Lars Jan’s Holoscenes Project

I had the opportunity recently to attend a talk with Lars Jan, the artist responsible for Holoscenes, a performance project exemplifying people’s reactions to sea level rise, who was paired with social scientist, Sabine Marx, from CRED (Center for Research on Environmental Decisions) at Columbia University.

Watching the video of Lar’s work, I was struck by it’s clarity. It was one of many similar examples of live performances of people doing ordinary things, like food shopping, taking a nap or, in this case, playing the guitar, in 360 degree viewable vitrines over the course of 12 hours. The hook in this video is the fellow playing the guitar is doing so in a vertical, human-sized aquarium, or vitrine, that fills and empties with water in time with the rise and fall of BP’s stock prices for the year over the course of one hour. Sitting on the chair calmly playing guitar the water rises until he must stand, and then begins to float with the guitar above his head, and then eventually letting the guitar go in order to breathe and swim.

holoscenes guitar 2

In time, the water recedes, depositing the player on the ground where he rights his chair, raises the soggy, water-filled guitar above his head and empties it behind him. And then resumes playing as if nothing had happened.

© Christian Bobak

The scene repeats itself with variations – the water level rising not always to the top but always enough to disturb the activity of guitar playing, but not enough to stop it altogether or cause undue alarm.


The guitar player is subjected to this irregular and unpredictable onslaught of water pouring in and out for one hour. The other examples of activities are the same. Equally poignant is the nap video. As we sleep, sea level rise is happening all around us. There seems to be little we can do but ride the wave of water that disturbs the now swimming sleeper who has to catch the floating pillow and blanket as it swirls all around, until finally the water recedes and the nap resumes, only to be disturbed yet again. But the result is the same: retrieve the pillow and go back to sleep. An attention grabbing allegory for the overwhelming crisis for the ordinary man that is climate change.

Holoscenes nap

The message I retained from this experience is in line with the work CRED does – the social science behind climate change perception and action reveals that as humans our memories are short, our attention spans shorter. Our flight or flight biology rules us whether we know it or not. One is almost always in the mindset to fix the immediate problem, not consider the possibility of its repetition, and maintain status quo. We empty the water-filled guitar, seemingly having solved the problem, give little heed to its larger, overlying cause, and continue playing. Immediate needs come first, last, and always.

George Marshall, author of “Don’t Even Think About It, Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”, illustrates during a trip to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, that it was accepted among the locals that climate change was happening, but no one wanted to talk about it, they just “want to go home, and we will deal with the lofty stuff some other day.” This is the effect of tragedy of any kind: “The pain and loss of the event generates an intensified desire that there be a “normal” state to which one can return, making it even harder for people to accept that there are larger changes under way.” This idea is paired with CRED’s Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication where the finite pool of worry often takes precedence: in general the huge concept of global climate change is well down the list from daily concerns such as work, relationships, mortgages, and children. Which brings us full circle – in and among your daily activities, how does climate change play a role? Lars has hit a nerve by choosing to highlight that which personally effects us.

That is the crux of Holoscenes and it makes it’s point clearly and powerfully. First displayed in Toronto, there are two more site specific runs of the work to come this year, one in Sarasota, FL in March and San Francisco, CA after that. New York is hopefully going to be added to the list.

I highly recommend checking out the works and finding it if it comes to a town near you. Or contributing a video of an ordinary daily behavior like so many have from around the world.

Eight Foods Effected by Climate Change

Of all the possible disastrous outcomes of climate change, the effect it is having on our food supply is the scariest. It is not only a matter of price, as some of this article suggests, it is about running out of room. There is only so far north you can go before you run into the Arctic? And then what? There is a reason corn is grown in the corn belt and oranges in the tropics. These crops grow best in these temperature ranges. And what warming we have already experienced has made a dent in production. Corn, wheat, seafood, maple syrup, beans, coffee, chocolate, cherries and wine grapes are already feeling some stress. Pick your favorite staple and think of that when make the decision to turn off the lights or buy a hybrid vehicle or choose organic over conventional. It all makes a difference.

Eight Foods You’re About to Lose due to Climate Change

As worsening drought and extreme weather devastate crops, you may begin seeing global warming when you open your fridge.

By Twilight Greenaway

seafood climate change

What does climate change taste like?

It’s an odd question, but an increasingly pertinent one. After all, as temperatures rise and extreme weather becomes the norm, many food production systems are becoming threatened. As that trend increases, it’s worth asking which foods consumers will have to cut back on – or abandon entirely.

According to David Lobell, deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford University, “The general story is that agriculture is sensitive. It’s not the end of the world; but it will be a big enough deal to be worth our concern.”
One major issue is carbon dioxide, or CO2. Plants use the gas to fuel photosynthesis, a fact that has led some analysts to argue that an increase CO2 is a good thing for farming. Lobell disagrees, noting that CO2 is only one of many factors in agriculture. “There’s a point at which adding more and more CO2 doesn’t help,” he says. Other factors – like the availability of water, the increasing occurrence of high and low temperature swings and the impact of stress on plant health – may outweigh the benefits of a CO2 boost.
Lobell has already noticed the effect of climate change on some crops. For example, he says, yield data from corn and wheat production suggests that these two staples are already being negatively affected by the changing climate. Similarly, fruit and nuts are also showing the impact of climate change. Fruit trees require “chilling hours”, or time in cold, wintry environments, for optimum production. If they don’t hit their required number of cold, wintery days, their production – and quality – drop. These reduced yields, Lobell explains, lead to more frequent price spikes in many foods.

Here’s a list of the foods to enjoy now – while they’re comparatively plentiful.

Corn (and the animals that eat it)

Water shortages and warmer temperatures are bad news for corn: in fact, a global rise in temperatures of just 1C (1.8F) would slow the rate of growth by 7%. The impact of a disruption in corn production would extend far beyond the produce section at the supermarket. A great deal of US corn goes to feed livestock, so lower corn yields could mean higher meat prices, and fewer servings of meat per capita.

This isn’t merely speculation: Lobell claims that changes to this $1.7tn industry have already begun. According to a recent study (subscription required) that he co-authored, the world’s farmers have been much less productive in recent years than they would have were it not for climate change. Global corn production, in particular, has already been nearly 4% lower than it would have been if the climate were not warming.


Higher-than-average temperatures and shifting weather patterns in the tropics have made “coffee rust” fungus and invasive species the new norm on coffee plantations. And, to make things worse, a severe drought in Brazil this spring caused prices to skyrocket. Some analysts are predicting that, if the current trends continue, Latin American coffee production could relocate to Asia.

Latin America isn’t the only coffee-producing region facing the impacts of shifting weather patterns. In Africa, the number of regions suitable for growing coffee is predicted to fall anywhere from 65% to 100% as the climate warms. In this case, higher temperatures would produce lower yields and plant.


According to a widely cited 2011 study (pdf) from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), cacao beans – the raw ingredient in chocolate – will become much less plentiful over the next few decades. The main problem is rising temperatures and falling water supplies: in the African nations of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, temperatures are predicted to rise by at least 2C by 2050. This, in turn, will increase “evapotranspiration” in the cocoa trees, causing them to lose more water to the air and reducing their yield.

Andrew Jarvis, Leader of the Decision and Policy Analysis Program at CIAT, says that, while chocolate and coffee are not crucial to our survival, studying the impact of climate change on them makes sense, because they can help raise awareness about climate change by “hitting people’s soft spots.”

“Imagine waking up and not having coffee to get you through the morning, or not having a bar of chocolate readily available when you get a craving,” he says. “It’s not that there won’t be any, but the prices will likely be much higher. Both these crops are very sensitive to climate change, and increases in demand are outstripping our capacity to supply.”

dagoba chocolate


In addition to its impacts on land, climate change can also contribute to rising levels of CO2 in the ocean. This, in turn, leads to ocean acidification, which could threaten a whole range of edible ocean creatures. For example, the shells of young oysters and other calcifying organisms are likely to grow less and less sturdy over time, as the oceans’ acidity increases. The UK’s chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, recently announced that, thanks to man-made CO2, the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the start of the industrial revolution.
Another problem is that, according to a recent study, most fish are slow to adapt to acidification, leading to a risk of species collapse. Some animals, like tropical fish and lobsters, are moving north in search of cooler habitats, but this migration causes other problems.

Tropical fish, for example, are more susceptible to parasites in warmer water, further weakening their species. Meanwhile, lobsters tend to eat everything in sight, so their move puts the native habitats of a host of other species at risk.

Maple syrup

Wetter winters and drier summers are putting more stress on sugar maples, the trees whose sap is needed to produce maple syrup. In the winter, the trees need freezing temperatures to fuel the expansion and contraction process that they use to produce the necessary sap. Rising temperatures are already causing sap to flow earlier: according to some estimates, this may push up maple production by up to a month by the end of the next century.

The US Department of Agriculture also predicts that the industry will move north, as the trees in cooler areas fair better, and maple trees in states such as Pennsylvania are less likely to survive the shift. The USDA Forest Service has developed the Climate Change Tree Atlas, which shows that sugar maples will likely loose some habitat. “While maple trees won’t necessarily vanish from the landscape,” says the federal agency, but “there could be fewer trees that are more stressed, further reducing maple syrup availability.”

maple syrup trees


Beans feed the majority of the population in Latin America and much of Africa, but the hearty legumes might be quailing in the face of climate change. According to a report from CIAT, higher temperatures affect flowering and seed production in bean vines, reducing yields by as much as 25%. And in bean-growing regions, too much rain – in the form of storms and floods – will likely destroy some crops as well.

“Beans are very sensitive to climate,” says CIAT’s Jarvis, noting that their need for low temperatures helps explain why they do well in the mountainous regions of East Africa. “High temperatures, especially at night, can significantly affect the productivity of the crop.”


Stone fruits, particularly cherries, require chill hours to bear fruit; too few cold nights, and the trees are less likely to achieve successful pollination. On the west coast, where the bulk of sweet cherries are grown, rising temperatures mean that trees might flower later and produce fewer fruits.

Unusually timed cold weather can be just as disastrous. In 2012, the Michigan cherry industry lost 90% of its tart cherry crop after a late freeze.

Wine grapes

Thanks to warmer temperatures, wine grapes will likely soon be in higher demand – making wine more expensive. A 2013 study predicted that “major global geographic shifts” among wine growers – as well as fluctuations in temperature and moisture levels in Europe, Australia, North American, and South Africa – will essentially make the perfect wine grape a moving target. Australia will probably be hit the hardest, as 73% of the land there could be unsuitable for growing grapes by 2050. California’s loss is nearly as high at 70%.

Then there’s the question of “terroir”, or flavor based on geographical location. Wine grapes like heat, but not too much. In extreme temperatures, they can even go into a kind of thermal shock that can severely alter flavor. On the bright side, the grapes also retain more sugar in these circumstances, making the final product higher in alcohol, so the casual sipper won’t need to drink as much to feel the effects.

7 industries at greatest risk from climate change

Here is a quick slideshow about seven industries that will be most effected by climate change. It is not “somebody else’s job” to care for the resources that support us. It is everyone’s. On this list are Insurance, Agriculture, Energy, the Beverage Industry, Commercial Fishing, Skiing, Wineries, and Wall Street.

7 industries climate change

I don’t ever want to say “Remember skiing? That was fun, wasn’t it? Too bad we melted all the snow.” And for what, exactly? Try answering that and see what arguments come. And what they sound like in the face of personal, local and global consequences. It’s an interesting exercise. Wineries is also a soft spot for me, and more than a few others I imagine. Terroire is a delicate and centuries old balance of cultivation and culture that can be destroyed by a single degree change in temperature. It can’t be replicated or simply moved.

My question is: what constitutes an acceptable loss? The real question is “why?”. What was so important you couldn’t add environmental protection to your bottom line? It appears to me if you ask why often enough, there is no argument strong enough to justify anything other than stewardship of resources. Watch the slide show and choose – what moves you to act? There must be one thing on the list that will speak to you. Find it. Then do something about it.


Project Drawdown – Paul Hawken’s new book

Paul Hawken has long been known for his straight forward yet eloquent and articulate perspective on the climate crisis and our economy. In his latest publication, Project Drawdown, to be released this spring, he drills down to not only the nitty gritty of what to do (which we already know) but more importantly how to do it in the most expedient fashion addressing all areas from deforestation to education and population. Drawdown, as defined means in his terms, “the point at which greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere begin to decline”. An ambitious undertaking to be sure. Hence the how to manual in book, digital platform and database formats that is meant to be as easily accessible as possible. Read the Greenbiz article below and pre-order the book. It’s sure to be a game changer and page turner!

Inside Paul Hawken’s audacious plan to ‘drawdown’ climate change
By Joel Makower

Catch Paul Hawken in person next week at VERGE SF 2014, Oct. 27 to 30.

Today, at the Greenbuild conference in New Orleans, entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken will publicly unveil a project, more than a year in the works, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.

You read that right: to reduce, not just stabilize, atmospheric CO2 and other gases, in order to reverse rising global temperatures.

Project Drawdown, as it is named, will produce a book in 2016, detailing the costs and benefits of scores of climate solutions, from light bulb technology to livestock techniques to literacy for teenage girls. For each, Hawken and his team will “do the numbers,” providing detailed, science-based data and econometric models showing how each plays out, based on current technology and how it will likely evolve over the project’s 30-year horizon.

“The book is not a plan,” Hawken explained to me recently. “It is not a proposal. It is a reflection back to the world what we are doing and know how to do right this second.”

A meaningful dent

The project grew out of Hawken’s frustration with actionable, scalable solutions that would make a meaningful dent in the atmosphere’s growing accumulation of greenhouse gases. The solutions that had been proffered over the years were all seemingly out of reach — ungodly amounts of solar and wind energy that would be required, for example, or the mass adoption of futuristic, unproven technologies.

“It made me feel like this is intractable, that it requires such Promethean work by such mammoth institutions, with policy changes that are more than structural,” he recalled. “It made me feel like it wasn’t possible to address climate change, rather than giving me hope.”

When the activist Bill McKibben wrote the seminal article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” in Rolling Stone in 2012, Hawken asked, “Why aren’t we doing the math on the solutions? Somebody should come up with a list and see what it requires so you get to drawdown.”

The idea of “drawdown” — actually reducing greenhouse gas concentrations so that global temperatures drop — hasn’t been part of the conversation, at least among the United Nations crowd, climate activists or cleantech companies. Most focus on the seemingly pragmatic goal of stabilizing greenhouse gases at some level, expressed in parts per million, or ppm, that would be tolerable — or at least not catastrophic, from economic, environmental and social perspectives.

project drawdown 2

Hawken thought differently. “There’s no such thing as stabilization at 450 or 550 ppm,” he said. “That’s not stabilized. That’s volatile. I felt that the goal should be drawdown, which is a year-to-year reduction of carbon from the upper atmosphere, period.”

Last year, Hawken began teaching at the Presidio Graduate School, alongside climate activist and entrepreneur Amanda Joy Ravenhill. “One day we were just riffing, and we started talking about drawdown and said, ‘Let’s do it. No one else is doing it,’” Hawken recounted. Today, Ravenhill is Project Drawdown’s executive director and, with Hawken, the book’s co-editor. The two have recruited more than 80 advisors, partners, scientists, government agencies and participating universities, along with more than 200 graduate students.

Doing the numbers

Hawken and Ravenhill will need that army to pull off their audacious vision. The challenge, as Hawken describes it, isn’t in describing the solutions but in doing the numbers — the carbon savings and financial accounting, of course, but also how each solution plays out by country or region, based on available energy resources, climate, economy and other factors — and how each is likely to morph over the next 30 years.

And not just the positives. “We had to be very, very careful that we had the subtraction sign,” factoring in ways greenhouse gas emissions can increase in the atmosphere along the way, offsetting any reductions. For example, he said, ”We can talk about reforestation as being one of the hundred solutions, which it certainly is, but we have to make sure we subtract out the rate of fires in the world to reflect what’s burning down.”

project drawdown 1

Moreover, he says, technologies can’t be measured in isolation; they need to be viewed as parts of the systems in which they operate. “We can talk about LED bulbs, but we also have to talk about solutions like dynamic skins or smart glass, which actually reduce light load by 40 or 50 percent. Each of these solutions has a history and measurements and metrics and numbers, so we are not pulling rabbits out of a hat.”

And then there’s the problem of double-counting, where individual benefits — energy reductions or financial savings, for example — are counted twice, or even three or four times in a single calculation, inflating a technology’s benefits or understating its costs. That’s been a frequent problem with some clean technology advocates’ rosy scenarios.

The goal, says Hawken, is to make the numbers indisputable. “The numbers wanted to be beyond impeccable in terms of methodology and inputs and even their bias. We wanted to have a very conservative bias on the numbers, so that nobody could say we’re egging the pudding or exaggerating.”

“Doing the numbers” has proved to be as daunting a challenge as Hawken expected, or perhaps more so. The concern over getting it right has led Project Drawdown to push back the book’s publication date, to spring 2016 from the original goal of fall 2015.

Beyond books

True to Hawken’s nature — he’s not likely to be satisfied with simply creating a book, however ambitious and meticulously detailed — Project Drawdown’s plans extend in several directions. The solutions and calculations will be contained in a publicly available database, along with the means for individuals and groups to create customized applications (using APIs, in computer parlance). “Anybody can repurpose it, download it, regionalize it, so they can use the Drawdown solutions to measure progress in any geographically bounded area,” he explained. Users could model solutions differently — for example, factoring in different scenarios of how the cost and efficiency of solar energy might play out over the years. Hawken says there are also plans for accompanying educational curricula developed by National Science Foundation. And possibly some media projects based on the work.

The research could even be used as a policy tool, Hawken says. “What we see again and again is negative cost. We don’t see the opprobrium that is always cast on climate mitigation, which is, ‘It costs too much, costs too much, costs too much.’ We don’t see that at all. We see ‘Return, return, return.’ So governments — whether cities or local or communities or counties or states — can understand that these are no-regrets projects that have a very strong positive return, in which case you would want to do them, regardless of what you think about the rate of change in climate or whether you believe in it at all.”

Despite the long road ahead, Hawken is already looking past the publication of what he dubs “Drawdown 1,” and on to its sequel. That, he promises, will look at the next generation of technologies, with all of their unrealized potential to solve climate change. “We don’t know the ending of this book, make that very clear, but with Drawdown 2, we’re saying, ‘Look what is coming. It is stunning.’”

It’s easy, in today’s divisive and toxic political environment, to view Project Drawdown as too good to be true, a quixotic quest for an unattainable goal.

But there’s something simple and sane about Project Drawdown’s collective ingredients: unabashed optimism tempered by sharp-pencil calculations, a bold goal undergirded by scientific pragmatism, immediacy coupled with a 30-year horizon, all leveraging the wisdom of a very smart crowd.

Not all of it will pan out — there are simply too many variables and uncertainties — but much of it will. And it just could move the needle.

Coming at it from all angles – a graphic novel about climate change

It took him six years of learning and research but now it is finished. An epic and informative graphic novel about climate change called Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science. The author, Philippe Squarzoni, has said that the subject matter of his newest work chose him and not the other way around. He couldn’t not do it.

climate changed

And so he chronicles in a Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science his own discovery of what to really means to live in this time and how powerless it often feels in the face of something as huge and daunting as a planet-wide crisis. Questions are asked, answers given, not always to satisfaction, mirroring most people’s experiences at this point in time. You can’t be afraid all you life, he says. So he made himself informed, for better or worse. A book can’t change the world, he knows, but one has to try, to use what they have to say what needs saying. And so we continue to try and inspire action in any way we can. To come at it from all angles. Let this be but one of many that takes us to a state of mindful action.

green house effect
climate changed

Read the full article here


New York Oyster Week is on!

New York Oyster Week is back! The benevolent bi-valve that cleans our waters and is also quite delicious is back in the spotlight for the remainder of September!

Find all the unique events here:

oyster week

Don’t know how to get your mitts on some of these beauties? Try Open Table! It doesn’t get any easier than that –

Coming up quickly is the Third Annual Ahoysters! on September 16th at 5pm.

ahoysters 2014

Unlimited oysters and cocktails and the presence of Food and Wine celebrity David Rosengarten who will be there to answer any and all questions and raise a glass with you.

Oysters abound! See you there!

Money Talks

Tackling climate change would grow global economy, World Bank says

Findings put to rest claims that the world could not afford to act on climate change,

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott attend a joint press conference at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada on June 9, 2014.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott attend a joint press conference at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada on June 9, 2014. Photograph: David Kawai/Corbis

Fighting climate change would help grow the world economy, according to the World Bank, adding up to $2.6tn (£1.5tn) a year to global GDP in the coming decades.

The findings, made available in a report on Tuesday, offer a sharp contrast with claims by the Australian government that fighting climate change would “clobber” the economy.

The report also advances on the work of economists who have argued that it will be far more costly in the long run to delay action on climate change.

Instead, Tuesday’s report found a number of key policies – none of which included putting an economy-wide price on carbon – would lead to global GDP gains of between $1.8tn and $2.6tn a year by 2030, in terms of new jobs, increased crop productivity and public health benefits.

The pro-climate regulations and tax incentives would also on their own deliver nearly a third of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed to keep warming below the 2C threshold for dangerous climate change, the bank said.

The World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, said the findings put to rest claims that the world could not afford to act on climate change.

“These policies make economic sense,” Kim said in a conference call with reporters. “This report removes another false barrier, another false argument not to take action against climate change.”

Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, said during a visit to Canada earlier this month that it was too costly to fight climate change. “What we are not going to do is clobber our economy and cost jobs with things like a job-killing carbon tax,” he said.

Kim did not comment directly on Abbott’s remarks but he said pointedly that the World Bank study provided solid data on the effects of pro-climate policies, in contrast to “opining” about their costs.

“This modelling shows that smart choices that will also improve local and global economies,” Kim said.

The findings are also a step forward from the work of economists such as Lord Stern who have focused on the costs of delaying action on climate change.

The World Bank report was the first off the blocks of a number of economic studies meant to further the case for taking action on climate change ahead of a critical meeting at the United Nations in September.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has invited world leaders to the UN to try to build momentum in the negotiations for a global climate change deal.

American financial leaders have also been making the case that it makes sense to act now on climate change.

In an article in the New York Times, Henry Paulson, secretary of treasury under George Bush, called for a carbon tax and said it would be folly for America to remain heavily invested in a carbon-intensive economy.

“We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked,” he wrote. “I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.”

Paulson is due to come out with his own report on climate risks later on Tuesday.

In the World Bank report, economists looked at the effects of specific policies in six regions – Brazil, China, the European Union, India, Mexico, and the United States – that are both leaders in the world economy and global emissions.

None of the policies involved putting an economy-wide price on carbon emissions. Instead, the bank used computer modelling to gauge the effects of specific measures – such as installing dedicated bus lanes in India or clean cook stoves in China, or introducing more efficient air conditioning and other building systems in Mexico.

The annual benefits of those policies included GDP growth of between $1.8tn and $2.6tn – which was an estimated 1.5% higher than under a business as usual scenario, the bank said.

It said the pro-climate pro-climate policies would have other knock-on benefits including avoiding 94,000 deaths a year due to air pollution.

TakePart – Recycle Right Video!

It seems easy but apparently people are still stymied by the rules of recycling. Some buildings do, some don’t. Some places take wire hangers, some don’t. Standardization of the signs should take some of the “pause, consider, realize you’re late and give up” that happens most often in public places. Watch the video for a lighthearted PSA on how to get it right!

This Awesome Campaign Takes the Confusion out of Recycling

Recycle Across America has partnered with Participant Media, our parent company, to launch the Recycle Right project.


June 02, 2014 By

recycle right

Nobody likes to think about trash. We can go all day without giving a single thought to the 4.3-pound detritus—that’s the average amount of waste a person generates in 24 hours—we toss into bins and receptacles that magically empty out the next morning or the next week. This has piled up into a problem we can’t ignore, so Mitch Hedlund is working to make recycling simpler and more intuitive.

“We want to get to the point where people know what to do when they walk up to bins without having to take the time to think about it,” she says. Hedlund heads Recycle Across America, a nonprofit working to standardize recycling labels across the nation. As seen in the video above, they’re as simple as they come: mixed recycling, compost, and landfill—all in large lettering, with corresponding diagrams.

Before RAA began the first standardized label initiative of magnitude in 2011, Hedlund had an epiphany at, of all places, an airport. “I remember one person walking by, and he’s throwing a dirty diaper in front of me and said, ‘It’s all going to the landfill anyway.’ That left an impression on my mind.”

Hedlund was then working on a project called Eco-Profile, which focused on how businesses could become more sustainable. When she found herself a keynote speaker at a recycling conference to talk about corporate sustainability, Hedlund decided to share some outsider observations with the group. “I had a mini me on my right shoulder asking, ‘Why would you tell them what’s wrong with their industry?’ But when will I have the chance to address this group again?”

She showed her audience hundreds of photos of recycling bins; none of them had the same label on them. “I said, ‘This is what recycling looks like to the general public today.’ ”

Soon after, Hedlund started working with industry leaders as well as people outside of the field to evaluate the designs she created and suggested at the recycling conference. She founded RAA in April 2011 to introduce the labels they found to be the most effective for the general public. Three years later, the nonprofit has nabbed partnerships with companies such as Hallmark, AOL, and Procter & Gamble. It has also distributed the labels to 2,000 K–12 schools in the U.S. Now RAA is working with Participant Media, TakePart’s parent company, to launch the Recycle Right campaign.

“We can’t just ask people to recycle more, because they’re not doing it correctly right now. If we continue to do what we’re doing and asked people to do it more, we’re just going to have stockpiles of bad recycling that nobody would use,” Hedlund explains. “It will still get thrown to the landfill.”

She adds, “There’s a big part of the population that’s trying to recycle properly, and they’re taking the time to figure it out when they’re at a public area bin. There’s another part that still says, ‘It’s all going to a landfill anyway.’ ”

With standardized labels, Hedlund hopes, we can all finally recycle right without thinking that much about it.

It’s the little things

Check it out! Featuring David Suzuki and some of the world’s best snowboarders, The Little Things Movieshares the stories of environmentally conscious athletes who are inspirational for their sustainable initiatives and lifestyles. As he says, you need a personal connection to nature to make it meaningful. We are 100% connected to everything in nature at every moment. It sustains us. It is up to us to protect it like we protect our own lives. Watch the teaser!

the little things

Brain Food

Everyone is not only entitled to three meals a day, but they are also entitled to quality, nutritious, and if at all possible, local food. Tom Colicchio takes on legislators to advocate less against hunger but more for overall health and access to the right kinds of food including support of farmers and school lunches. “There are a lot of chefs who understand that food has been good to them and, because of that, believe that everyone should have access to good food,” said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City, the largest local anti-hunger group.

Tom believes votes are the way to create change. Read on and support the legislative scorecard that ranks your local and state legislators with how they vote on food related issues:

Tom Colicchio, Citizen Chef


tom 1
Tom Colicchio at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside, where he urged Gov. Chris Christie not to reduce funds for an anti-hunger program. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

On a recent afternoon, the chef Tom Colicchio was sitting with his staff in his office, on East 19th Street in Manhattan, hashing out the details of the high-end hotel restaurant he plans to open this winter in Miami. What would he name the lobby bar? Would he serve small plates to bathers at the pool?
Then it was time to take a conference call. The subject: a state law in Vermont that requires food producers to clearly label products made with the genetically modified ingredients known as G.M.O.s.

If the switch from appetizers to activism seemed jarring, Mr. Colicchio, who owns and runs the Craft chain of restaurants, argued that the two were of a piece. After all, he said, since the 1970s, when Alice Waters touched off the farm-to-table revolution, chefs have served as educators and cultural enlighteners, informing their customers about the social benefits of organic farming and sustainably produced food.

More recently, many restaurants in cities like New York have been transformed from places to get a meal into something like religious shrines for an eating elite. And many chefs who have benefited greatly from the trend have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to simply cook with — or preach about — heirloom tomatoes and artisanal goat-milk cheese. They have become increasingly and explicitly political, writing op-ed pieces, backing candidates for office, testifying before congressional committees and supporting laws to curb the use of antibiotics in the nation’s food supply.

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At a sustainable-seafood event at his Riverpark restaurant. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

Mr. Colicchio, 51, is among the most vocal and widely recognized of the new political chefs, not least because of the celebrity he has earned from his side job as a judge on the hit television show “Top Chef.” Though the field is crowded with colleagues and competitors — Mario Batali, for one, has taken on fracking as an issue — Mr. Colicchio’s advocacy work is arguably unmatched in both stridency and scope. “There are a lot of chefs who understand that food has been good to them and, because of that, believe that everyone should have access to good food,” said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City, the largest local anti-hunger group. “But Tom has stepped it up to the next level. He’s not only knowledgeable, he’s incredibly committed. And he’s really down there fighting in the trenches.”

In April, for example, Mr. Colicchio appeared, in his Buddy Holly glasses, at a steak-and-speeches fund-raising dinner that the Food Bank held at Cipriani Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. It was an opulent affair, where a wealthy crowd raised $2 million at a wireless silent auction — the bids came in by iPad — buying items like tickets to “The Daily Show” and an “agri-tourist” weekend in Belize.

The speech Mr. Colicchio gave when he was at the podium, to present an award to MSNBC for its coverage of hunger issues, was not your typical charity oration. Congress, he declared, immediately delving into details, had just passed a farm bill that had cut $9 billion from the food-stamp program, and the House of Representatives, he said, was poised to slash the bill by several billion more.

“Do the math,” he pleaded. “We can’t make up for this. Now more than ever, it’s important that we call our leaders out when they support cruel and punitive policies that are bad for this country.”
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Atlantic salmon sashimi was served at a sustainable-seafood event at his Riverpark restaurant. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

To do that, he frequently promotes, particularly on his widely followed Twitter feed, a legislative scorecard that rates members of Congress on how they vote on food-related issues. The scorecard, which tracks things like crop-insurance bills and nutrition-reform amendments, was created two years ago by a group called Food Policy Action. Its founder, Ken Cook, met Mr. Colicchio in 2010, when they both showed up to testify before a congressional committee about providing money for school lunches.

“I’d never seen him in action, except on ‘Top Chef,’ frightening contestants who had flat soufflés,” Mr. Cook recalled. “And it turned out Tom had the same effect on the members of the committee. I’ve lobbied with lots of famous people on the Hill, but this time everyone was really paying attention.”

Boldface names who push pet causes do not always make erudite advocates, but Mr. Colicchio, who is versed in food policy, can effortlessly riff on subjects like commercial crop yields, glyphosate herbicides and the carbon content of soil. His feelings are so well known in the world of food that in 2009, when he did a series of TV commercials on behalf of Diet Coke — “Eating well and living well doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice great taste” — many culinary writers condemned him as a hypocrite and a sellout. In an interview at the time, Mr. Colicchio said he sold Diet Coke in all of his restaurants. “I have a rule,” he said. “If I use it, I’ll endorse it.”

And though he occasionally gets messages on Twitter from critics who think that he has stepped outside his occupational wheelhouse (one of his favorites was “Stop talking about hunger and get back in the kitchen and feed people”), he tries to immunize himself from accusations of overreach by being well-informed.
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A food bank worker. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

“I find that people are happy enough when celebrities take up issues,” he said, “but only if they really know their stuff.”

It would seem that he both knows his stuff and is taken fairly seriously. Last year, Representative Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, invited Mr. Colicchio to a dinner party at her home in Washington to announce the introduction of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which gives assistance to farmers.

“I’ve had events with big people in the food world before,” said Ms. Pingree, who is herself a restaurateur and a farmer, “but I’ve never had a turnout like the one I had for Tom. There were 50 members from the House and Senate, standing in my dining room, hoping just to meet him and to get him in a picture. People were literally standing in line.”

If there is such a thing as noblesse oblige de la cuisine, then Mr. Colicchio feels it. He has acknowledged that his political engagement stems partly from feeling a responsibility to make constructive use of his success as a chef (the James Beard Foundation named him the nation’s best in 2010), not to mention the celebrity that he has gotten from television. “I wouldn’t exactly call it guilt,” he said, “but I obviously have a soapbox and I want to use it for a good cause. Just because I have a television show and restaurants that happen to be on the more expensive side, I still believe that food is a basic right.”

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Mr. Colicchio at Riverpark. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

Mr. Colicchio’s mother, Beverly, taught him to cook and also worked in the lunchroom of a public high school in his hometown, Elizabeth, N.J. His father, Thomas, the president of a municipal correction officers’ union, was constantly campaigning for local elected officials and bequeathed to his son an obsession with politics. It manifests today not only in Mr. Colicchio’s advocacy work but also in his habit of yelling at the television news.

Mr. Colicchio’s first job in a kitchen was at age 14 in the snack bar of the Gran Centurions Swim Club in Clark, N.J., making hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. When he moved to New York City in the early 1980s, he rode the rise of the Manhattan restaurant scene — which he attributes to upscale New Yorkers looking for an entertainment more sedate than cocaine — at hot spots like Gotham Bar & Grill, the Quilted Giraffe and Mondrian.

While working at Mondrian he was invited by Share Our Strength, a group fighting hunger, to cook a dish at a charity event. It was, he still recalls, a crab ragout with shallot-lemon butter and potato purée. He also recalls being awakened that evening to the fact that thousands of people in the city went hungry every night.

At that point, Mr. Colicchio was in his 20s and, in his own words, was “a raving lunatic” who had already run some of New York’s most important kitchens. Although he stayed involved in fighting hunger by raising money for charities and food banks, he was much more focused on his career. Things took off in 1994, when he and Danny Meyer opened Gramercy Tavern on East 20th Street. Seven years later, he went off on his own and opened his flagship restaurant, Craft, one block away.

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At the Community FoodBank of New Jersey in Hillside. Credit Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

The year he opened Craft, he also married Lori Silverbush, a filmmaker who had worked at Gramercy Tavern as a waitress. (They now have two sons, 3 and 4. Mr. Colicchio also has a 21-year-old son from a previous relationship.) Mr. Colicchio credits his wife for his political awakening. In 2007, Ms. Silverbush started mentoring a teenage girl she had met through a Harlem charity called Groove With Me. She helped to get the girl into a school for students with learning disabilities. Then one day she got a phone call from the principal, who told her that the girl had been spotted outside foraging for food in the trash.

The call resulted in “A Place at the Table,” a film on hunger and its political roots that Ms. Silverbush released in 2012 (with a co-director, Kristi Jacobson). “What we learned was that the great work of charities was in some way enabling us to never look at the policies that underpin hunger,” she said. “We can’t food-bank our way out of this. It just doesn’t matter how much money we raise. We are never going to raise as much as they’re slashing.”

Mr. Colicchio appeared in the film and served as its executive producer, and the experience opened his eyes to the insufficiency of the charitable work he had been doing for decades. He began reading up on food-stamp legislation and on school lunch programs, like the one his mother ran at Elizabeth High School. His transformation came in the form of a simple but radicalizing insight: “If we want better food policies, we need to elect better officials.”
These days, as part of his anti-hunger work, Mr. Colicchio has joined his fellow chefs Rachael Ray and Johnathan Adler in endorsing Lunch 4 Learning, a grass-roots campaign pressing Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer free lunches for all students in public schools. Mr. Colicchio tweets or retweets daily about food-policy subjects, like the new food documentary “Fed Up” or a petition seeking congressional action to stop the importing of chicken from China.

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In a “Top Chef” episode with, from left, Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons. Credit David Moir/Bravo

But politics, like cooking, is more art than science, and despite his various efforts, he said, he was often frustrated by the political process. “There are two things you don’t want to see made — sausages and laws,” he said. “And having seen both, I can tell you, I’ll take the sausage.”

A few days before his conference call on G.M.O.s, Mr. Colicchio, in his monogrammed chef’s whites, presided at a sustainable-seafood tasting at Riverpark, one of his ritzier holdings, which sits in a garden on the East River at 29th Street. There was a jazz singer, and oysters on the half-shell. Wealthy foodies sampled the sea bass and the spectacular views of Queens.

One of the most pointed criticisms of the new food movement is that it is elitist, ignoring — or choosing not to focus on — the dining divide that separates those who care about where their fish are caught and those who cannot afford to buy fresh fish. While Mr. Colicchio does not deny that this divide exists, he argues that it is rooted in specific policies that, with enough political will, can be changed.

“The government subsidizes corn, wheat and soy,” he said, adding that these subsidies made certain foods enticingly cheap for the poor, who are often afflicted by conditions like obesity and diabetes by consuming too much of them. “But there’s no reason that unhealthy processed foods should cost less than a peach. It’s a choice we make — a bad choice.”

Attempting to bridge the divide and to address the question of food more holistically, Mr. Colicchio and Ms. Silverbush have spoken out about creating a federal Department of Food — perhaps to replace the Agriculture Department — which could simultaneously fight hunger, reorganize subsidies, limit the use of antibiotics and mandate the labeling of G.M.O.s.

“When we were an agrarian nation, a nation of growers,” Ms. Silverbush said, “it made sense to focus on the people who produced food. But now we’re a nation of eaters and we need to think about consumers.”

Of course, we also need to think about elections, Mr. Colicchio said. And to that end, he has been active as a board member of Food Policy Action, which brings together activists from factions of the movement who had not previously seen their efforts as related. By working with other board members like Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, and Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the organic yogurt company Stonyfield Farms, Mr. Colicchio said, it might be possible to create a national constituency around the issue of food, one that could leverage its size and unity to make a difference at the ballot box.

“Gun advocates have the N.R.A.,” he said, “and the pro-life movement works together on a single issue. Food advocates need to get together on a single issue. This isn’t about great tomatoes or going to the greenmarket and having a nice little soulful experience. It’s about votes.”

Mr. Colicchio gave a TEDx talk in Manhattan titled “Vote Food” a couple of months ago. Not long after, he said, he was approached — not for the first time — by certain people who asked him whether he wanted to run for office. While he said later that he never would (“That’s for damn sure,” Ms. Silverbush chimed in), he remains convinced that the only path toward more effective and equitable food policy is through politics.

“As soon as one legislator loses their job over how they vote on food issues, we’re going to send a clear message to Congress that we’re organized and we’re viable and strong,” he said. “We’re going to make clear that, yes, we do have a food movement — and that it’s coming for you.