Burning Man Goes Eco – On the Playa and at Home
Can 45,000 people journey vast distances to a lifeless desert and participate in an environmentally sustainable festival devoted to burning stuff? This year, Burning Man attempted to do just that: go green.
With this year’s theme – “The Green Man” – the annual hedonistic festival catapulted itself onto an enormous global stage shared by Al Gore and British Petroleum, permaculturists and PG&E. That is to say, Burning Man has joined the burgeoning “green” social movement. The question remains: is this a movement toward genuine ecological sustainability, or the appearance of such for the sake of public relations and increased revenues?
A certain segment of the Burning Man community has always made respect for the environment a high priority. For years, event organizers have promoted a "leave no trace" ethic and encouraged all participants to scour campsites down to the tiniest scraps. The under-appreciated Earth Guardians work year-round to keep the playa in tidy shape, and ensure that “burn scars” don't deface the desert. Burners without Borders, a group of volunteers with a “bring it home” ethic, journeyed to the Hurricane Katrina destruction zone in 2005 to provide an estimated one million dollars worth of free home demolitions to help property owners clear away wreckage from the disaster. Last year, the same group salvaged five semi trucks full of reclaimed wood from the festival and donated it to Habitat for Humanity; this year there were three trucks. In the past few years, participants have demanded a much higher level of environmental responsibility. Just keeping the desert free from ‘moop‘ (matter out of place) was not enough.
According to Kachina Katrina Zavalney, volunteer coordinator for Burning Man’s Green Team at last year’s burn, “I was walking around feeling unhappy – not like I had a chip on my shoulder, but more like, ‘Gosh, people think this place is so progressive, but yet it smells so bad from all the generators, it’s so loud, there’s not a lot that people can say about the environmental efforts or what’s being done out here.”
An alliance of like-minded volunteers converged around the Green Theme for 2007. The task was daunting.
“The idea of building a sustainable, temporary city in the middle of nowhere on its face is preposterous. There’s no frame against which our work here can be compared except ourselves…because no one else does what we do. Given that, I think what we’ve been able to accomplish is extraordinary,” said Tom Price, environmental manager for the Green Man theme.
“Because we build the city from the ground up we’re able to look at everything and change whatever we want to on a dime. So, we’ve looked at transportation, solid waste, materials, energy, art, media, everything, all aspects of the event,” Price added.
Green Man environmental manager Tom Price took a break to reflect on the green campaign