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Articles by Judith Lewis

Judith Lewis covers the environment for the LA Weekly in Los Angeles and blogs at Another Green World. Her work has also appeared in High Country News, Sierra Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times.

Featured Article

A man in a hardhat just dropped off his chicken for me to mind — a Japanese Silkie who watched me with one surprisingly smart eye as I typed this post. I reassured her I was a vegetarian, and she seemed to relax. After a few minutes, the man in the hardhat returned, thanked me, and said he was off to find a blowdryer so he could give the little hen a bath. Playa dust has coated her feathers.

If it had been Monday, I might have thought this strange. But it’s Sunday, and along with nearly 48,000 other people at Burning Man I’ve weathered two battering whiteouts of several hours each, and ingested some things I probably shouldn’t have, and it was only after he’d walked away that I reflected back on the incident as unusual. That’s what’s great about this place: The Playa cracks your mind wide open. The spectrum of reasonable behavior widens. You question old prejudices and drop useless restrictions. Your mind frees up to learn.

So what better place to learn new tricks for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? For coming to understand — in a visceral, tactile, immediate way — what it means to produce and expend ... Read more

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  • Is Burning Man living up to its Green Man intentions?

    The headline refers to a sign that appears as you drive (or as I drove, in a huge white pickup truck) into the Playa at five miles an hour, and it's not a bad summary of the enviro discussion here at Burning Man. How can you really be green at an event you have to drive hundreds of miles to, mostly through desert, with all your heavy crap in the car? Where will all those plastic water bottles end up? Is there such thing as a petroleum-free camp? What about all those Zip Ties, the preferred technology for securing dome coverings and lights on your bike?

    But, you drove here. Photo: Rubin 110 via flickr
    Photo: Rubin 110

    Is Burning Man this year anywhere close to carbon-free?

    No, says Andie Grace, the woman who ably answers the media here. "We're doing everything we can to lessen the footprint, but we can't make it disappear. After all, to do that we'd all have to sit home, strip naked, and eat grubs."

    Which is not to say there isn't good stuff going on here. Says BMan's enviro czar Tom Price, "We are at or slightly ahead of our expectations. We switched 90 percent from red diesel, which comes from places like Saudi Arabia, to biodiesel that comes from Minden, Nevada." (Problems with biodiesel clogging generator filters -- which is does, because it scours out previous petroleum deposits in those gennies -- have been resolved by changing filters.)

    The Man, which is currently in the process of being rebuilt, is lighted with neon powered with a 30 kilowatt solar array, which also powers the entire man complex. It's also powering the power tools the powerful construction people are using to rebuild the Man (which burned unexpectedly early Tuesday morning during the lunar eclipse. It was epic and historic, and a good time was had by all).

    When that solar array, donated by Renewable Ventures, MMA, comes down on Saturday before the burn, "we're going to build 120 kilowatts in the town of Gerlach," says Price, "and 60 kilowatts in the town of Lovelock. That's two million dollars in free renewable energy."

    Plus, once you get here, you ride your bike everywhere. Or your scooter. Or something. But you don't drive your car for a week. As Burning Man founder Larry Harvey said, "that offsets something."

    I will take this back after I've been home for a month, but right now, sitting here in my skimpy pink dress, using a solar-powered WiFi connection on my solar-powered laptop looking out that the spectacular Esplanade full of solar-powered art and just digging the ambient laughter and music of strangers, it seems like Burning Man really could change the ... okay, okay. I'll stop now.

    Next post: How Albertson's grocery store became a beacon of environmental ethics after its execs visited the Playa last year.

  • Wildfire breaks out at Burning Man

    Strange fires are happening everywhere: California, Europe, and Burning Man.

    Somehow, this morning, the giant effigy at the center of Black Rock City -- the site of the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert -- went up in flames this morning at 3 a.m. This is the "Man" I'm talking about, the one that burns at the end of the event on Saturday. The neon -- and this year, for the first time ever, solar-powered -- creature that you orient yourself with to find your way home ... he's gone.

    Burning Man burns
    (photo: Focal Intent, via Flickr)

  • Legendary Burning Man festival gets an eco-conscience

    Armen Zeitounian leads the way up the staircase of the house he’s living in, a two-story colonial nestled in the smoggy hills north of Los Angeles, complete with a view and a pool and a black Ford Explorer in the driveway. In a room on the top floor, a two-by-six-inch plank, painted white, protrudes about […]