Tonight: Go Green with Models, LED Activism

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Walter Durkacz is one of the few guys in town that I always remember. He’s a character for sure, and he’s been around as long as I have been around, and pretty much in the same places. There are few of us left. Walter is a part of La Esquina, my favorite place, and has been a DJ since back when you had vinyl and needles to make them sing. His talent for booking talent led the way at places like Wetlands and Joe’s Pub. He has discovered stadium-level acts. I’d tell you all about it, but I won’t have to, as Walter does it so much better. He pitched me about this green event at Hiro Ballroom tonight, and I told him I’d tell you about it.

Tell me about the back story of the Wetland’s green initiatives, and how it’s connected to what’s happening at the Hiro Ballroom tonight. Well Steve, you remember the nightclub Wetlands in TriBeCa, where I worked as music director? Besides being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the jam bands that played there, and being—to this day—misunderstood about what really went down there, Wetlands had an environmental activism center. In the beginning, Remy Chevalier, an amusing and eclectic character, and an activist from the Connecticut Center, set it up and ran the activism portion of the club. He basically organized all the environmental activities, and networked environmental organizations from around the country. The club became a hang out for folks from Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Earth First!, Earth Island Institute, and dozens of so-called activist groups.

At first, Remy held the job of environmental director, which he then passed on to others. Wetlands went on to set the booths for the Hordes tour with Kathy Kane, who is now Bonnie Raitt’s manager, and founded Green Highways, now known as Reverb. All of his initiatives basically gave birth to a whole new generation of eco-warriors and eco-wannabes. Wetlands was open from 1989 until 2001, but Remy left in 1991, admitting that his job at the Wetlands club was finished, and announcing that he wanted to take the movement to the next level. I left some years later, but when Remy left he also left with a promise: he was going to shut down Indian Point. And here we are, 10 or so years later, with Remy seeking out a place in NYC to complete his goal, and push his green initiatives. I wanted to help him, based on his noble ideals, and perhaps also because he makes the coolest eco fliers I’ve ever seen. Pure genius, I swear.

Nuclear Energy is considered by some to be the cleanest alternative to oil or coal, but it comes with another type of price tag. Tell me about that. Remy, and others in-the-know, say that we’ve forgotten our history. The environmental movement started with grassroots organizations, creating solar and wind to stop nuclear power. The entire rock and roll community in 1979 rallied against nuclear power, with the “No Nukes” concert series in New York. After the accident at Three Mile Island, and the disaster at Chernobyl, we stopped building new nuclear power plants, but we also forgot about the old ones. Now, 30 years later, these old plants are being rubber stamped new licenses by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And they’re way past their due date. The majority of them are leaking from porous cooling pools, and corroded pipes. The people of Vermont voted to shut down their nuclear power plant a few months ago. The entire legislature voted, 26-4, but the company who owns the plant, Entergy, refuses to abide by that order, and the plant is still operating. Their cooling tower collapsed from old age last year. Vermont Yankee is leaking radioactive isotopes into the ground water, and the river. The same thing is happening at Indian Point, which by the way, is only 25 miles North of Manhattan.

So if we shut down Indian Point, then what? Where will the electricity come from? Well that’s the beauty of it, Remy waited to push the issue until he knew there was a viable alternative that would solve that problem. He founded Rock The Reactors in 2006, when Elliot Spitzer was on the campaign trail promising he would shut down Indian Point if we could provide the replacement power. But once he got to Albany, Spitzer basically never started the countdown clock. NY Commissioner Spano told Remy last year that since Spitzer had been in office, NY state had made up 4000Mw with Light Emitting Diodes and other energy efficiency measures, twice the amount of electricity that Indian Point produces. Also, every year California reduces its electrical consumption, in a great part because of increased lighting efficiency. LEDs are making dangerous nuclear reactors, especially Indian Point, located in the middle of the most densely populated area in the country, an unnecessary risk.

So what’s the plan? While something that has to do with monkeys comes to mind, the plant is up for re-licensing. Sherwood Martinelli, a member of Riverkeeper, won a court case a few months ago using a contention drawn up by Rock The Reactors. The NY Department of Environmental Conservation finally revoked Indian Point’s water permit, because they are killing one billion fish a year. That means Entergy, the owner of the plant, now has to build two gigantic cooling towers, to the tune of $5 billion dollars. That’s like putting $500 tires on a $500 junk car! Simply foolish. Remy suggests that instead, if we put $5 billion dollars into a massive LED retrofit program for New York’s 19th District, which is where most of the power Indian Point generates goes to, we’ll make up the power ten times over, at a fraction of the cost. And, as it turns out, the Congressman of the 19th District, is none other than John Hall, who was an organizer of the “No Nukes” concert series with Harvey Wasserman, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. Many don’t know this, but Mayor Bloomberg already started to install LEDs on tunnels and bridges, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza, and the New Year’s Ball in Times Square. These are Philips LEDs by the way. What’s the connection to Philips? To their credit, they came up with a great bulb. Seth Leitman and Brian Howard, also of Rock the Reactors, have recently written a book called Green Lighting for the McGraw-Hill Green Guru Guide series. To illustrate my point, they’ve asked Next model May Lindstrom, who has been the face of the Rock The Reactors campaign since it was created in 2006, to hold the new Philips Endura LED 60 bulb for the cover of their book. She’s holding in her hands the solution to a lot of our energy problems, a bulb which can replace all the incandescent lights in America, potentially reducing electrical consumption in this country by 10% or more.

Will she be at the Hiro Ballroom? I don’t know. Remy won’t say. They tell me she’s angry at Remy about something, and she won’t talk to him! Guess it shows there’s drama even in activism. But its all good, as she’s still doing it for the cause, and that’s what counts, so we’ll see. But Remy has a lot of other things planned. Martin Ear, a fantastic electronic musician, is creating a sonic soundscape for the evening. Speakers, performers, and poets will take the stage. Remy is giving each of them 3 minutes to tell the audience what they’re doing to shut down Indian Point. I can guarantee you, there is going to be some interesting moments—I just hope not too interesting, if you know what I mean. Anyway, there will also be LED dealers on hand. It’s the new high, didnt you know? And so be it, this is really a national movement, with deep connections even into the fashion industry. Remy’s dad was ELLE’s founding photographer. Remy mentored the green careers of many top fashion models, not a bad gig. Last year he hosted Project Green Search, a green model competition with Aysia Wright of the Greenloop. Watch out Tyra Banks! He also helped bring together all the professional green makeup artists with GreenMUA. He says it’s because they’re the emissaries of green chemistry. Green makeup means better batteries, because the cosmetic industry is funding green chemistry labs at Universities. It’s all related. I read on his Facebook page that he’s saving the planet with fashion! Yeah, pretty much. Sounds like him. However, I will say one thing about Remy: He has always pitched the idea, passionately, of getting fashion to help save the planet. In New York, fashion trumps politics. If we want to shut down Indian Point, we can’t do it without the support of the fashion industry, and obviously, the nightclub and music industry too. But that’s what he wants to do, and sees where his strength to communicate is, to try to bring the fashion industry together in order to put pressure the NRC to deny Indian Point’s new license. I say, for every green thing the fashion industry does in New York, it won’t amount to a hill of beans if anything happens at Indian Point. Just a few miles away from the plant, is Camp Hill Farm, a project funded by super model Angela Lindvall. They support the Rockland Farm Alliance, which supports the work of Rock The Reactors too. Why is Indian Point still open? That’s a good question. In 2001, when one of the planes that hit theTwin Towers flew down the river just a hundred feet from Indian Point, all the environmental groups in the Hudson Valley created the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC). But Remy feels groups like Riverkeeper and Clearwater can never coordinate and work together. So he set out to create Rock The Reactors to bring everyone together around something different—a higher calling, a representation of Gaia, the Goddess of the Earth in Greek Mythology. A living Goddess so to speak. He wanted to create an iconic image everyone could rally around, inspired by Marianne on the barricades, which became the symbol of revolutionary France.

That’s why the benefit is being held on July 14? Yes. He’s a real Chevalier, and he wants to start a revolution, a LED revolution. And he’s got the friends in the fashion industry to do it. And who knows through his important cause, I may even make a friend or two.