New restaurant surcharge for climate change in California

Fighting climate change may soon be as easy as eating a meal out. A new 1 % surcharge at restaurants will raise money for environmentally friendly farming. 

It's a statewide program, and entirely optional for restaurants and customers, but backers hope it catches on. 

"This issue of climate change, is obviously massive and future generations don't have the chance to opt out," said Anthony Myint, founder of the non-profit Perennial Farming Initiative. "We as chefs want to do the right thing and shopping organic and at farmers markets doesn't really feel like enough." 

Myint owns Mission Chinese, a popular restaurant on Mission Street in San Francisco. 

His non-profit is already galvanizing other restaurateurs to become more carbon neutral. 

But Myint said the "Restore California Renewable Restaurants" initiative is a way to do even more.  

Working with state air regulators and the Food and Agriculture Department, the surcharge will replenish a fund that helps farmers switch to more sustainable practices.

Moving away from chemical pesticides will restore carbon to the soil, improve crops, and benefit the environment.

But the state fund that enables growers to change their methods has many more applicants than money. 

The surcharge will feed that fund, an estimated $10 million annually, if even 1 in 100 California restaurants participate. 

"If every single restaurant had to do it, it would raise $1 billion annually," noted Myint. 

The fee begins phasing in this summer, and restaurants are being recruited to adopt it.

"I think a lot of them already support great farming, and want to support better farming," said Myint, "so the hope is now citizens and businesses will consciously choose restaurants that participate in the program."

At Mission Chinese, a similar fee, slightly higher, already appears on tabs as a "CO2 OFFSET" 
Myint is encouraged that none of his customers have objected. 

"I hope customers feel free to decline the fee if they don't believe in climate change, or they're on a tight budget, or for any reason," he explained."That's why it's optional, but I think it's kind of powerful for all of us to work on climate change by default, a few cents at a time." 

A notice on his menu alerts diners to surcharge and the reason for it. 

"Restaurants may charge other fees for health benefits and such, but those are a cost of doing business," said Myint, "but if climate change is too big to tackle individually, here's a way to do it almost as an afterthought."