This article was written by Micki Krimmel in August 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
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:
Resources for group camps and individual burners:
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.
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!
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.