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2007: The Year of The Green Man

This article was written by Micki Krimmel in August 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

Burning%20Man.jpg Tens of thousands of people are packing up their camping gear, putting the last touches on their art projects and costumes and planning their journeys to the Nevada desert for a week of unmitigated self-expression and revelry. Burning Man has long been the world’s largest Leave No Trace event. While there’s no denying the fundamental unsustainability of erecting a temporary city in the desert for one week each year and then burning much of it to the ground, the culture of the community breeds a deep respect for the desert that temporarily hosts Black Rock City each year.

The art theme of Burning Man 2006 was "The Future: Hope and Fear" and participants pondered what the future might look like to them. 2007 is the year of The Green Man: recognizing our place in the ecosystem and creating a sustainable future.

Efforts to reduce the environmental impact of Burning Man have been steadily growing in recent years. This year, the green initiatives are abundant and even the art is dedicated to “fostering environmental awareness in our day-to-day thinking, decisions and actions.” But the Man is not just green for 2007. Burning Man’s board has adopted a new environmental statement for the project, which reads in part,

Black Rock City LLC is committed to utilizing environmentally favorable solutions as they become financially sound alternatives to the use of fossil fuels and non-renewable materials. We encourage our staff and participants to use these alternatives in their camps in Black Rock City, and further to promote and encourage environmental awareness and make use of emerging technologies. We are determined to promote and continue to support the Leave No Trace principles, the use of renewable energy, the use of non-fossil fuels, recycling valuable reusable materials, and composting organic waste materials when ever possible.

A small team of Burning Man staffers worked with dozens of volunteers and the help of David Shearer, an air-quality scientist with California Environmental Associates in San Francisco to implement countless environmental programs to green this year’s burn. David assisted me with compiling the following list of initiatives.

Event-wide greening programs include:

  • Ridesharing at A recent email update from the organizers called for “No empty passenger seats in 2007!”

  • Biobus Shuttle transport from Reno to Black Rock City and back in return for a $50 to Biofuels4Schools Campaign. If you haven’t secured your transport yet, email Seats are almost sold out so hurry!

  • Burning Man sponsored a CFL project in Gerlach (the closest town to the festival, population 500) updating all town light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescents.

  • Burning Man also sponsored the design and installation of a 120 kW solar array in Gerlach, Nevada and a 60 kW solar array in Lovelock, Nevada. A 30 kW solar array will be used to help power the festival and will be gifted to Gerlach after the event. This project will generate $3 million of electricity over the next 20 years at no cost to Gerlach/Lovelock residents.

  • 87% of the main festival generators will be run on B100 biodiesel (11,000 gallons) and the remaining generators (not including festival participants) will run on B10.
    Over 50 theme camps are using biodiesel because Burning Man negotiated with local vendors to lower entry barriers for biodiesel use.

  • A festival-wide composting program will manage food waste from the Café, Commissary and 50-100 theme camps. The organizers have also instituted composing in the San Francisco Burning Man office. All plastic utensils are also being replaced by corn-based products.

  • Comprehensive recycling program including drive-thru recycling in neighboring cities for burners to dispose of recyclables on the ride home. Proceeds raised from the recyclables will be donated to support environmental initiatives and education through the Gerlach High School.

  • 1000 shared yellow bikes (funded by a generous burner) painted green with red flames. This gift will help create the highest per capita municipal bike use in the United States (1 bike per 35 people).

  • Numerous media and information events will take place during Burning Man including 3 concurrent film festivals, lecture series plus more workshops, classes, clinics and demonstrations. If you want to learn about sustainable technologies and how you can green your own life, the playa is the place for you. In fact, there are so many informational events going on during the event, that the organizers couldn't even fit all the information on the flyer! Be sure to check out Green Man Speaks: Conversations Inspired by the Green Man Theme Symposium (Occurring over a 4 day period with 2 one hour lectures per day, this will bring together global thinkers to discuss creative, sustainable futures.) and the Green Man Film Festival including a screening of The 11th Hour.

  • Festivial-wide multi-media environmental baseline assessment to be published in 2008.
  • Resources for group camps and individual burners:

  • The newly launched Burning Man environment website provides information on all the festival-wide greening initiatives and resources for camps and individuals to lower their burn footprint.

  • Cooling Man helps participants offset their Burning Man carbon emissions and provides support for sustainable art projects. As of August 6, 2007, Cooling Man increased its offset portfolio from 210 tons of carbon in 2006 to over 400 tons in 2007. The goal is to make Black Rock City the first carbon neutral city on the planet. The estimated carbon footprint of Burning Man is 27,000 tons, 95% of which originates from travel to the festival.

    provides “crystal clear information to the Black Rock community on how to sustainably energize our transport, camps, art & mutant vehicles.” The goal of the project is to see Black Rock City 95% free of fossil fuels by 2010.
  • Green Man Art:

    Art is always at the center of the Burning Man experience. Many of the large art installations are funded by grants from the organization. As you wander the playa and stumble into the countless works of art (or the mutant vehicles stumble into you), you are forced to think about the year’s theme and the power of art to convey transcendental meaning. This experience is shared by all the participants – the art at Burning Man is what binds the community. The Green Man just might be the most impactful art theme yet.

  • The Man Complex is the centerpiece of the festival. The annual burning of The Man is the climax of the event. The power load for the Man complex in 2007 has been reduced by 50% while the size of the Man Pavilion was increased by 10%. The Green Man Pavilion will house over 3o installations messaging next generation environmental technologies/ideas including wind turbines/EVs, interactive energy displays, carbon foot printing, product lifecycle, permaculture, etc. It is powered 100% by green electricity from solar and wind. The renewable power system will display the state of energy collection on interactive computer screens at the festival and on Burning Man Earth.

  • Civic information kiosks will be arrayed throughout the festival displaying the Green Map, which charts all the green projects on the playa, and various environmental factoids.

  • The overall art budget was increased by 40% this year and the number of applications for grants increased by the same percentage.
  • Speaking of art budgets, one of this year’s most ambitious projects is The Mechabolic: “A large-scale installation exploring the bio-imitative nature of our synthetic ‘metabolic machines’, and their related hydrocarbon based fuels/foods.” In other words, The Mechabolic is a mobile sculpture reminiscent of mammalian digestive and respiratory organs that will slither across the playa like a “dinosaur slug,” digesting waste biomass to fuel itself and other mutant vehicles. Festival participants will be able to climb inside the machine and contribute their compostable waste to fuel-making effort. The Mechabolic will also serve as a roaming gas station providing fuel for “woodgas” converted art cars. After all this, I’m afraid my words have not conveyed the awesomeness that is The Mechabolic. Check out the project overview here and see what’s happening on the blog.

    All of these projects just scratch the surface of the greening efforts of this year’s Burning Man. If you know of some other initiatives or if your camp is participating in other ways, please let us know in the comments.

    Burning Man continues year-round, even though the event concludes each year on Labor Day. “Burners” take the sense of community and connectedness on the playa back with them to the real world where these values hopefully have an impact far beyond the borders of Black Rock City. If you think about the 39,000 participants returning home with this newfound sense of social responsibility, the potential positive impact of Burning Man may be well worth the energy spent to get us all there.

    Have a great burn!

    Photo credit

    The Green Man is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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