ABC Again Touts Toilet Paper-shunning Environmentalist; Downplays Liberalism

On Thursday’s Good Morning America, for the third time in two years, Sam Champion interviewed an extreme environmentalist who shunned toilet paper for a year as part of a project to be carbon neutral. Colin Beavan, also known as "No Impact Man," appeared on the show to promote a new documentary and book on his experience. This time, however, Champion downplayed the bizarre elements of Beavan’s life.

The host made no mention of the fact that, in addition to not using amenities such as elevators, cars and electricity, Beavan also stopped partaking in the practice of using toilet paper. (This aspect was noted on ABCNews.com.) Champion did refer to the project as a "year-long experiment in living extreme green." But, the ABC weatherman skipped any discussion of the left-wing nature of Beavan's life. The full title of the environmentalist’s book is "No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process." [Emphasis added] (The book title did appear briefly as an on-screen graphic.)

If Beavan isn’t trying to hid his liberalism, why is Champion? After the ABC personality vaguely invited the environmental activist to give him "three tips," he didn’t say on what, Beavan suggested, "And take a day of rest. Don't buy anything. Don't turn anything on and rest." Is this socialism or environmentalism? Or both?

Beavan also requested, "...For your own health, eat less beef. Beef happens to cause- Beef production causes more global warming than anything else." During the segment, he wore a shirt touting a website that fights climate change.  

On the May 10, 2007, co-host Diane Sawyer attempted to delicately explain Beavan's process of going to the bathroom without toilet paper:

DIANE SAWYER: Now, I know everybody wants to know what you do instead of toilet paper. I'm not going to tell them. I’m going to let them go online and search this out for themselves. Let me just say it’s the Bedouin solution. If you don’t know what that is, you’re on your own out there.

On February 5, 2009, Champion profiled another extreme environmentalist, one who decided to live in his own filth for a year.

UPDATE: 2009-09-03 12:45:00

Times Watch editor Clay Waters observed that the New Yorker slammed Beavan for the hypocrisy of his eco-stunt in the August 31 issue:

There’s something a tad disingenuous here. Beavan is, after all, a man whose environmental activism began over lunch with his agent. And it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in electrical engineering to see through his claims to experimental rigor. Indeed, in its own candlelit way, his project is almost as incoherent as Farquharson’s. When No Impact Man shuts off the power at his apartment, you might think that his blog would have to go dark (and along with it his compulsive checking of his ratings on Technorati). But every day Beavan bikes to the Writers Room, on Broadway at Waverly Place, and plugs in his laptop. Meanwhile, Michelle scooters off to work at the offices of BusinessWeek, and Isabella spends the day at the (presumably electrified) apartment of a sitter.

So committed is Beavan to his claim of zero impact that he can’t—or won’t—see the deforestation for the trees. He worries a great deal about the environmental consequences of Michelle’s tampon use and the shrink-wrap around a block of cheese. But when it comes to his building’s heating system, which is apparently so wasteful that people are opening windows in the middle of winter, he just throws up his hands.

A more honest title for Beavan’s book would have been "Low Impact Man," and a truly honest title would have been "Not Quite So High Impact Man." Even during the year that Beavan spent drinking out of a Mason jar, more than two billion people were, quite inadvertently, living lives of lower impact than his. Most of them were struggling to get by in the slums of Delhi or Rio or scratching out a living in rural Africa or South America. A few were sleeping in cardboard boxes on the street not far from Beavan’s Fifth Avenue apartment.

A transcript of the September 3 segment, which aired at 8:50am EDT, follows:

SAM CHAMPION: Take a moment to imagine raising your family, maybe it's a toddler, in a very big city, without any electricity, without a car, without television, which is impossible. And without buying anything new, but food, for a year. Well, Colin Beavan did it. And he lived to write about it in a book called No Impact Man. There's going to be a documentary coming out. There’s going to be a film coming out. No Impact Man the documentary is out September 11th. He joins us now to talk about his year-long experiment in living extreme green, we say. Colin, first of all, so nice to see you.

ABC GRAPHIC: No Impact Man: Life After a Year Off the Grid

COLIN BEAVAN: It’s nice to see you, sir.

CHAMPION: And thank you for, you know, showing us what you were going to do before you did it. And now, it seems like it's been, you know, - I know it's been a tough time for you. What was the idea behind the project?

BEAVAN: Well, in 2006, the news was coming out about global warming. And I was becoming aware of it for the first time. And I didn't feel as though the government was doing anything about it. I didn't feel as though big business was doing anything about it. And I thought, maybe in some small way, we as individuals are going to have to do something about it. And I thought, if I personally try to do something, and I wrote a book and publicized it, maybe we would attract more attention to this crucial issue.

CHAMPION: It was- I remember the first time we sat and talked about what your plan was. And you had a family. I mean, your wife, Michelle, is involved in this. Your little daughter, Isabella, who was then two, now four and a half. As, as- For them, what was the toughest thing they had to adjust to?

BEAVAN: For Isabella, it wasn't tough at all. I mean, like, we were going up and down the stairs because we weren’t using the elevator.

CHAMPION: Nine floors, by the way.

BEAVAN: Yeah, that’s right. And she'd be riding our shoulders. Or for example, like, everybody thinks it's going to be tough. But, for example, in the summer, on the hot days, instead of turning on the air conditioning on and huddling in the apartment by ourselves, what we would do is we would go to the local fountain and hang out with our neighbors and be social. And Isabella would run in the fountain. The fact of the matter is, if we consume a lot less, if we consume a lot less, we may discover there's another, happier life that’s available to us.

CHAMPION: And we know the documentary is coming out. We’ve got the book right here. The book the green printed, by the way. Tell me- I know, you, you probably forced that issue. So, what did you have to do to get that done?

BEAVAN: Well, actually, Farrar, Straus and Giroux was very onboard from the beginning. So, I didn't have to force them. But, they had to do different research into- maybe you would use bamboo or something. All this different research to find out what the best way was. And it turned out to use 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper was the best way to produce this book. And the nice thing is every time a publisher publishes a book this way, it's one step closer to the whole industry publishing like that.

CHAMPION: Moving in that direction. Before we got to go and we’ve got just a few seconds. Give us just three tips for everybody else. Because you've come now into this at a cycle where America really wants to cut back and do things less expensively. And this can work for that, as well. So, give me three tips.

BEAVAN: Okay, so first of all, I should tell you we have lots of tips at Noimpactproject.org.

CHAMPION: Right.

BEAVAN: But the three tips are, first of all, for your own health, eat less beef. Beef happens to cause- Beef production causes more global warming than anything else.

CHAMPION: Hang on. Give me two more quick and then we gotta go. Because we are already-

BEAVAN: No bottled water.

CHAMPION: Right.

BEAVAN: And take a day of rest. Don't buy anything. Don't turn anything on and rest.

CHAMPION: Away from purchasing.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org