07/09/2007 07:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Putting a Face on the Unfolding Global Dramas

My simple mantra -- make it personal, make it relevant -- seems to be, yes, relevant here at the Ideas Festival. It sounds so basic. Put a face on these dramas that are unfolding around the world, impacting billions of lives each day. It's hard to make statistics sticky and therefore hard to motivate action. What does the 1.1 billionth person look like who doesn"t have access to safe drinking water? What fears or dreams of the future does a Central U.S. farmer hold when he fires up his irrigation system and is pumping from ancient aquifers? And why does a Mexican mother cry when she thinks about water and her family's welfare? The overriding theme throughout many sessions is that we're all connected. The sciences give us the baseline, the inquiry, the predictions. The arts provide grounding, perspective, comfort, hope. The mere opportunity to convene, share ideas and invigorate debate gives us food for a more sustainable future. Tom Friedman, in his speech, "Green is the New Red, White and Blue," last night delivered the sobering news we all know. That we're not doing enough. That the current targets for carbon reduction are mere gestures. That we have yet to imagine the scale of response necessary. That action will only come when we have the personal relevancy combined with inspired leadership necessary to tackle these mega-global issues. We talked a lot about it at our session today, "The Future of Water."

Super Mario, Green Mario
I spoke with überchef Mario Batali last week about two items related to the Aspen Ideas Festival. For our "Future of Water" session today, I wanted to know more about his views on water resources and what he's doing in his restaurants. (See the New York Times May 30, 2007 piece.) In two weeks, Mario said, his New York eatery, Del Posto, will no longer offer imported bottled water. That is, bottled water imported from anywhere beyond its doors on Tenth Avenue. Batali has installed filtration equipment and, for those who want a bit of sparkle, a carbonation machine. "There's no sense in shipping water all over the world when, in fact, we have access to great water right where we are," he said. He says he takes inspiration from Alice Waters.

Considering that I'm moderating the Festival session, "Turning the Tide: Sustaining the Ocean Harvest" on Saturday, I was curious how Mario fared with his fish fare. Informed, it turns out. He says his restaurants follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which promotes "buying seafood from sustainable source."

"Our responsibility to be good restaurateurs is not only to make a good meal anymore," Mario said. "It's to really help people make decisions they want to make in the long term about limited natural resources. That includes everything from overfished waters to drinking water. It includes fuel sources. It includes a lot of the decisions that are implicit sadly in poor restauranteur ship. We can help raise everyone's awareness about the plethora of decisions available and help people make those decisions."

Do you know where your fish comes from? Next time, ask the chef.