Imagine if you couldn’t produce more than one-third of a shoebox worth of trash per month. Imagine if, every time you used a paper towel to dry your hands in a public restroom, you had to carry the soggy thing with you everywhere you went.
For Mark Dixon, Ben Evans and Julie Dingman Evans—aka the YERT team—these seemingly extreme measures are par for the course. Your Environmental Road Trip is a yearlong journey conceived by Mark to document environmental issues and solutions unfolding throughout the United States. Traveling by hybrid (dubbed Rachel “the car” Carson), the trio aims to visit all 50 states, chronicling their adventures with a blog and a series of online mini-documentaries.
A major focus, says Mark, is raising awareness about solutions that all Americans—not just hard-core environmentalists—can feel comfortable adopting. The team’s respective backgrounds reflect that diversity: Julie and Ben were working as actors in New York City before joining the trip, and Mark managed an Internet company in Silicon Valley.
To walk the talk of eco-consciousness, they’ve imposed a few conservation rules. Nothing can be thrown away, and any trash generated must be deposited into that month’s shared shoebox (at the end of the trip, the contents of all 12 boxes will either be recycled, reused or thrown away). To help keep the trash down, trip sponsor Chico Bag has contributed reusable shopping bags that pack into tiny pouches. “It’s amazing how attuned we’ve gotten to the trash that comes flying at us every day,” muses Ben. “Until you start trying to make zero garbage, it’s invisible.” They’re not allowed to switch on incandescent light bulbs, so they have to carry portable LED lights for use in hotels not equipped with compact-fluorescent bulbs. And to conserve water, they rely on quick “navy showers.”
Xpress caught up with the YERT team recently at Malaprop’s Café. Checking in with various local nonprofits, they’d just visited Earthaven Ecovillage and Kleiwerks International, and they were gearing up for a Cessna flight with Southwings, which gives journalists, public officials and others a bird’s-eye view of environmental problems. Other highlights of the team’s week in Asheville included a trash-foraging excursion with local blogger/permaculturist Isabel Crabtree and an interview with climate expert Andrew Jones (better known to Xpress readers as “E-spouse” in Anne Fitten Glenn’s “Edgy Mama” column), who works for the Sustainability Institute. To welcome the YERT trio—and the “YERT squert,” as they call Julie’s unborn baby—another local nonprofit, Sustainable Asheville, teamed up with Crabtree and the New Life Journal to host a potluck at the Pearson Community Garden.
Before embarking on the trip last July 4, Mark pulled together a focus group to help hash out a plan. What he found was surprising: “A lot of people were completely unmotivated by the most profound factoids,” he says. So YERT aims to personalize sustainability by offering on-the-ground glimpses of real people doing real projects. In a nice bit of symmetry, the three plan to wrap up their adventure on July 4 of this year.
YERT also brings some levity to discussions about sustainability, which can sometimes veer into gloom-and-doom territory. While in Los Angeles, for instance, they asked people on the street if they’d heard about those new “smog-powered cars” and “solar-powered tanning beds.”
“It was very L.A.,” says Ben.
“We really are trying to be a light, more than anything,” notes Julie, focusing on positive projects, though certain harsh realities—such as mountaintop-removal mining—must be seen for what they are.
In Utah, the trio encountered Dugout Dick, a 92-year-old cave dweller who, as they put it, lives “more simply than any other human encountered by YERT.”
To date, Vermont has emerged as the greenest state, they report, though Asheville also gets a nod. And state by state, the YERT team is planting seeds and sharing inspiration.
“If you start making little, tiny cracks in people’s awareness,” says Mark, “gradually, everyone will start moving forward.”
Check out Your Environmental Road Trip online at www.yert.com.