Saturday, January 22, 2011

Teaching Climate Change to Those Who Really Matter

Hey Guys, I know it's not super food related, but my article on Venice do-gooder cartoonist Denis Thomopoulos ran in the SM Observer last week and I figure since it's such a great concept and cause the more people who read it the better. Please enjoy!


Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change!"

Last week, the first week of 2011, I went for a barefoot run on Santa Monica’ beaches, where I narrowly avoided stepping on not one, but two hypodermic needles. Now if that’s not a signal for our need for change, to really step up and do our part to help the planet I don’t know what is. And where does change begin the most? With education. As Henry Steele Commager once said, “Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.” Something that Venice cartoonist by Denis Thomopoulos is taking to heart.

In early December Thomopoulos hosted a solar powered premiere screening party of his new DVD Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change!” This half-hour feature DVD uses characters from his Hippo Works’ syndicated eco cartoonlet It’s A Jungle Out There! to teach kids about global warming, the food chain, carbon footprints as well as eco habits such as “the Three Rs” (reducing, reusing and recycling). A pretty big concept for little people, but one that can make the biggest difference on this planet. See it’s really about marshmallows, yes marshmallows.

Walter Mischel is famous for doing a study on marshmallows. In the late 1960s, he put preschoolers alone in a room with one marshmallow. Mischel told each kid if they didn’t eat that marshmallow, that when the adults returned they would be rewarded with two marshmallows. Turns out the kids who were able to hold out the longest, who were able to use their willpower to delay gratification, were the ones that were the most successful later in life: they had the highest SAT scores, the lowest rate of divorce, etc. But the most important part of Mischel’s study (in my opinion) was the concept that these children through education could be taught to delay their need for that marshmallow. That they could see beyond the marshmallow in front of them, or that disposable coffee cup, or that plastic bag, to the bigger picture.

Most people wouldn’t think about explaining carbon offsets to a little kid. Including Denis Thomopoulos. His company Hippo Works.com, began by launching a weekly ‘eco cartoonlet’ called It's A Jungle Out There! and syndicated it to companies like AOL Kids and National Geographic Kids, to mobile carriers, and most recently to retail video displays around the country through Indoor Direct. It was only after Denis began to receive a lot of fan mail for his cartoonlets on climate change that he realized there was nothing in the audio-visual market that offered kids a comprehensive understanding of this important issue. Thus, he created the half hour feature Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change!” to fill that void.

Thomopoulos created Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change!” as a tool for education; education that could happen both at home and at school. Thus, Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change” has fully indexed chapters that correlate to National Science Standards and a 45 page eHandbook with teacher lesson plans, puzzles, and more.

“The DVD is broken into three parts: the problem, the effects, an what we can do to stop it; on what kids can do. I wanted to make sure there was a solution for them,” notes Thomopoulos. At the end of the film the Hippo Works characters (including the aptly named Simon) have a Climate Change bake sale, and Thomopoulos explains that numerous kid fans, inspired by the DVD, have done the same.
Along with simple suggestions his Hippo Works site is launching a club where kids, families, and classes can share their progress in fighting climate change. For every Green Dollar kids earn through playing games, a real square foot of rainforest is purchased to help offset their carbon footprints. “Through interactive games kids can educate, entertained, and feel good about helping the planet,” he continues. “They can say, ‘I helped save the rainforest.’”

Being an environmentally educational cartoonist was something Thomopoulos evolved into. “My brother was the artist, I was the writer,” he notes. Thomopoulos received a B.A. in English from Georgetown and an M.A. in English from Oxford with the dream of becoming a professor. While at Oxford he just happened to draw a best selling t-shirt design on campus, and with that twist of fate he realized that his heart lay somewhere else. “I was working in London and I saw this Hippo on my Mom’s wall. So I started to draw the Hippo, and realized this is what I want to do.” Thomopoulos left the film business to work a nine to five job so he would have time to draw. “I started to create these characters and license them. I got a deal with AOL Kids Channel and worked with National Geographic Kids with their digital media group.”

And it turns out that it combined every career aspiration he had as a child. “As a kid I wanted to do all these jobs. I wanted to be a writer, an actor, a director, and studio executive” (yes, not a job most little kids aspire to, but his father was a studio executive). “I used to pretend to be like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and now I do most of the voices for Hippo Works. I found a way to do all the things I wanted to do and put it all together. My mother told me, ‘Denis you got your wish.’”
In addition to the DVD and his syndicated weekly, Denis has created eco cartoons and products for clients such as The Lightspan Educational Network, National Geographic, Paramount Vantage, Con Edison, EarthDayNY.org, SWAPE (Soil Water Air Protection Enterprise), GlobalWarmingKids.net, StopGlobalWarming.org, Wildsalmon.org, Care2.com, and others.

Thomopoulos understands that change comes in the details, simple understandable details that a little person (or little person’s parent or teacher) can understand. Simple details like packing lunch boxes with reusable containers (since in the United States lunch box waste is over 1.5 billion pounds every year) and planting trees (since one tree removes one carbon ton).

This concept also translates to Hippoworks.com as a whole. The Simon Says “Let’s Stop Climate Change!” DVD cover was made locally in Los Angeles, and has plastic free packaging. Hippo Works is powered by renewable energy, clothing and products are made from organic cotton and recycled papers, and offsets are purchased to make Hippo Works a completely carbon neutral company.
And all of these details are marshmallows. Marshmallows that allow us (kids young and old) to change. To help us live in a world where we can breath clean air and swim in (and run next to) a clean ocean (free from hypodermic needles).

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