home?

    She says Colin should stop and talk to his neighbors and write letters and so on — perhaps he does not mention these acts in his book, but if she’d read his blog (or actually talked to Colin), Kolbert would know that he has already done all these things and is continually reaching out to his community to make changes in ways he never did prior to his “stunt.”

    It is one thing to be an “armchair environmentalist” and another to be a field ethnographer. Apparently, Kolbert is the armchair variety.

  17. For me it is not difficult to understand Kolbert’s point of view. When I grabbed Vanessa’s book for the first time at the bookstore and decided to run my eyes over some entries, I got a first bad impression doubting the intentions of the book. Don’t get me wrong, these days the amount of published crap books is so humongous that I am very sceptic when looking at one.

    The thing is, I decided to go back to the bookstore and read complete entries with more attention and realized the good intentions and admirable effort of Vanessa.

    Kolbert’s article is journalistically un-healthy because it is everything but impartial. She picks a side since the beginning and decides only to attack the other, pushing her point of view untill the end. She didn’t bothered to show other people’s opinions.
    It is very easy to criticize “tree huggers”. I’m also against eco-fanaticism, always defending a moderate and rational way of defending the planet. And taking Sleeping Naked is Green as an example, since the beginning Vanessa admits who she is and what her intentions are. She reveals which changes are good or plausible and which are impossible to keep.

    Kolbert picked the wrong examples if she wanted to prove her point of view. And we, who follow Vanessa’s blog and others, know that.

    … I hate bad journalism =\

  18. Kerri says:

    “The Slut Who Loved to Fly” ha ha ha!

    If someone is going to write a critique, the least she can do is to get her facts straight. I found your book and challenge to be coherent. Perhaps it was the honesty that threw her off.

  19. greenmama says:

    Wow. I’m with Crunchy, Kolbert comes off petty.

    I love how she states that “the real work of “saving the world” goes way beyond the sorts of action that “No Impact Man” is all about” but doesn’t go any further. What green actions would work for Kolbert???

    So now saving the world has rules? I kind of thought that every little bit counts.

    Your blog, book and efforts are very coherent and honest. Looks like Kolbert chose to critique something she doesn’t fully understand. Sad.

  20. Varina says:

    I don’t think your project was stuntish. Nor were the other ones mentioned here. I personally found your change in perspective and lifestyle over a year to be quite inspiring, and got some good ideas from your blog too!

    No one person can save the world. You realise this, we (readers) realise it. I don’t think Kolbert does though.

  21. Debbie says:

    I was truly inspired by your blog and your book. You not only shared good ideas, but helped us laugh at our attempts and failures. You should consider yourself an educator as well as a fun read.
    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  22. GreenVictoria says:

    I was brought up believing that if enough of us would take a series of small steps in a particular direction it would make a HUGE difference. (Neil Armstrong said something to the effect that one small step for a man can turn into one giant leap for mankind.) Vanessa’s blog/book may seem like a “stunt” for publicity and/or personal gain but it has started many people I know thinking about the small steps for the environment they can make in their own lives and those, collectively, will make a “giant” leap for our planet. It’s said that talk is cheap – maybe Kolbert could make some of those more difficult changes in her own life and see if is all just a “stunt”.

  23. Cassidy says:

    Perception is everything in SOME cases, and while I’m very sure this reporter is speaking her mind, I also don’t think she realizes how off-base she is. Vanessa made very possible changes to her life to help save the environment and test what changes worked and were effective/do able. She never claimed to have no impact on the earth nor that she was going to save the world by her actions. What she put herself through is cool, but the fact that she stuck to it and made a GREAT (if i do say so myself) book makes her incredible!

  24. Sara Hoffman says:

    “Farquharson’s ‘green-ovations’ range from the significant to the useful to the downright ditzy”

    I can hardly see how anything is wrong with that.
    Her definition of ditzy changes are the changes that give your book its appeal to so many people.

  25. Sara Hoffman says:

    However I totally agree here. Good idea:
    What’s required is perhaps a sequel. In one chapter, Beavan could take the elevator to visit other families in his apartment building. He could talk to them about how they all need to work together to install a more efficient heating system. In another, he could ride the subway to Penn Station and then get on a train to Albany. Once there, he could lobby state lawmakers for better mass transit. In a third chapter, Beavan could devote his blog to pushing for a carbon tax. Here’s a possible title for the book: “Impact Man.”

  26. Sandy says:

    Isn’t it amazing how freely people offer negative feedback when something positive is being done? I think that any mindful steps toward better living are a positive deposit into the collective karma. Her job, unfortunately, it to be a critic. I’d follow the advice given to you earlier: consider it free publicity. I personally read your book and enjoyed it, and have made changes to my home life and classroom teaching because of it. The ripple effect alone is a valid contribution! You did a good thing, making your changes AND writing about them. And in her own way, by being vocal about her criticism, she’s raised enough ire to build reciprocal positive energy from the rest of us. You keep on putting out the positive energy. You KNOW it’s right.

  27. Matt S. says:

    I like how she talks down about you guys getting paid for writing books, like that cheapens what you’ve done. Am I supposed to feel like i got suckered for buying your book? I’m sure Kolbert doesn’t write to make money…puhlease.

    This was absurd:

    “Renunciation sets them apart and organizes their lives in the name of some higher purpose. The trouble—or, at least, a trouble—is that it’s hard to say exactly what that purpose is.”

    I don’t think it’s too hard to see that the higher purpose is to do their part to curb global warming…Right? Help the environment. Live simply. I don’t think the purpose was to gain fame or fortune…there are probably easier paths that lead to internet fame. These were good intentions that led to positive changes in their lives! And what’s more, and I don’t think I’m alone here, Vanessa inspired me to make changes in my life. In all ways, this blog was a success. You really have to try to see it in a negative light. It’s beyond me.

    Note to self: Lube is Ditzy. Serious journalistic pursuits do not include one’s lube.

  28. Diane says:

    I just read your book and not only is it informative but it’s pretty dang amusing too. It’s funny how when society is on the cusp of change the nay sayers jump out and start with the criticisms. We have to make a start at changing how we live and people who do that should be encouraged especially if they can make a living educating morons like Elizabeth Kolbert.

    Come on have a big fight with her cause it will only be more advertising for you book!

  29. Sasha says:

    I think that it’s more proper for a writer to ignore their critics, unless it’s really important to offer a rebuttal. In this case, your critic was just being peevish and snarky. Not important.

  30. Jay says:

    You can’t deny that the one-year-challenge book does sound more than a little gimmicky and it’s only natural that some people are going to question the author’s intentions in writing the book: do they really want change, or do they really just want a book and its royalties?

    It is a little silly to, say, shun old-school tooth-pickery but fly by plane to wherever.
    Or power your laptop on someone else’s dime.

    Society uses energy. It’s practically impossible to get away from it. And as the article stated, while it all may be a worthy cause, is it really necessary to canoe into the middle of the ocean for your salt?

    Changes need to be made in the world, but PT Barnum’ing your way through it is hardly conducive.
    You need to be taken seriously to get serious change.

  31. Jay says:

    I should also add that I don’t blame Kolbert for having a bee in her bonnet. She’s been writing about global warming for a long time. Now she sees a bunch of people writing cute diaries which get turned into books and get optioned. It’s a bit of a slap in the face, I’m sure.

    You have to ask yourself: why are people buying these books? The publishers figured it out easily enough… it’s all in the tagline. They are books about a stunt. And the stunt overshadows the message, however true or sincere it was.

    PS – I can’t find where she says you guys don’t care about the environment?

  32. kit says:

    No Impact Man started out pretty great, and recently he’s just made me annoyed and sad. In his year of adventure, he really had a good thing going with both telling of his experiences, his failures, and being able to be self-deprecating when necessary. If anything his failures were the best parts of the blog and were the bits that really challenged the readers to do better than him. In that regard, I think the focus of the article on him and his year is wrong. He did a great job on ‘his year’ and inspired a lot of people.

    However, since then he’s been on a foofy good-feelings cruise of telling people that the only way to be happy is not buying stuff and giving money to the No Impact Project. It’s easy to be annoyed by an obvious shill, and he’s lost a lot of the impact of his original message by watering it down in feel-good BS and attaching a “Bug your congressperson about …” to a lot of his posts. He also has a huge emphasis in the feel-good message about children and how we should do this all for them, while completely ignoring the fact that pooping out children is one of the worst things you can possibly do for the environment. Yes, I know he had already pooped his kid out before this began but his lack of introspection and need to constantly reaffirm his belief in the infallible magic of his own sperm donation is pretty out of line with the message you would take from something with “No Impact” in the title.

    Disregarding my irritation with the current status of NIM, I’ve really appreciated that you’ve stuck to a less rigorous but otherwise consistent posting focus after your year was up. Part of what a lot of these blogs don’t get is the follow-through aspect and showing what maintenance is once you’ve reached a happy stasis point. This is true for green, financial, weight-loss, just about any sort of personal improvement blogs. Thanks for keeping it going beyond the well-defined part.

    I do think the article tried to apply the same standard to all the people profiled. You never said you were going to try to beat NIM at his own game and do it in perfect makeup and face cream- just that you were making a change a day. As far as I recall, none of them were about never flying again. I know air travel is a huge thing, but I do think that it’s something you balance against the rest of your lifestyle. Yes, as a North American you’re going to have a higher impact than a Bangladeshi. However, you’re statistically very likely as a Bangladeshi to have a half dozen kids, which if you have a ‘one planet’ carbon footprint for yourself you’ll automatically be a ‘seven planet’ with the kids, which is a lot higher than the North American ‘five planet’. I find those calculations pretty silly, but the number of people is ALWAYS going to make the biggest difference.

  33. pat says:

    Love the new Book title!

  34. Nicole says:

    My advice is to remember the journo adage that if you’re not pissing people off, you’re not doing your job.

    You did this for your own reasons and whether or not someone considers it a stunt, it obviously had an effect, big or small, on many (myself included and I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet). At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and in mine I think she should lambaste the people who produce reality television shows about “living” in the jungle or having celebrity dance-offs.

  35. John says:

    As a former journalist and devout New Yorker fan, I understand and appreciate Kolbert’s thesis that your work – and the work of other like-minded bloggers- share a focus on “whacky misadventure.” That’s part of the allure, yes? But she does miss an essential point. Whacky or not, there are nuggets of truth in your reporting and a sharing of ideas essential to changing the course of our civilization. If just some of your lifestyle changes were adopted by millions of westerners, they would have a profound impact. And, look at it this way, you got free publicity and gained another reader and fan! John, Seattle

  36. eco-spice says:

    Your book changed my life (and, correspondingly, my wife’s). It tackled what are serious issue for many people: how hard is it to become ‘greener'; what becoming ‘greener’ will be like… Plus, you did it in an entertaining way which made it hard to put the book down.

    If anything, the New Yorker article will: a) make more people want to read your book; and, b) change a few more lives…even if the article is stupid.

  37. Vanessa Williams says:

    Vanessa –

    I also felt the New Yorker article was a bit harsh, however, as a result I learned about you, your blog, and your book. I’m a few chapters into at this point and loving it (you’re hilarious!). Chalk it up to all publicity is good publicity.

  38. Being a slut is about attitude not actions. Speaking of sluttiness and seed planting. Doesn’t matter whether the hater/journalist thought what (or who) you did was good or bad. Even though I think what you did is amazingly fantastic, even bigger are the seeds of goodness you planted in the minds of all your readers that will grow into positive action. She planted seeds of nasty which will only grow into nasty in her life.

    I’ll whore it up with you around the world any day (though it looks like that time has come and gone before it started).

    Much love, support and lentil soup,
    Meghan (of page 5 and chapter 10 fame)

  39. tyler says:

    I understand that Kolbert is trying to say that both you and Beavan are capitalizing on “stunt” experiments compared to people living in third world conditions. However, she misses in that the people living in the slums of Rio do not have the opportunity to make “green” changes. It is the rest of us who should follow in your footsteps ( whether they are carbon laden at the beginning or not ) and make changes to our lifestyles such as waste reduction and when purchasing and consuming to keep in mind items ( yes even homes ) that are more “cradle-to-cradle”. It will be the middle class that with this new “greener” attitude that will shift global markets to make items that have zero-net impact and encourage politicians to get behind the environmental movement ( if only to save their job ). Sometimes leaders need to see the group behind them in order to know they are going in the right direction.

    To not report that even after you finished your “stunts” and are still so obviously changed as individuals is blind to the power of a raised consciousness.

  40. Mike says:

    You rock! Don’t worry about Kolbert.

  41. I have to say that it seems in this day and age that the idea of critique has been completely forgotten by any and every critic in any and all criticisms. Must she try to find the lewd or bad in everything? The idea is to laud the good, address the bad, and then offer a balanced report and possible solution.

    Seems like this article is a bit of a stunt, all by itself ;)

    love the new book title.

  42. Karen says:

    Where does the article call you a slut?

  43. Lucas says:

    Karen,

    The writer infers this by her use of language and the context of the statement about Vanessa’s love life. The writer of the article is not going to come out and make such a slanderous statement, but it is certainly there “between the lines”. You might say that Vanessa paraphrased the articles writer, in naming this blog-post.

  44. Cora says:

    I was disappointed in the New Yorker article and loved your book!

    “sleeping green” was exactly what I was looking for, being more than a little cynical myself.

    The criticism in Kolbert’s article seems a bit cheap and easy. Does the fact that No Impact Man wants a book contract invalidate everything he does and says?

    I fail to see how indulging in travel invalidates everything else Vanessa did. Vanessa didn’t need to address the travel issue and its impact and what she was doing to at least partially justify it. This could simply have been one change she choose not to make or even address, thus removing herself from potential criticism. I think one of the strengths of the book is how someone who loves travel and indulgence and luxuries manages to compromise. And write brilliantly about it!

    What I especially loved about “sleeping green” was the acknowledgement that some of the changes would be ones Vanessa could not sustain but that she hoped most of them would stick. I kept checking the epilogue to see how changes that would really challenge me fared in the end.

    The point of the books/blogs I have read is to reduce in spite of our consumption oriented culture. What I enjoy and find inspiring about reading them is how hard this can be to do. Part of the challenge is that options are not available or hideously expensive or carry their own enviromental issues. It is also difficult to be weirdly different. I loved that Vanessa found so many easy eco-friendly things to do, like sleeping naked!

    Congratulations on accepting even half the Crunchy Chicken wipes challenge!

    and this post menopausal woman loved hearing the grotty details of the diva cup….I had imagined that it would work about as well as a diaphragm and have been grateful that this is a challenge I don’t have to face.

    Big changes can’t happen until small ones become acceptable. It reminds me of all the arguments against recyling programs, arguments that are cropping up again now that the depressed economy has reduced the market for recycled raw materials. Even if most of the stuff ends up in the landfill for the next year of longer it seems worthwhile to keep all of us trained to use our recyling bins. Until we are inspired and trained up by all these “eco-stunt” authors and bloggers to just say no to most disposable containers.

    Once the “eco stunt” people have enough of us turning down our thermostats to “freeze your buns” level (thanks Crunchy Chicken) we will figure that we would rather have pay for good siting and insulation than flash decorative elements and wasted square footage. I hear from those who follow these things that even a three year pay back is too long term for most home buyers to consider spending more for a house that will cost less to heat/cool.

    Thanks to all the eco and frugal bloggers and authors! You are blazing a path to a better world.

  45. Well, the article does poke fun at you and No Impact Man, but it also led me (and I imagine thousands of others) to your blog. Being mentioned in The New Yorker has its perks :)

  46. Nic says:

    Maybe it’s karma seeking retribution for all the vegan-bashing you did in your book! Haha, I’m just kidding, I thought your book was great. I know the author of the post article aimed to demean you with the term “stunt” but stunts are what get people’s attention, and that’s what the environmental movement needs. It also needs honest, non-holier-than-thou folks like you to say that, yea, some of this stuff isn’t easy but we do it anyway because we want to make a difference. I have so many people tell me they could “never do” the things they see me do in an attempt to be ethical, and I think books where people are willing to admit that we all slip up sometimes, we all struggle, and we all started out not knowing what a composting toilet was can only make this lifestyle more accessible.

  47. Bridget says:

    Once I realized that the article in The New Yorker was 4 pages long I just started skimming it. I must say Kolbert did an excellent job of selling your books and blogs. You all should get together and thank her because she probably convinced at least a few people to buy what your selling. We all know that women LOVE to gossip and Kolbert revealing to everyone that you don’t mind hooking up with random men you barely know is sure to get a few women to buy the book just to find out what the specifics were on that drama. I think she ran out of original ideas of her own to write about so she decided that she would rant about your projects. We should probably forgive her because we all get writing blocks once and a while.

  48. katyallgeyer says:

    A good controversy is very very good publicity. Congratulations on scoring such a coup, in The New Yorker no less!
    Katy

    http://fengshuibyfishgirl.com

  49. H bylake says:

    The review did lead me to read the book (and start Plenty), so I credit it for that.

    The review (and the book cover, probably) did lead me to suspect there would be more hijinks than there were… my goodness, a single 28 year-old has 2 relationships, at different times, in a year? Hardly shocking. I wonder if that was just a tossed-off sentiment in the midst of her larger criticism, which was about the plane travel. (Of which there did seem to be a lot.) In that sense, her line may be parallel to Vanessa’s comment about the coffeeshop ‘not being particularly green,’ which a reader could assign more to than the author intended.

    Kolbert’s piece felt focused on Beavan’s book, and his goal. It is fair to raise the airplane issue, which Farquharson didn’t say much about. On the other hand, her goal was to take a lot of acts to reduce impact – not to minimize impact, like Beavan – so the criticism be more fitting for his book than hers.

    But Kolbert missed the chance to note some of what distinguishes this book. Farquharson’s not quite so consistently serious about her activism as most authors of such books are (we might perhaps include Kingsolver and Pollan here), and she doesn’t have as fixed a set of rules as others do (Kolbert could’ve contrasted her with the 12-hour-journey for salt absolutism she dislikes). The fact that she isn’t quite as ascetic as the others, and breaks rules occasionally, makes her more accessible as a role model. As do her cynicism/sarcasm, and willingness to raise (if briefly) questions about green tactics.

  50. illuviel says:

    Vanessa, You may wish to let your editor or agent know the publisher’s website isn’t working properly: the link to the catalog entry for Sleeping Naked is Green is broken.

    I reviewed Sleeping Naked and posted my annotated list of your Green List on my blog.

    Your book will give me fodder for contemplation and action for quite a while, as well as having been an entertaining read. Thanks for writing it.

  51. Green Muffin says:

    I bet Kolbert doesn’t use a Diva!

  52. M Man says:

    So…hmm…there’s no polite way to ask this…harumph…but I can’t help myself.

    So, do you ever make it to northern Ohio? In your flying machine??? Ever??

  53. Michelle says:

    Has anyone ever asked what Elizabeth is doing to save the world, or is she just to high and mighty on top of her New York apartment to do anything? Does she do all the things that she suggested No-Impact Man do (write congress for better public transit, talk to her neighbours about how they can all make a difference, or heavens forbid go without her precious Starbucks coffee!) I would like to see what she does in her daily life to help save the environment.
    I agree with Vanessa and all the other environmentalists out there, every little bit helps! Keep on doing your small things, cause together they equal big changes.
    cheers

  54. Sunshine+Design says:

    The edited book cover is hilarious! Just take Kolbert’s criticism as all press is good press. I totally support you.

  55. Kim aka 'that librarian" says:

    She’s a bit on the negative side, hmm. If you follow her logic, anyone who makes any changes publicly has an ulterior motive – like David Suzuki could only possibly be in it for the big TV bucks.

    I find that I’m always coming up against people who get really defensive when someone else makes a significant change. As she says – people don’t like reading about what a mess they are in. And books like this make it kind of obvious and do instill a certain level of guilt.

    She does make a good argument at the end – that spreading the word and encouraging others would have a great impact. We should all take those steps, for sure. But if books and blogs reach thousands and cause them to think critically and get involved, then isn’t that what these folks are all doing?

  56. Robb says:

    I had similar concerns about Colin Beavan as Kolbert, but she doesn’t have to be so snooty about it, right?

  57. CJSkye says:

    FYI, Americans pluralize “story” of a house as “stories.” “Storeys” is the British English version, and though used in Canada, is not used in the States. However, I do agree she highly mischaracterizes all the books within the review, and from The New Yorker, no less! Oh, well, any press is supposedly good press right?!

  58. Amélie says:

    It’s better to do something than nothing. I support you!

  59. Cynthia says:

    She’s obtuse. Sad to think a “serious journalist” (?)
    cannot read between the lines.

  60. Steve says:

    Hi Vanessa, I came by this site having listened to the CBC piece this morning on The Current. My interest was piqued. So I read Kolbert’s piece and had a look at your blog and some of its earlier postings.
    A few observations come to mind:
    1. You *do* love to fly. (I haven’t read your book, so I have no comment on the “s-iness” that Kolbert alludes to. For real.)
    2. Your criticism of (Dead)monton as unworthy of an environmental prize by virtue of its proximity to the oilsands comes across as hypocritical and petty. Oil is being extracted from this area to satisfy demand for petroleum products, such as airplane fuel.
    3. Following (2), suppose you were to give up flying but instead spend your weekends racing stock cars in Barrie, Ont. Let’s say the carbon impact was essentially equivalent. Don’t you think that your environmental cred would be weakened when you add the caveat that “giving up stock car racing is not something I’m prepared to do at this point in my life,” while discussing the merits of low flow toilets?
    4. Of course your project was a stunt. Webster’s dictionary (irony intended) defines a stunt as “an unusual or difficult feat requiring great skill or daring; especially : one performed or undertaken chiefly to gain attention or publicity.” Did you not intend to gain attention or publicity from your project? Of course you did … hence the book and blog. I’m not saying its not without merit, but you should call a spade a spade.

    I do appreciate what you are trying to do, and I think “disingeneous” might be the wrong term to use on Kolbert’s part. But lots of which she says is bang on. I fear that in trying to be “not too smug about it,” at some points you are coming across as being pretty smug about it.

  61. Kath says:

    We are all hypocrites of one type or another — kudos to you that you are at least honest and transparent about it! And to David Suzuki for announcing recently that he’s decided not to fly at all any more (although in his case you wonder if age and experience helps in making the decision).

    As a climate scientist my suggestions for eco-friendly video conferences are constantly being shot down by colleagues who prefer to fly half-way around the world to talk about how climate change is affecting our planet. And I have to do the same if I’m to remain active in the community. So you are by no means the only one Kolbert could accuse.

    Carbon credits are a temporary fix, but major long-term solutions are needed — and books like yours are helping us see that.

    Love the book by the way. Just picked it up on a trip home to Toronto and have been laughing ever since!

  62. Wendy says:

    Just bought the book, and am enjoying it and feel inspired! That is the purpose of your endeavour, right? Through small actions and changes, through education and example, we can make great strides in changing the way we live and hopefully repair some of the damage we have caused.

    Don’t be concerned by what this journalist has written. Unfortunately controversy and bad news sells. She does not define you…she defines herself and her abilities as a journalist. Just her opinion… and this is mine.

  63. H bylake says:

    To get a sense of where Kolbert is coming from, check out her new review of the “SuperFreakonomics” chapter on climate change. That’s a book whose perspective she *really* dislikes…

    She argues “indeed, just about everything they have to say on the topic is, factually speaking, wrong” and “while some forms of horseshit are no longer a problem, others will always be with us.”

    Kolbert ends up implying that a lot of changes in everyday life will be required to deal with climate change; the kind of changes Vanessa’s book explores.

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/11/16/091116crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all

  64. SharonaE131 says:

    I just want to put my two cents in:

    1. I try to be as green as I can each day, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always gratifying.

    2. No matter what you did or how you did it, (I just started the book) Kudos to you for trying to make the world a better place.

    3. Remember, opinions are like certain not-so-green body parts, everyone has one, so don’t sweat it. Keep on moving. Thnaks for being a good influence on the rest of us.

  65. Jen says:

    I just finished your book and I loved it! I am in a sustainable business masters degree and got this book for eco friendly advice. I laughed out loud while reading it. Great job!

  66. Tradd says:

    I’m reading your book as i type! I love it so far! I consider myself an eco-virgin…im just getting into the nitty-gritty of being an environmentalist! Your book is inspiring, and i cant wait to finish it! Also, the reason i picked up your book was because in my english class, we needed to write essays on narrative nonfiction, so i picked up your book and buried my nose in deep! Im halfway through, and its only been two days! I love the things you did, and im trying to follow them if i can =]
    I would love to know if you would ever try to do something like this again, or maybe i should just wait and finish the book to find out whether or not your crazy adventures will continue!

    -in retrospect (no idea what the word means, love it though!), Moi

  67. David Wiley says:

    I just finished your book. I thought it was very coherent, honest, and enjoyable. I also think Kolbert has a valid point or two. You freely admit that the jet travel undid all the carbon savings of everything else you did (probably many, many times over). This is the exact opposite of “We wanted to find out what happens when the average person tries to be as eco-friendly as possible” and a shining of missing the forest for the trees. If your intention is to be as eco-friendly as possible giving up jet travel is much more important than giving up a car and orders of magnitude more important than where your apple comes from.

    I give you props for setting clear goals and meeting them, but I don’t think anyone reading your book is going to gain a better understanding of the environmental movement or gain any motivation to make permanent changes in their own life.

  68. catobbsessedteen says:

    I just finished your book and decided to check out your blog and i think that some peoples reactions are hilarious and it made me realize how green my family is already and Im realy just jealous of your fairytale ending.

    now i want to find a store like your local green one
    wow i just realized how close we live than what my brain thought of i live in lower michigan haha

    ps free rice is awesome

    pps love your cat sounds like my own yuki

  69. Jasmijn says:

    Well I wonder if she ever tried to wash her hair with vinegar! I think you are very cool and very funny, I both your book not long a go (I live in Holland, so I’m a bit slow when it comes to anything cool) and love it! I can’t wait to read the fairytale ending…
    But I have to say, the Dutch title (Green, greener greenest) is a little bit disappointing now I know the original title!
    Thanks for the crazy, inspiring year!
    I’m going to put my huge and almost empty refrigerator on the Dutch come-get-it-for-free webpage now. (So look what you have accomplished!)

  70. Iuhm Woylhs says:

    How’s things? I am getting a Javascript alert on occasion when I first come to this webpage but only when I use IE9. I figured you may wish to know. Best wishes

  71. Coco Okamoto says:

    Hello there. I am Coco from Japan. I have not read all the comments here but I just had to say “sorry” about this and how you may have felt. I thought your work was pretty comical and made things look stupid in our (my) life – of course in a good way.
    In other words, brilliant and very inspiring. I would not call myself an environmentalist(in case some people get mad at me) but I have started in fact making some eco-changes in my life as you did. I am Japanese and currently living in Japan where we have completely different lifestyle to yours(we have few vegetarian options in restaurants but have good local sake instead for example) so I suddenly felt a need of doing the same in different context although your book has been translated in Japanese. I have only read the English one (myblog at http://iknowlittle.tumblr.com/) What I wanted to say, is that you made me do this challenge without meeting me.
    And, I am spreading the word of yours right now without knowing who the hell you actually are.(sorry for my bad language used, I got a little bit passionate lol)
    I think that is awesome and your work as a whole, is definitely making some changes in the world. Maybe a little or a lot, I don’t know, but still.
    Sorry about the long comment on your blog, hope you have a good weekend. Ciao ;)

  72. Coco Okamoto says:

    Sorry I had to add one more thing.
    It is negative, though, as checking my flight CO2 emission after a challenge of carbon offsetting, flying takes up so much CO2 emission so I would not recommend anyone to do that unless you really have to go somewhere even you know that the action may kill some polar bears and other species on the earth…

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  77. Scott Tucker says:

    Scott Tucker

    According to the New Yorker, I’m a slut who loves to fly and couldn’t give a s#!% about the environment | Green as a Thistle

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