Contrary to expectations, I actually made it to Burning Man this year. You can check out some of the damage here. Despite so many good intentions and the hard work of many burners, Green Man was no Las Vegas, but it wasn't so green. Then again, what is? For me, the least green aspect was losing my shirt--not literally, but figuratively, in advance of the event, by shopping at Target and about four other big-box stores for a tent, cooler, LED lights for the bike, and so many other overpackaged, phthalate-ridden camping products. (I felt less crazy after a new artist friend admitted that she, too, nearly cries in such emporia. Oh, the humanity.) I didn't realize that the last time I used my own tent was for post-high school graduation bacchanalia on the beach. Because I decided to go at the last minute, I didn't have the luxury of collecting these things slowly and sustainably from friends, craigslist, or resale shops.
My petroleum-based "powdered" wig had to be new too. Or maybe the least green aspect was supplying gasoline to the theme camp's generators. Oh wait, that five gallons was nothing compared to the gasoline filling up the rental car. While I hate air conditioning in real life, some of my happiest Black Rock moments were of resting inside of other people's freon-cooled RVs and trucks for several hours during withering mid-day desert heat.
But I congratulate myself, as any self-righteous San Franciscan should, for spending $25 on a bucket of biodegradable, organic lavender handi-wipes, a hot item under the hotter sun. I brought a bottle of rosewater to spritz on dried-out compatriots too. The bottle claimed that people had prayed over it, and that it possessed special magnetic properties, but my failure to cover up the label made me feel as if I were advertising, a big burner no-no that may have demagnetized all that energy.
And despite the rush to shop at the last minute, the Alemany flea market the week before the burn was the best source of sustainable gifts. I bought a hat box worth of hand-embroidered, mid-century handkerchiefs, which my grandmother still requests at holidays, and passed them around to people. The least commercial, big tent aspect of the Burning Man experience was stopping at local shops and "Indian" taco stands on the way in and out of Black Rock, and sharing small talk with some Paiutepeople. Pyramid Lake is the bluest thing I've ever seen, especially after nearly a week of so much burning of the brain and fossil fuels.
Will is gonna die of embarrassment, but check out this video of his trip to a pygmy village with New York Times reporter Nick Kristof. We talk about green building in North America in terms of wheatboard cabinets and $40,000 solar panels, but look where this woman and her family live.
When Jessamay and I went to Brazil with Will a few years ago, all the ladies called him "Brad Peet" since Brad and Jennifer Aniston happened to be visiting Rio. Will was down with camping out in hostel bunkbeds, but being cultural imperialists,credit card owners (who are stil paying off the trip today, ahem), Jessamay and I carted the three of us to a suite in Ipanema and spent a day in salons. Poor Will found a way to do his own thing.
Will's an incredible photographer and teacher who's been documenting the wild
West Side of Chicago for years. He refuses to sell out--er, sell his work. Instead, he gives the pictures back to the people who are in them. If you're jealous that he won the NYT trip, just remember karma: some cretin recently stole his computer, camera equipment and digital photographs from his and Naomi's apartment.
There's a lot of guilt-free jewelry around if you shop carefully. But what if you like to string your own beads and sculpt your own pendants? Here are some green supplies for making jewelry. I'm almost too late for Valentine's Day, but keep this in mind next time you're stringing beads or bending wire for your beloved (chow on happy chocolate here).
The Beaded Needle, the best source of links I've found on this subject, advises buying beads manufactured in the U.S., Czech Republic, Germany, Italy
and Japan because "all of these countries protect their workers." Glass beads from India or China? A big no-no (U.S. furnace glass artists such as David Christensen: yes, yes.). Yet even the popular Fire Mountain Gems fails to protect Chinese workers from fatal silicosis, says the L.A. Times. Insert comment here about how beauty shouldn't kill. After I received Fire Mountain's giant recycled paper catalog, which contains all sorts of information about the company's do-good deeds around breast cancer and so on, I e-mailed them asking about the eco- and human-friendliness of its goods. Two weeks later, haven't heard back.
Rings & Things sells some 20,000 items online or in a 300-page catalog, and the owner told Beaded Needle that the stone cutters he visited seemed ethical enough. The family-owned A Grain of Sand says it handpicks stones and silver.
When dealing with Swarovski and other high-quality crystal, don't chew on the beads or uh...stud a goblet or silver platter with them, since they contain lead. You might want to wash your hands after handling beads, chains and filings. Some beads are dyed, heated, and irradiated. A reputable supplier should label their goods accordingly as the FTC demands.
Don't worry about quartz crystal, though, since that's so natural that it can be shaped make sweet music (beware soundtrack) and bring out your inner shaman. Kacha's Celtic crystals are hand-mined. Earthly Gems says it cares about ethical sourcing. You can buy Discount Crystals NOW! at Healing Crystals, where they pray for your order but don't guarantee how the rocks were mined. Just don't let someone turn those crystals against you to control your mind...ohhh. I'm sure that isn't the case for Chrissy White's hardcore healing crystal jewelry, which she's shown at U.K. eco-design fairs.
Hasn't New Orleans dried out and begun resprouting as a green, sustainable city? Sure, much of it stewed for weeks in water teeming with 45,000 the amount of bacteria safe for swimming (not to mention those pesky heavy metals, organochlorines and stuff). But the EPA recently gave the environmental conditions down there a green light anyway. Can't we just load up some barges with mushrooms to float down the Mississippi and deep clean the Gulf Coast upon arrival?
About a year after Katrina, Miguel flew down to New Orleans from SF on a whim. Armed with Gregory's camera, yet without knowing a soul in the city or a lick about making a documentary, Miguel chatted up strangers over the course of a week and wrapped up the editing in less than a month. Check out his raw footage of the ongoing dirty work in what some might call Nueva Orleans.
Said Miguel on location in September:"Why aren't there tons of trucks over here cleaning up? You'd think you were at the end of the world, and the center of the world is here...It's really twisted. It's so f***ing
heartbreaking. This place will change your life, it's unreal. This
isn't reality. What the hell, I don't know what to say about it."
Summer's over and the hope-inspiring greenery outside is shriveling up to make way for a barren, icy winter, so let's check out some ultra-blighted parts of the world, just for fun. A new list of the world's 10 most polluted places completely skips over the United States. Chernobyl speaks for itself, for instance. Have a strong argument for your own backyard? Go ahead, nominate your own site. The Blacksmith Institute, a collaboration between governments and nonprofits around the globe that put together the list, will hear your plea.
This reminds me of Google Maps' virtual tour guide of eco-friendly U.S. vacation spots this summer. Google should help the Blacksmith Institute with its maps. Look at how empty their map looks (above) next to the satellite views you can grab for free at Google Maps and its rival sites.
When people talk about clean coal, don't believe the doublespeak. Mountaintop mining has already decimated some 800 square miles, according to the site, burying 1,000 miles of streams and just generally depressing people who used to have a nice view from their windows. Install Google Earth for 3-D proof. On a brighter note, Blacksmith does detail progress in cleaning up radiation as well as cancerous contamination of groundwater and air around Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa.
It's a pain to pack for a trip when you're grappling with a tangle of cords and accessories. But as long as you're toting a laptop, USB Cell batteries let you ditch battery chargers. Just pop off the green cap on one of these puppies and plug it into a USB port on your PC. USB Cells come in AA, AAA, 9V versions, with flavors for iPods, digital cameras and smart phones. These Nickel Metal Hyrdide (NiMH) batteries lack the toxic ingredients that muck up alkalines and NiCads, and they last longer. You just slide off the cover of a compatible phone or camera to charge without having to remove the battery. I was all set to place an order, but you can't buy these outside the United Kingdom at the moment. Instead, I joined the wait list at maker Moixa Energy's Web site (via The Green Guy).
Thanks to "Who Killed the Electric Car?" as well as pricey oil and theend of the worldaswe know it supposedlybeing nigh, Zero Air Pollution (ZAP) vehicles are in high demand. They're cute and zippy, but you can only drive the Xebra about 40mph for 40 miles before needing to plug it in again. And as you can glean from the photos, the interior is less than luxurious--more alongthelines of aYugo. Take heart, however; the plastic seat coverings are removable and were probably for display only. I'm 5' 5.5" and fit comfortably in the front, though you might feel cramped if you're taller. But who needs leg room and speed when you're just running errands around town?
In San Francisco, at least, a dawdling Xebra might be perfect. I've come to believe that so many drivers here are simply too stoned to enter the freeway on-ramp without first pausing to take in the view and breathe in that ominpresent scent of non-native eucalyptus. This is frustrating to a native of Chicago, where we drive (yes, defensively) as if steering a tommy gun. And have patience; charging the Xebra takes about six hours. Once you're rolling, though, it only winds up costing a couple of pennies per mile worth of electricity.
The Santa Rosa-based ZAP company sells a whole line of two, three and four-wheeled electric cars, scooters, bikes, and ATVs, many of which Brazilian drivers have enjoyed for some time. An ethanol car is planned for next year. ZAP owns the U.S. rights to distribute Smart cars, which you may have snapped a photo of on some European vacation.
You can buy a ZAP Xebra for around $10,000 from a handful of U.S. dealerships in Santa Rosa, CA; Elizabeth, CO; Salem, OR; Mesa, AZ; Reno, NV; Exeter, NH; Vandergrift, PA; Kirkland and Fife, WA; and West Palm Beach, FL. But expect a wait list. The company is enjoying record sales, which is just about 300 cars, yet for now it's operating at a loss.
If you're partial to your old VW van and live in Northern California, you can contact Larry to help you convert the beast to a plug-in electric engine for around $4,000. Never mind, I misplaced his e-mail. Let me know if you find it.
The freedom of your first driver's license may be exciting, but few things make you feel more trapped than getting behind the wheel with a halitosis-challenged drivers ed instructor, and then sealing the deal at the political-appointee-staffed-DMV--not to mention the depressing fact that your presence on the road makes you another mobile soul sucking up petroleum, polluting the planet, just so you can idle outside the White Hen Pantry Friday night while a bribed college student buys your friends a six-pack to chug in your mom's basement.
But a greener form of driving instruction puts a twist on the initiation rite of learning to drive. Drivers Ed Direct has taught about 10,000 teenagers how to safely steer a hybrid car. The online lessons help you earn a license in the Golden State, the Longhorn State, as well as in Florida and Nevada, where the company advertises on Craigslist. In-car sessions are available around L.A. with a hybrid Toyota Prius or Ford Escape. The company doesn't offer instruction for biofuel cars (but you don't really need that anyway). Founder Blake Mycoskie, a former contestant on The Amazing Race, also runs TOMS shoes, which gives a pair of duds to a needy kid for each pair that you buy.
For bulk groceries, it still seems that taking a taxi from the store is cheaper than sharing a car, plus it drops you off at your door for good so you don't have to march home from the lot. Now that a Zipcar office opened a block from work, however, I'm tempted to try it. Should I cave into the ever-expanding Zipcar empire, support the rival Flexcar, or support the local nonprofit City CarShare? See if the chart speaks for itself. What's your favorite? Continue to the next page to view or download the chart (you'll need Java enabled--or try here-but maybe I'll add an image later)