The Environmental Ethic of Burning Man

Burning-Man-flyer-single-unrThus is the eyebrow-raising title of a session this Thursday at the University of Nevada (Reno), being hosted by Burning Man founder Will Roger. We know that Burning Man has as one of its Ten Principles “Leave No Trace”, which is actually a registered trademark of the Federal Bureau of Land Management – and a requirement the event needs to meet to get its permit from the Feds.

Other than “LNT”, what is the environmental ethic of Burning Man? Even BMOrg themselves admit that the event generates massive pollution and greenhouse gases. If you take the emissions per capita calculated by Cooling Man from 2006 data, and compare it to Wikipedia’s list of biggest CO2 emissions per capita (which has 2005 data), if Burning Man were a country it would be the 4th biggest polluter in the world.

The Playa’s delicate ecosystem and landscape is also being permanently altered by the presence of Burning Man.

green man flyerBurning Man made a token attempt to be more eco-conscious in 2007, when the trendies were going green and Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms were raising gigantic “green funds” (that turned out to be spectacular failures). The 2007 theme was The Green Man and their eco-friendly stance was endorsed personally by former president of vice Vice President Al Gore, who said:

“I think it’s just great that the people of Black Rock City have made the Green Man this year’s theme for Burning Man, and I hope that folks will use TV Free Burning Man as a platform to spread that great message even further”

It’s hard to see what (if any) progress has been made in BMOrg’s environmental ethic in the seven years since then, other than the $40 vehicle tax which the rulers have graciously imposed for environmental reasons (if you believe BMOrg) or to make more money (if you believe almost every Burner who’s commented on the Internet about it). 

The Green Man-related calculations showed that if just 70% of Burners offset one ton of carbon emissions, Black Rock City could be the first carbon neutral city in the world. This seems like a worthy and highly achievable goal, which would just need a modicum of leadership to implement. A ton of carbon offsets costs $13.62 in California. This means that BMOrg could pay the offsets for EVERYONE out of the $1.4 million vehicle tax revenues, pay Pershing County’s increased costs too, and still have hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit left over. Just from the vehicle tax! Of course, they would still have millions of “non-profits” left over from the event too.

Will Roger’s presentation will also cover the “spread of its culture”, which presumably is a more environmentally friendly output of the party. I won’t be attending, but perhaps if anyone reading this does, they might want to raise some of these issues.

Hey, BMOrg, want to use Burner culture to make a difference in the world? Want to use Burning Man to help the environment? Take your new  vehicle tax windfall and buy some god-damned carbon credits.

21 comments on “The Environmental Ethic of Burning Man

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  6. I feel like I’m in the tiny minority that supports the vehicle pass idea.

    First, I support it because the limits on the roads are the single biggest factor that will limit the growth of the beautiful, crazy experiment that we are all part of, called burning man. Growth in the size of the event has been a constant, relentless, and some would say critical element of the event and I see no reason to stop just because we’re getting a little scared or a little bit of press and celebrity attention.

    Second, we should call more attention to creative solutions like the burner express: — the trial run apparently went really well last year, and if they make it a lot bigger, I know a lot of people from my camp would be happy to sit in a bus with a whole crew, skip the line at the gate, and have me and a friend waiting for them with our truck with all the camp supplies. More bus!

    Third, CO2 is ‘trace’. No ifs, ands or buts about it. The BLM doesn’t consider it ‘trace’, but since when have we waited for the US government to catch up with reality before we proceed? If we’re serious about leave no trace, (always an aspirational goal) then we need to take the emissions from this event seriously.

    I’m looking forward to the talk tonight and will be asking lots of questions.

  7. Free Presentation: Managing Black Rock City and the Spread of Its Culture
    Will Chase, Burning Man Project

    Perchance, this talk on Thursday provides opportunities to say much obliged to Will Chase towards his long service to Burning Man and honorably query him upon The Future of Governance of Black Rock City and of the Burning Man Project. Queries as –

    The Burning Man Project, as of the prior autumn, now owns ALL SHARES of Black Rock City LLC, which were priorly owned equally by Will, Crimson, Larry, and the other three LLC members. Ownership of an organisation begets control of the organisation, most would concur. Which changes have been decided upon by the Project? Which changes are under evauation?

    What is the organisation structure of the Burning Man Project? Whom is Chairman of the Board, or by whichever nomenclature the position is coined? Will the Project list the boardmembers, in addendum to their terms, positions, and Project committee memberships upon the Project website? Will the Project place a PowerPoint slide with present and planned subsidiary companies, subsidiary organisations, affiliated companies, and affiliated organisations upon the Project website? Which committees are established within the board of the Project? Is an independent committee overseeing the Black Rock City LLC, as proper ministry would dictate?

    Does the wholly owned Black Rock City LLC subsidiary of the Project remain in control of the event on the playa? Do Will, and the other five former LLC owners, remain as Senior Staff of the Black Rock City LLC? Have other boardmembers been added to the Black Rock City LLC by the new ownership, the Project, as proper ministry would dictate? Does Mr Harvey remain the lead member of the Black Rock City LLC, or, is he presently ones of equals on the Black Rock City LLC board and on the Project board?

    Upon establishment of the Project in annum 2011, it was stated numerously the Project is purposed to return the Burning Man event to the Burning Man Community in annum 2014. By which methods is this purpose being attained? Are Burner community committees, task forces, or series of workshops being formed to empower Burners towards assisting the guidance of the event, the culture, and, of the Project in the future? All cities and communities do so, is the Project doing so, as proper ministry would dictate? Will their meeting notices, interim reports, and final reports be placed upon the Project website, as is done in all communities?

    Project board meetings have been held in recent months. Which items have been evaluated? Which decisions have been voted upon, and which are the voting results? Which decisions are pending? Will these items be placed upon the Project website? Will a blog be placed upon the Project website discussing relevant issues and a concrete vision of the future?

    It has been repeatedly expounded upon that the Regionals are the method to spread the Burning Man Culture throughout the globe. Which part of the organisation is to assist the regionals towards being created and towards their continuing operation, the Project, or, the Black Rock City LLC? Is this to be done with a light touch, assisting the regional groups towards forming their 501c3 or LLC or incorporation, assist them towards the beginnings of their operations, and then empowering Burners to independently operate the regionals by their own efforts? Or, is this to be done with a heavy hand, controlled by the Project or the Black Rock City LLC, with contracts stuffed of rules, non-disclosures, continuing organisation control, and, perchance, payments to the organisation? Are Burner community events not controlled by the organisation, such as LIB and many others, available to be linked upon the Project website? Are various Regional organisations and events envisioned to be subsidiaries of the Project in the future?

    All queries presented herein are honorable and applicable to the presentation by Will Chase. The queries are applicable at present, as the Black Rock City LLC is now wholly owned by the Project, and the organisation structure has been voted upon in recent months, the politics have been decided. The present is the proper time to lift the veil of secrecy.

    Perchance, do other Burners have queries of Managing Black Rock City and the Spread of Its Culture which may be honorably presented to Will Chase?

    • all good questions. There’s a great deal of secrecy for a non-profit that’s built a fortune from our contributions and is supposed to be helping the world. I think it’s Will Roger tonight though, not JRS writer Will Chase

      • Much obliged, burnersxxx. The moment I hit post comment I uttered, crap, the last name is typo-ed, it’s as you say.

        Few Burners realize the six former shareholders of the Black Rock City LLC now own ZERO shares of the BRC LLC. All shares are now owned by the Burning Man Project, with a seventeen person Board of Directors in control. Changes occurred in the past several months due to this change of ownership. Is that why Larry has been invisible? He lost the political scrum, he’s no longer in control?

        I made another mistake priorly. I said that the six former Black Rock City LLC owners would get two more massive payments for their six year cashout announced in 2011, ending after the event in 2015. Wrong. It’s three more massive payments ending after the event in 2016. A bloke must learn to count all the way to six. Crap.

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  9. Thanks for sharing this study as I was unaware of it’s existence, but it does confirm the thoughts I had the one time I attended the Burn a few years back. I know how much it cost me in fuel to travel to/from the Playa, and it hit me hard as to how much it would cost to get all of the heavy equipment to/from the playa and power everything; let alone the environmental impact of all of this equipment.

    So while I am in total agreement that the Burning man event is a huge source of green house gasses and atmospheric pollution, the statement: ” if Burning Man were a country it would be the 4th biggest polluter in the world” is a bit disingenuous since it is relies on multiplying a weeks worth of per person CO2 emissions by fifty-two weeks to make it comparable to a country’s annual output. While it’s not really fair to assume a simple multiplier of activities associated with a week long event as equivalent to the activities of a country’s lifestyle, it does speak to the lack of concern for the environment which is at the core of the event.

    Of course, this has only gotten worse with the 50% increase in population since 2005 and the number of celebrities and other wealthy folks that fly in for the event and have their RV camps setup for them before they arrive; which only doubles or triples the amount of CO2 emissions they are responsible for creating.

    While most Burners in the community believe that the LNT ethic is enough to justify their level of environment responsibility, the really sad part is the lack of concern for the effect of this event to others living down wind and that the “Don’t stop the party” ethos which permeates the culture will prevail over anything that might cause them to think about their actions or the effect on others.

    • What’s wrong with multiplying the weekly calculation by 52 to compare it with annual numbers? BMOrg compare the rave to a city all the time. These calculations are *all* estimates, anyway. The comparison is the point, the logic behind it is sound. I think we agree that Burners could learn more about the environment from BM than they currently do via LNT.

      • What’s wrong? The fact that the highest percentage of emissions is related to the travel to and from the event and if it was a year long event, I doubt there would be so much travel..let alone a constant population of 60K….of course it’s all conjecture. I just think it is a bit of apples and oranges to compare with a simple multiplication…but absolutely I agree that the LNT ethos only goes as far as ensuring next year’s BLM permit.

      • [lightbulb] ah that makes sense! And I see your point. In this reckoning, Burning Man is lower in emissions because it is an off grid city. In which case, it should be even easier/cheaper to make it carbon neutral, or at least scoring in the worlds top 10 . The credits required if you ignore to/from emissions are much, much less.

        I hope I’m not foretelling a new tax here for the BMorg…and if I am, I hope the money actually gets spent on carbon offset credits !

  10. In the face of so much hypocrisy, when is enough enough? Aint it fun to be a Burner, scorching the ancient lakebed and sooting the surrounding area for miles and miles….

    But wait, we ‘Leave No Trace’. That’s written down in the 10 Principles. So all that shit that flies over the perimeter fence just goes to god and all the ash just goes up to heaven with it. All the motor oil seeping into the desert goes down to the devil, leaving the playa pristine because that’s what we’re told about how great we are and we LNT.

    So what that the locals can’t enjoy the offseason due to the risk of hitting rebar and blowing out a tire. We’re Burners, dammit! Fuck yer day!

  11. the whole $40 parking pass is a joke. most burners carpool anyways to and from the playa to save costs, and to help keep vehicles off the road & playa.

    it would have just been better to make tickets $400 each and forgo the bullshit. they would have made more revenue as well.

    i bring a school bus each year and fill it full of passengers/camp mates & gear to help save on fuel cost, to help keep vehicles off the road & out of camp, and helpers to push the bus should we break down.

    $40 car passes just feel like being taken advantage of. i know, i can always go somewhere else. this is my last burn! those that know me, know i’ve said that the past 4 years.

    • Agree, everyone needs to get to Burning Man- in a vehicle. Unless they have relaxed the feather rules to allow stork drops. Integrate it into the price of the ticket and forgo the bullshit! Stupid way to reduce pollution- it makes the event more expensive and ultimately more complicated. (pre-register for the registration, buy a ticket and then have to coordinate early with friends to guess who might need a car pass and who doesn’t…)

  12. Carbon credits don’t reduce pollution.

    I agree though, surely the purpose of taking a vehicle tax is to use it for buying carbon credits (on the assumption that it’s not to encourage people to walk to Black Rock City).

    • maybe not directly, although the money collected is supposed to be used for reforestation projects etc. The leadership shown to the world by creating the world’s first carbon neutral city – and then removing it without leaving a trace – would be beneficial for the environmental movement, which hopefully would lead to pollution reduction. It might also help Burners to be more aware of the consequences of all that trash they dump on the side of the road on the way out – tarnishing our image as well as the environment.

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