Tag Archives: activism

“There’s No Honor In Waste” -Samara Swanston

Last Wednesday, October 12th, I was invited to join Peter and the core engine exhaust group for lunch. The group included George Pakenham, Isabella B. Silverman, Samara Swanston, Karl Storchmann, Peter, and myself. The afternoon comprised of an extremely productive and informative anti-idling campaign meeting, vigorous note taking on my end for my midterm and final project, and the icing on the cake was Peter covering my meal. Thank you again Peter!

In order to get a clearer idea of who all these people are that Peter and I met with, here is what they all do. George  is the notorious man-on-emissions; an environmental activist who focuses on idling and who made the film, Idle Threat (website: http://www.verdantvigilante.com/about/george.html). Isabella B. Silverman is also an environmental activist who starred in George’s film Idle Threat. Samara Swanston “is currently the legislative counsel to the Environmental Protection Committee of the New York City Council and an Adjunct Professor at the Pratt Institute Graduate School for Urban Planning and the Environment” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/swanston-samara-80923356). Lastly, Karl Storchmann is an NYU professor of Urban Economics who’s found a great response rate from his students when offering extra credit to report idling in NYC.

Samara Swanston built off this idea to give extra credit to students but in greater detail. She said it is imperative to write an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to a government agency with the focus being on an environmental and public issue, as these issues impact everyone breathing the air in New York City. Samara ended her input with a new quote; “There is no honor in waste.”

Additional information I was given during lunch was that Karl has a youtube channel called “Idle NYC,” which closely resembles our first blog post assignment when Peter asked us to go notice idling and post some pictures or videos. Also, summer months such as June and July appear to be the peak times of year for idling due to higher demand for comfort and stronger air conditioning. What is more interesting is that idling in the summer heat and keeping the air conditioning on actually puts out even more heat into the atmosphere than the colder months of the year because the tailpipes get much hotter in the summer sun.

To wrap up our meeting, Samara and Isabella gave me two very important names to keep in mind and to share with friends, colleagues, and environmental activists. Thomas M Chan is the Chief of Transportation for the NYPD and Inspector Michael Pilecki, a commanding officer of traffic enforcement for the NYPD. Samara and Isabella told me to pass on these names to my peers and cohorts because these are the guys to write complaints to in order for something to be done in terms of law enforcement for idling in NYC. I imagine it is more productive to approach this from the top down than the other way around so that our voices have a greater chance of being noticed and heard. The most important factor in all of this is to vigorously stay on these guys and overwhelm them with complaints until something is done. Otherwise, they’re more likely to not take notice that people actually care about this crucial law and the detrimental impact it has on our environment.

Photo credit goes to our awesome waiter who’s name I did not get but I wish I had!

Me and Isabella B. Silverman, environmental activist and star of Idle Threat.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George Pakenham.
Me and the man-on-emission himself, George (of the *concrete* jungle) Pakenham. 

Love me some black Mercedes lung (just kidding…)

On my walk to class this morning, I made a quick stop at Liquiteria for my favorite smoothie, Bulldozer with added strawberries and blueberries.  While waiting for my order, I looked out the window and instead of the usual dog walkers and cabs flying down 6th Ave, I saw a beautiful black C 700 Mercedes Benz waiting out front. I remembered this assignment and decided to go outside to get a closer look to see whether or not the driver was idling. Sure enough, she was texting on her phone with the AC on.  I snapped the photo above and got her license plate number and she was sitting on the corner of W 8th and 6th Ave.  It made me feel like a detective (a secret dream of mine since I was a kid) so I think I’m gonna keep this up.  Unfortunately, idling is destructive and in no way do I hope to see more of it occur. However if it does, I plan on staying aware and taking action.


Down with Big Soda!

I would like to start this post off by encouraging everybody to follow @KillBig Soda on instagram and support the movement behind the hashtag #KillBigSoda. It would mean the world to me, as well as help spread the word on these horrible big businesses and their harmful messages and products.


Alright, now let’s get into the real issues. The overall summary of the problem goes something like this: Big name sodas, such as Coca-Cola, have been marketing the fact that sugar is not bad for you. The cure to obesity is in exercise, and not a reduction of sugar intake. This, clearly, is not true. And yet so many Americans drink soda on a daily basis, which is essentially killing them. Not only has Coca-Cola been a deceptive company in the past but they continue to be.

So here is what we know, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is our current problem. The ACSM is a corporation that offers trainer certification for athletic professionals. They are seeking to be the only licensing entity for trainers in the U.S. That would mean every trainer who didn’t have their license/ certification through the ACSM would be unable to continue their business. It would be equivalent to practicing medicine without a license, and you would be subject to fines, arrest, or both. This seems legitimate right? You would assume that athletic trainers should have a level of qualification to be doing their job correctly. But here is the real problem with all of this: Coke is a major sponsor and partner of the ACSM, as is Pepsico and Gatorade. Now why is this a problem? In order for you to understand, we need to dive into a little bit of history with these companies.


Last Fall Coca-Cola was exposed by the New York Times for paying scientists to expel the “myth” that eating to much, and sugary drinks, were the leading cause of weight gain. They wanted to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet.

This was Coca-Cola’s response to the science of obesity coming out to the public and a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools, and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent. So Coca-Cola’s idea was to start an organization called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) whose website administration was registered to Coca-Cola Headquarters. Since 2008, Coca-Cola had been providing millions in funding for various projects to two of the GEBN members to essentially shape obesity research in their favor, and stifle criticism of it’s products. Thankfully, the GEBN was disbanded in late 2015.


So what is happening now? Well, after Coca-Cola was outed by the New York Times they wanted to reassure the public that they were still a “trustworthy” company and vowed to be more transparent about their funding. Coke has vowed to act with “More Transparency” and disclose a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities they have funded in the past five years, one of which being the ACSM. If we tally up the seven entries found in the Coca-Cola database, we find that Coca-Cola has paid the ACSM Foundation at least a total of $865,000 in the past five years. But that’s not all. Coca-Cola can also influence the ACSM by targeting its officials, not just by funding the organization directly. BlairFor example, former ACSM president Steven Blair is on the advisory board of Exercise is Medicine (EIM), a joint ACSM-Coca-Cola partnership. EIM is an initiative focused on encouraging primary care physicians and other health care providers to include exercise when designing treatment plans for patients. Sound familiar? it should, because this is identical to Coca-Cola’s previous campaign scandal. Steven Blair was personally paid $4,626,000 by Coca-Cola.


BUT, that still isn’t everything yet. It only get’s worse with this so called “transparency” act Coca-Cola came up with. We know from the Coca-Cola Foundation’s 2013 tax forms that the majority of Coca-Cola’s donations to health and fitness went to organizations outside the US and Canada. Coca-Cola’s money that goes to ACSM officials or programs outside of the US is not listed in their transparency listings. Judging by the Coca-Cola Foundation’s 2012-2013 tax returns this exclusion may hide a significant amount of Coke funding. Meaning Coke would have paid closer to $240 million, not a merely $120 million, to health scientists and organizations over the past five years.

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Now that we have one company out of the way, we have to talk about Pepsico which is the owner of Gatorade. They are another sponsor of the ACSM. The ACSM isn’t looking to good right now, is it?

Gatorade as a beverage contains just as much sugar as Coca-Cola, and that isn’t even it’s biggest problem. Hyponatremia is a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. This happens when your body is overly hydrated. The American College of Sports Medicine advocates the amount of fluid intake for an athlete should be “the maximal amount that can be tolerated.” Gatorade advocates, “at least 40 oz. of fluid an hour.” Neither of which are true. The average water bottle is 16oz. That would be equivalent to drinking 2.5 bottles of water every hour. After at least 17 preventable deaths, Gatorade and ACSM officials finally confessed to both counts of false advertising. People had to die before these companies came out about their wrong doings. Athletes should just drink ad libitum, or when they feel like it. Humans possess an effective mechanism for preventing hyper-hydration and severe dehydration: thirst. Gatorade leverages its relationship with the ACSM to influence coaches’ and athletes’ drinking practices. Gatorade, and its owner PepsiCo, are quite open about this. Gatorade has spent the last four decades and billions of dollars misleading athletes and coaches about hydration, and they continue to do so with their “Beat the Heat” campaign.


Now, if the ACSM gets the power to be the sole licensing agency for athletic trainers false information will be given to public at an alarmingly fast rate. Our ideas of fitness and nutrition will be governed by big business and greedy CEOs. I myself am an athletic trainer and will not stand for this. America already has an alarming obesity percentage as well as poor physical education requirements. Let’s not add to the problem,  but stand up against it. Please join me in the fight and KILL BIG SODA!!

If you would like to view my presentation again, Click Here!

The link to my Instagram page is up top, but here it is again if you missed it! Click Here! 🙂

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The Final Snap

As everyone is well aware, my project throughout this semester has been to create a snapchat by NYU students for NYU students to become more aware of what we’re doing wrong on campus and easy, quick solutions to reroute ourselves. I think it’s so important to start with your own community before trying to change the world and that’s what I did here! NYU actually has an office of sustainability that does a lot to make sure the campus reduces its carbon footprint and waste in general. But it’s a two way street, and we have to play our part if we expect significant change to happen. What i’ve realized after interviewing the many college students that I did is that everyone is well aware that there is a problem, but they are so caught up with the business of life, that they’re waiting for someone else to start the change. And that waiting is what is dangerous.

This snapchat has been a great opportunity for me to deliver this information to the students of NYU in a way that is easy and fun to swallow. Because snapchat is so quick and easy, it is the perfect platform for this demographic, because students don’t have to take the time out of their busy schedules to get informed: I’m providing them with information in 10 seconds or less, in a way that is also entertaining.

In class, I’ve realized environmental issues are presented in documentaries in sad and miserable ways and I wanted to take the complete opposite approach tonally and try to make people laugh: because yes, the environment is in a bad place, and yes NYU has a lot of work to do to become better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun in our activism!

So instead of babbling on about what i’m trying to do, let me just show you with these compilation videos from my snap stories:

So a huge part of the success of my project lies in viewers! It’s important to me that students are seeing the snapchat, because that is my target audience. Since I interviewed a lot of strangers and went around campus, I made every student I met add me on snapchat and the results have been great! As you can tell from the picture below, each little ten second (or less) clip gets an average of 60-80 viewers! My hope is to be able to pass the snapchat onto Peter and another student can take on the role next semester to keep this an ongoing way to reach out to our NYU community and get us on the list of greenest campuses across the USA!

IMG_0534 IMG_0535

Continued Progress for Indian Point Doc… Not so much for the Power Plant Itself

Tucker and I have made excellent progress on our doc! We visited Peekskill, NY a town which overlooks Indian Point Power Plant. The walkway along the Hudson was quite beautiful, though the nuclear plant looming right over it was quite ominous. Here are some behind the scene pictures from our journey:


iPhone photo of Indian Point presiding over the Hudson River by Georgia Krause.



Tucker checking for tritium. 


Tucker overheating in his unnecessarily large jacket as he shoots footage of Indian Point power plant. 


Arriving at the Peekskill “Scenic Hudson Park”.


Tucker on the train to Peekskill, stoked about filming the power plant!


Additionally we have officially secured the rights to use the Scott Waldman interview in my last post titled “5 Years After Fukushima, How vulnerable is Indian Point?”

I am also in the process of arranging several interviews. One of the individuals I am speaking with and hoping to record an interview with is Arthur Ginsberg who worked for Indian Point power plant for several years.

I am also arranging an interview with Dr. Irwin Redlener the director of Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and Dr. David Brenner, who directs Columbia’s Center for Radiological Research.

We are also hoping to get an activist perspective and someone who is currently employed by Indian Point.


The (Nuclear) Power of Art Activism

After seeing the phenomenal documentary Racing Extinction, and hearing George Pakenham speak and screen his film “Idle Threat”, I began looking at my own role in art activism. I’m in film school to tell the stories I’m most interested in; this means climate change should be a theme in my work. I reflected on all of my previous blog posts to get inspiration for a short film I could make in my spare time. In the end I chose to further explore my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy” through stop motion photography. As I brainstormed ideas, I thought about my favorite scenery in and around New York. I immediately thought of Rockaway Beach, where I spend many of my summer days, and Bear Mountain, where I go to escape the city and work up a sweat hiking. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose toxins and contaminates with the beauty of nature. Clearly I wouldn’t be using real nuclear waste in my film, so I thought Holi powder would be an interesting visual stand-in for toxins. I began shooting stills on Rockaway Beach and Bear Mountain with these powders.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain
Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

I focused on hands at first to play with the concept of a foreign, toxic substance in direct contact with the human body. I went on to take photographs of faces and entire bodies covered in these saturated hues.




I’m still working on finishing and uploading my film online. I want to make it easily accessible to spread awareness about the harm of exposure to nuclear toxins. As I mentioned in my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy,” scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer (National Cancer Institute).

This issue extends beyond the 1960s, because nuclear power is still widely used all over the world, and nuclear weapons are being manufactured by powerful governments. Once nuclear energy is created, we are left to deal with the disposal of the waste. There is no proven way of disposing of this waste without eventually harming living organisms. So, if we don’t have a solution to deal with this toxic waste, why are we relying on nuclear energy for our power and nuclear weapons for defense?

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach


Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test
Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test














Please look out for next blog post, in which I will link my short experimental documentary! I would really appreciate if you shared my film so it can gain some attention before Earth Day on April 22nd!

Today is Earth Day! But What’s Every Other Day?


In honor of the 46th Annual Earth Day, I think it’s important to take a moment to recognize and become conscious of the efforts worldwide that people are making to spread awareness and implement cleaner, greener habits to live by. Though days like this are great, it’s a shame that they’re confined to one day, and every other day of the year people don’t take the time to adapt a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

As I was walking out of Kimmel this morning, I saw that there was a small section of the street blocked off with tents and activities. I was curious, so I stepped in to the street fair on LaGuardia to see what was going on – and realized that there were a bunch of environmentally-relevant clubs and organizations advocating for Earth Day and trying to raise awareness for the issues they stand by. The organizations that were present included NYU Bike Share, the Community Agriculture Club, NYU Dining, the Office of Sustainability, among others.

I thought it was a great effort to raise awareness and to learn more about the options NYU has to be greener and to become involved in environmental organizations. However, I didn’t hear anything about the street fair before I passed it…and while there were people there, it definitely wasn’t as crowded as I think it should have been. Unfortunately, events like this don’t gain as much momentum as they should – and are short-lived. While there are the few who adapt environmentally friendly lifestyles, it definitely is not the majority. Many people only pay attention to how this affects them. The problem with events like this is that although they advocate and draw attention on the street, enough to make the curious student walk in to see what’s going on, people are more interested in all the free stuff than in the actual reasons behind the event.

I looked up more about the street fair and what NYU is doing for Earth Day out of curiosity. I found out that NYU actually has been celebrating Earth Day for the whole month, with various events and activities for students and the general public. To me, it was sad that though I recall hearing about some of these events and getting emails and Facebook invites about them, there really was no “buzz” around the events. Still, I do have to give NYU and all the organizations involved credit for putting together the activities, events, and initiatives for this whole month.

After looking at what NYU was doing for Earth Day, I took a look at what people around the world are doing to celebrate Earth Day. I was pleasantly surprised in learning that everywhere around the world there are mass celebrations and events in which people are participating. There are a vast array of organized events, from lectures and conferences, to outreach programs, to painting murals, planting trees, and picking up litter.

I also was happy to learn that Earth Day is the most largely celebrated secular holiday in the world – which gave me a lot of hope. Though I don’t think Earth Day and environmental consciousness should be confined to one day, I do think that it is a day effective in raising awareness and encouraging people to learn about the problems facing our planet.

Unfortunately, while reading up on Earth Day, I found out that the United States federal government is actually one of the largest polluters in the world. As a leading superpower, the government of the United States has a responsibility to practice habits and implement programs that are beneficial to the environment. After all, it was the United States own Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin that created Earth Day in 1970 in order to create environmental awareness and build a movement to pollute and harm the planet less.

This Earth Day, everyone should take a moment to learn more about the issues, and also to figure out what we can do on a personal, grassroots level to help the movement progress. As individuals, though it may be more difficult to organize, we do have the collective power to decrease our negative impact on the environment. Even if it is by doing the small things – like turning the lights off when you leave the room, taking shorter showers, and recycling – we should be practicing them daily so as to not add on to the ways our species is harming the planet.

Fortunately, these are practices we have been taught about since elementary school, and it’s a good place to start to encourage children to partake in these actions, and in turn hopefully they will also encourage their friends and family to also practice these habits.

It won’t be easy, but it can be done. As the movement and awareness for the environment grows, we can help the planet and make every day Earth Day, instead of just April 22nd every year.