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Tuesday, 04 December 2007

How Green was the Green Man? - Page 6

Written by Matthew Alan Taylor
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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.


Chicken John, on the other hand, thinks gasification is the medicine for the Earth’s woes. Virgin founder and billionaire Richard Branson has offered a $25 million reward to anyone who can devise a scheme to remove a billion tons of CO2 annually from the atmosphere. Chicken says Branson owes Mechabolic creator Jim Mason a call.

Whether algae or gasification plays any substantial future role in saving the planet – or greening Black Rock City – remains to be seen.

Drowning in a Sea of Plastic

On the parched playa, water is perhaps the scarcest and most crucial resource. Every year, several hundred burners collapse from dehydration and end up in medics’ tents on IV drips. “Drink before you’re thirsty” is the official survival guide’s most prominent guideline for intrepid burners.

Burners haul hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles to the playa - everyone is responsible for their own hydration. But is this particular manifestation of “radical self-reliance” (a stated core ethos of the event) compatible with Burning Man’s efforts to go green?

Not according to the Green Pavilion’s own commentary on the threat of plastic waste. An installation entitled “How does our use of plastic water bottles contribute to the decline of the albatross?” explained the threat to avian life posed by the ubiquitous bottles that all too often blow or wash into oceans from urban areas. Plastic debris has created a floating garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean that’s twice the size of Texas.

In a recent SF Chronicle op-ed, Jared Blumenthal of the City’s Department of the Environment and Susan Leal of the Public Utilities Commission articulated numerous critiques of water bottles: they can leach toxins into the water, are transported from all over the world (using enormous amounts of fossil fuels), and often contain water that’s of lower quality than municipal water sources. Plastic recycling is inefficient and polluting at best, and one billion bottles end up in California landfill every year. Ironically, plastic bottles leak toxins into the groundwater, harming the public water supply.

Can anything be done to green Burning Man’s water consumption?

Matthew “Hitch” McDermidBurner Matthew “Hitch” McDermid of San Francisco believes so. He proposes that large theme camps could band together to purchase 500 or 1000-gallon containers and truck in fresh water from springs and aquifers in Lake Tahoe area or similar sources. Alternatively, he thinks that the BORG could build the cost into ticket prices and fully centralize water distribution. After all, the BORG already takes collective responsibility for ice sales, coffee sales, and excrement disposal on the playa via the Johnny On-the-Spot latrines.

“Campers would only need one reusable water bottle…instead of disposing of upwards of 20 or 30 water bottles at the end of the burn,” said Hitch.

Price thinks Hitch’s proposal would take Burning Man too far away from the ethos of self-reliance. “We could electrify the entire city, provide water, hand out blinky lights at the gate, we could do everything for people – have stacks of costumes and so forth. What does someone learn by doing that? Do you want to give them fish or teach them to fish?” asks Price rhetorically.


(Page 6 of 10)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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