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Greening Burning Man
Micki Krimmel, 26 Aug 06

Burning Man 2005Those of you who have been to Burning Man know that it isn’t exactly the picture of sustainability. Thousands of people travel from all over the world, haul tons of crap out to the middle of the desert in Nevada to erect a temporary city (powered in large part by dirty generators), party and dance all week then set a bunch of stuff on fire. We’ve discussed Burning Man a bit here before but as I pack up all my costumes and camping gear and get ready to head to the playa, it seems worth noting the substantial environmental initiatives taking place this year.

Given the progressive nature of the event, it’s no surprise that greater efforts are taken every year to reduce the environmental impact. The goal of building a temporary city which disappears completely, leaving no trace, is deeply ingrained in the culture of the community. MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) is, after all, a four-letter word. As the largest Leave No Trace event in the world, Burning Man has embraced the seven LNT principles:

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Minimize Campfire Impacts
5. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
6. Leave What You Find
7. Respect Wildlife

Greening the Burn is a grassroots movement born that began in 1997 with the first recycling camp and the adoption of the Leave No Trace ethics. Leaving no trace is a vital part of respecting the land that brings us all together and is the only way to ensure we get to do it all again next year. But now, serious efforts are also underway to minimize the global impact of the event.

This year, there are camps dedicated to recycling, re-using wood (rather than burning it) and scrap metal, and educational seminars on sustainability. There’s even a camp reserved for those powering their art and events with alternative energy and one with a biodiesel processing facility!

This year also marks the creation of CoolingMan, an organization born in San Francisco that is helping Burning Man participants calculate and offset their carbon emissions. From

Burners are asked to pay $5 to $10 per ton of personal pollution to the nonprofit Trust for Conservation Innovation in San Francisco, which parcels the donations among various renewable-energy projects nationwide.

Though still nascent, the Cooling Man project has great potential to add even more value to the illuminating and enriching social experiment that is Burning Man.

David Shearer, an air-quality scientist with California Environmental Associates in San Francisco who helped create Cooling Man tells, "Maybe one day Burning Man would add a small surcharge to the ticket price, less than $1, to offset all emissions from the event.”

Cooling Man is a great example of a small group of people taking the initiative to green an event they love. Why not offset Coachella? Lollapalooza? The Love Parade? These events are ripe with progressive youth who would be eager to participate. We don’t have to wait for the organizers of these events to lead the way. If we get the ball rolling, chances are they’ll follow.

See you on the playa!

photo credit: Sterling Ely

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I've thought about asking John Todd ( about the feasibility of doing a portable biological waste treatment system to replace the honey wagons that my friends who've gone to Burning Man say currently service the porta-potties there. I envision a flat-bed trailer with a series of transparent tanks on it each one topped with plants. It could be a marvelous addition to the event and a new way of dealing with the unmentionable necessities at outdoor events.

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