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BURNING MAN JOURNAL: 2007 Summer Newsletter


Newsletter Contents:

Greening The Burn
a work in progress

by Tom Price

To some people, Burning Man isn’t the real world, but an escape from it. But in a very real way, Black Rock City is a microcosm of the real world around us, only with causes and effects more immediately revealed. If we generate garbage, it doesn’t get shipped off someplace else — it sits at our feet, and goes home with us. If we produce polluting energy, we hear the noise and breathe the exhaust. We can’t hide from the problems we create in the desert. So what better place to explore the solutions to our planet’s environmental crises than a city we get to re-create every year?

The Green Working Group

Every other week for the last six months, there has been a “Green Working Group” meeting at the Burning Man office, with staff and volunteers working together to look at what we’ve been doing, and explore ways to improve the Project’s environmental footprint.

Below, we have broken down these efforts into distinct areas — education, solid waste, materials, and energy — to highlight some of what you can expect with the Green Man this year, and how you can participate.

Education

In Burningman.com’s new Environmental Section you’ll find an Environmental Statement, adopted by the Board in the summer of 2006 as a guidepost for these efforts and a statement of the Project’s dedication to addressing climate issues in a substantive way. You’ll also find ever-growing lists of resources, materials, tools and practices you can use both at the event and year-round. Check out the "Enviroblog", a regularly updated report on the latest Green Man developments, and our “Tip of the Day”, a regular stream of new ideas to help you green your burn, on and off the playa.

Carbon Offsets — Admitting the Scope of the Problem

Getting to and participating in Burning Man has an environmental impact, and dealing with it means first acknowledging the scope of that impact. We’re working with a group of volunteers known as Cooling Man to attempt to calculate and offset the entire carbon footprint of the event — estimated at some 28,000 tons of emissions. We know that carbon offsets aren’t the whole solution; they’re more of an admission of the often hidden costs of our consumption. Nonetheless, they are a way to make effective contribution to climate change. Already, we’ve raised enough to offset the burning of the Man, surpassing last year’s total offset of 300 tons… but we’ve got a long, long way to go. Visit www.coolingman.org to calculate your camp’s impact, learn ways to reduce it, and then consider contributing to offset your share of the footprint of Burning Man.

Green Man Pavilion — Showcasing the Best Ideas in the World

By far the “greenest” place at the event will be the Green Man Pavilion. At the foot of the Man will be 30,000 square feet of shaded open space dedicated to demonstrating the most innovative ideas, educational tools, and technological advances addressing critical environmental issues. Some will be participant-created, such as displays demonstrating the production and storage of energy. Others will come from what are — to us, anyway — rather untraditional sources.

San Francisco, where Burning Man began, is the epicenter of the “clean tech” revolution. Real world problems require real world solutions, so we’ve asked some of that industry'’s innovators to come and share their ideas, and do so in a uniquely creative, non-commercial way. You’ll see some of the largest examples at the four cardinal points of entry, where cutting-edge wind turbines will power dynamic lighting displays. Those interested in learning more about these technologies when they arrive home will be able to log into the Burning Man Earth portal, where they'll fly through a 3-D model of Black Rock City and into the pavilion, and see further information about all the technologies on display.

Solid Waste
Recycling — Reusing Black Rock City to Help Families in Need


Last year, Burners Without Borders and DPW attempted the first city-wide recycling of Black Rock City’s lumber, and it was a huge success — resulting in six semis of wood being delivered to Habitat For Humanity in Reno, their largest donation ever. In 2007, we’re doing it again, on an even larger scale. Three collection stations will open on Sunday morning at roughly 3, 6, and 9 —o’clock along the Esplanade. There, camps may recycle all reusable lumber from their structures, such as 2x4s and sheets of plywood. It is hoped that participants will design and plan their camps with this ultimate re-use in mind.

Normally, getting that wood to Reno could be expensive, but it won’t be: a contractor in Reno was so inspired by the story from the 2006 effort that he has volunteered his company’s trucks and staff to haul the lumber to Habitat For Humanity after this year’s event — for free.

Materials
Supplies — Putting the Man Where Our “Mouth” Is

In 2007, the Man will be perched atop a large pine tree, and will be surrounded by a forest of logs before the final pyre. A participant in Truckee, California already has plans to cut down some trees on his property to build a new home; those trees — already destined to be firewood — will be donated for use in the burn.

Meanwhile, the Center Camp Café is committed to once again using fair trade and organic products whenever possible, and will be creating express lines for people who bring their own cup — encouraging even less waste.

Energy
Biodiesel Grid — Powering the Playa with French Fry Oil

Burning Man has been in dialogue with its generator vendors to convince them to allow us to fuel our electrical infrastructure entirely with biodiesel, provided by Bentley Biofuels in Minden, NV. That’s 20,000 gallons of fuel that, instead of coming from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or other human rights hot spots, would come instead from french fry vats in Reno.

Camp Networking — Sharing the Load, and Saving Money

We have begun working with several groups, like the Large Scale Sound Art camps along the 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock radial streets, to network and share their power grids, allowing them to rent fewer generators (and spend less money, and create less pollution). Do you know your neighbors from last year? Get in touch and see if you can do the same thing.

Black Rock Solar — Putting the Gift Economy Into Practice

When you walk out toward the Man, you’ll see in the distance a huge array of solar panels, arranged to look like the ancient Native American symbol for the sun. That donated array, generating 30 kilowatts of energy, will be powering the entire Man base complex on clean, renewable energy.


But that’s only the beginning. The person loaning us the system runs a large solar company, and asked us to find a home for the system after the event — which is when we learned about the large rebates available in Nevada for building solar power. By using his company to put up the initial investment (eventually, to be repaid with the rebates), and by sourcing volunteer labor through Burners Without Borders and DPW, we realized we could build solar power and give it away — at virtually no cost.

So, this summer, Burning Man will be working to install 60 kilowatts of solar power in Lovelock on the Pershing General Hospital, and 210 kilowatts on the school and other buildings in Gerlach. These arrays will be gifts for those communities, with no strings attached. It is estimated that over the next 20 years, the Gerlach school project alone will have generated $1,000,000+ in free electricity, money that Gerlach can instead invest in their community in other ways.

These solar projects are a profound display of the real world implications of the gift economy. Look for them on your way to the event this year.

At the time of this writing, even more ideas and efforts are underway. One participant is working with the local supermarkets in Reno to ensure that they stock environmentally responsible products in one, easy-to-find section. Another is attempting to source enough blue trash bags so that every camp can have an easy to remember way to sort recyclables. Yet another is exploring ways to establish a biodiesel shuttle bus to the Reno airport, for long distance but still green travelers. What are your ideas? We want to hear them. Email environment (at) burningman (dot) com.