Can ‘Burning Man’ Become a Model for Green Living?

Green Man
Green Man

from Alternet:
Can ‘Burning Man’ Become a Model for Green Living?
By Matthew Taylor, PeacePower Magazine. Posted October 23, 2007.

Can 45,000 people journey vast distances to a lifeless Nevada desert and participate in an environmentally sustainable festival devoted to burning stuff? As strange as it sounds, during the last week of August 2007, the annual hedonistic celebration Burning Man attempted to do just that: go ‘green.’

What has Burning Man done to merit its theme, The Green Man? Is Burning Man making serious efforts to green itself, or is it all a front, a form of greenwashing? How will the Burning Man experience affect burners, and will they bring it home into their lives? What does the Green Man art theme say about the state of civilization and its trajectory? It was in search of answers to these questions and others unimagined that the author trekked to the playa this year.

A certain segment of the Burning Man community has long 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 clean and tidy, and ensure that “burn scars” don’t deface the desert. Burners Without Borders, a group of volunteers vowing to “bring it home,” 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 six semi trucks full of reclaimed wood from the festival and donated it to Habitat for Humanity. (This year, a Burning Man spokesperson says it was even more).

But 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. (more…)

Harvesting the Urban Forest of BRC

Announcing the 2nd Annual Playa Lumber Recycling Project:
Help Harvest The Urban Forest of Black Rock City, and Help Habitat For Humanity build homes for low income families.


-volunteers pose next to their catch: 42 units of reclaimed lumber. Photo courtesy Camera Girl.

For years one of the biggest complaints about leaving Burning Man wasn’t the drive
home, or the difficult reentry, or even the long wait until the next event.

Instead, it was “I can’t believe no one can use all this good wood!” It was usually said just before someone torched a huge pile that had been used for just one week, then discarded.

No more: in 2006 Burners Without Borders organized the first playa-wide wood recycling project, and it was a huge success! Six semi trucks of lumber left the playa in September 2006, and were delivered to Habitat For Humanity in Reno. According to their state director, it was the largest donation they’ve ever received.


Green Man on the air-extended LP mix

Last week I posted a link to a short radio interview on about the Green Man, and the things we’re doing to try greening up this little burn of ours. They’ve now posted the full version. It’s a 12 minute podcast. Overall it’s a pretty accurate summary of what we’re all up to. Hey, you try talking for 12 minutes without saying something silly. Anyway, the links are right here, give a listen and see what you think:

TreeHugger Radio: The Greening of Burning Man


Clean your scene on Cinco De Playa

This May 5th join Burners all over the country (and the world!) are getting together to help clean up their little corner of the world. Burners Without Borders (another name for any group of burners getting together to do public service) is organizing the 2nd Annual Cinco de Playa Beach and Park Restoration Day.

The details are as simple or as complicated as you’d like them to be: either join a group already organized, or get your own together, and head out to the nearest place in need of cleaning up, and MOOP the heck out of it.

Your True Colors

Most years when you arrive on playa you’ll get–along with your WhatWhereWhen, Map, and so forth–a sticker. Among the most popular? Hands down it’s the oval BRC logos.

So to show support for the Green Man theme this year, Carmen with Burners Without Borders printed up a whole bunch of new ones, albeit with a twist: they’re green. Get it? I know, simple, but it works. And who likes waiting? Not us, either, so if you’d like one, take a moment to get one right now, and show off you true colors all year.


(Shown here on a camper out in our back parking lot, next to an oooold school Woodsy Owl sticker, remember him?)

Burners Without Borders – Report From the Field

Biloxi, Mississippi

Hey there, time for an update from the Katrina zone:

modeled here by Mishka--you can see what she calls our "Tonka Trucks" in the background.
BWB shirt modeled here by Mishka–you can see what she calls our “Tonka Trucks” in the background.

First, about the headline. After looking around for months at all the other volunteer groups wearing snazzy matching t-shirts, we decided we should probably get some of our own. You know, that whole esprit de corps and souvenir thing. Now, thanks to some rock star volunteer graphic design work by Jon Lowe, we’ve got some–and a name for our little project:

Burners Without Borders.

(See a bunch more photos on Mishka’s flickr site if you’ve been here and volunteered, please write and we’ll send you a t-shirt.)

The BWB name kind of perfectly sums up what we feel like we’re about, namely taking the ten principles of Burning Man (your refresher course; they are: Radical Inclusion – Decommodification – Gifting – Radical Self Reliance – Radical Self Expression – Communal Effort – Civic Responsibility – Leaving No Trace – Participation – Immediacy ) off the playa and into the real world. Black Rock, Biloxi–where we are, it turns out, doesn’t matter nearly as much to what we have in common as does the way we do our collective thing.

Her name is Katrina, and she ain't for hire.
Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

In practice this past week, that’s taken on a few parallel tracks. Lucky answered a call to DPW for a finish carpenter ( time from message posting to first reply: 13 minutes ) and came over from Texas, to help Matt, Cab, Teresa and Michael, among others, do some finish work in the Buddhist temple. It’s going to be _so_ much better than before when they’re done. Meanwhile, Monte’s and Eli have been running supplies around in his truck, bought to be turned into an art car but now doing duty as a supply hauler. Her name is Katrina, and she ain’t for hire.

The rest of us keep busy removing debris. Consider: 40% or so of the houses in east Biloxi ( and the whole gulf coast, for that matter ) are destroyed, or need to be. All that rubble has to be broken up, and pushed to the curb to be hauled away. Some of it’s by machines, a lot of it by hand-not too bad, unless you rip into something that splatters “I can’t believe it’s not dead body” juice all over you–we go through a lot of hand sanitizer.

Here's Richard "Big Styk" Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.
Here’s Richard “Big Styk” Scott talking shop with Chaos, before peeling a house like a banana.

Sharp readers will note that yes, all our vehicles say “Black Rock City Department of Public Works” on them. There is something very right about that, considering the amount of MOOP we’re moving on a daily basis. People are often curious about our group, asking where we’re all from, and how we know each other, to which we sometimes say “well, we get together once a year to build Nevada’s 5th largest city. In a weekend. Then we live in in for a week, and take it all down. So we’re kinda into cleaning up big messes.” They nod and say “oh, right…” and then don’t really know where to go from there.

A quick aside about Richard: he’s been here without a break, without a day off, for MONTHS. Always level headed, always safety conscious, he’s been the anchor for this whole operation, and can run an excavator like it’s a part of his arm. And that’s AFTER going non-stop on the playa running his name sake cranes. He deserves mad props–feel free to deliver yours here:

There was a recent article in the New York Times that featured our neighbors across the street. The sign showed in the story is one Chaos and Mishka made. Today Reba, Austin, Michelle and I spent five hours clearing junk out of her yard, which we’re turning into a massive neighborhood holiday display (more on that later ).

Here's a tiny panoramic of our camp--dome, bus, tents etc all ours
Here’s a tiny panoramic of our camp–dome, bus, tents etc all ours

At night it gets dark early, and there’s not a lot to do. So, we invent games ( last night’s: Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.) or hang out in our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome.

Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it's on fire.
Fenga. Like Jenga, only you add wood. And it’s on fire.

We’re getting in the Christmas spirit–Austin ground scored a box of black socks, and with some glitter pens has made us all stockings, to hang from a fireplace she’s building around our burn barrel.

Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome
Our gorgeous, bright white, how-can-we-ever-thank-Asha-from-Pacific-domes-enough dome

Across the street, there’s an abandoned lot, a sort of muddy bog. With the owners permission, we’re going to transform it into a sort of Christmas/Holiday theme park. The idea: give families something to come see and do together, and brighten an otherwise blighted neighborhood. We’ll be setting up all kinds of lights and decorations ( using a lot of what we’ve found in wrecked/ruined houses ), and if we can get a projector will have free outdoor screenings of holiday movies, on hay bale benches. Of course we’ll have a bonfire–there’s no end of fuel, and ever since the very beginning the police have allowed us to have what is, as best we can tell, the only open fire in Biloxi. There are plans for hay rides on a trailer towed behind our tractor, hot chocolate and candy for the kids, and santas. Lots and lots of Santas. Like, each kid gets there own. Santa may then go to Wal-Mart to engage shoppers in a Socratic dialogue about consumerism–we’ll see.

The weather has been mixed–shirt sleeves today, pissing down freezing rain a few days back. In the days ahead, a remote team will be setting up a semi-permanent shelter and distribution center in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, where we can give out much needed tents, blankets, food and cleaning tools. Yes, people really do still need that stuff–just not everyone, which is why we’re now going to them instead of the other way around. Those cajuns down there are tough–some are driving 5 hours a day just to fish for a few hours, then head back home. They don’t want a hand out, just a hand up, so we’re going to do what we can.

All of these volunteers are amazing–giving so much of their time (several have quit jobs and pulled up stakes to be here full time ) and energy–it’s very affirming, very heartwarming, to know there are so many great people willing to just step up and say “what needs doing?”

A lot of people have been writing and calling, asking how long we’ll be staying, and how they can help. Although most other groups are pulling out by late January at the outside, we’re planning on staying until March, or until we’re not needed ( which I can assure you won’t be before March ).

So, how can you help?

Option one: C’mon down and volunteer. Come for a day, come for the winter, we’ve got room, you’ll get a lot out of it, a great workout, and a chance to gorge on some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever eat ( the ladies at the temple here really hook us up ). You can also call: 801-712-5371 Tom or 530-401-4007 Richard.

Option two: paypal us $25 and get one of our snappy tshirts sent to you. Yea, we know we know, it’s comodification, but proceeds ( about $17 from each shirt ) will be used to keep us fed, watered. and our vehicles filled. Plus they’re wicked cool. Paypal to, or snail it to Burning Man crew, Buddhist Temple, 179 Oak Street, Biloxi, MS 39532. You should also feel free to mail surprises–Santa loves surprises.

It’s 12:30, about 25 degrees, and so humid that freezing air is dropping off the inside of the dome, and typing in my gloves is getting a little old. So that’s it for tonight, thanks for reading, and thanks for all your support and encouragement.

Happy holidays,
-The Temple to Temple crew

Burners Without Borders – Report from the Field

[This dispatch reported by Boy Scout.]
Biloxi, Mississippi

Project Update

For the past week, the Temple Crew has been clearing out lots full of debris and cranking really hard to get the temple walls done.

We’ve finally got some professionals to mud and tape the walls so that they are smooth. A few volunteers put a lot of hours into mudding the walls but it really takes a pro to make the holes and seams disappear. When the mud finally dried, the Temple Crew lucked out when a volunteer professional painter, John, showed up with all the right equipment. He ran his sprayer day and night until it finally quit working. The rest of us were charged with taping down everything and rolling a final coat to get the coverage perfect. We also put more insulation up into the attic and we got the final materials list together: doors, trim, and bathroom appliances.

In addition to the work in the temple, we’ve been clearing out lot after lot of debris. Water Street is a big project with four lots piled 4-5 feet high. The excavator makes quick work of crunching homes into toothpicks, and filling up the bucket of the loader. The loader has been a giant wheel barrow, forming load after load into long giant mounds along the street so that the contractors can take it out to who knows where. I’ve had lots of time driving the loader. It’s gotten to the point that it’s now a bit boring driving up and down the driveways.


Last Thursday was the strangest Thanksgiving Day I’ve ever experienced. Salvation Army and many church groups competed to feed many thousands of meals to the public here. On Wednesday evening a Ryder truck full of turkeys and chickens pulled into the camp. We loaded up our pickup trucks, and drove into the surrounding community. Folks came out of their tents and trailers when they heard us shouting. Several hundred turkeys and chickens were distributed very quickly to eager families in the neighborhood.

On Thursday we had four cooks, Cowboy, Michelle, Eli, and Angelina, make us the most splendid of meals. When we had all stuffed ourselves silly with turkey and were eyeing the pies, another truck surprised us by pulling into the temple with hundreds of meals and pies they needed to give away. They brought a couple of vanloads of kids and adults to convince passersby to take the meals. So we set up tables on the street, and stopped traffic for four hours until everything but a case of apple pies was gone. Luckily, the Vietnamese Catholic church next door had services right after they arrived, so we had more than the usual amount of cars passing by. Michelle had received a bag of 30 donated kazoos to bring down here, and the kids had fun making lots of noise with them.

I’ve been updating a photo blog with photos taken of the town and temple crew.

Temple Crew Mission Update

Volunteers are still needed. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had a high turnover in volunteers helping with the Temple Crew’s mission. Some only stay for a couple of days, or up to a week or two. Many of the long term folks who have been here for 8-10 weeks are burning out. The environmental conditions are not extreme, but the physical and mental conditions demand much beyond what any of us do in ‘real life’. Just as getting used the playa takes a few days, coming into this devastated community puts most people into shock.

PLEASE VOLUNTEER to help with this monumental task of helping this community cope with the loss of everything they left behind when they evacuated. We’ve got the space for many more folks and you don’t have to worry about HOT food, a warm shower, or even a ride from the Gulfport airport. The weather is coastal with warm days in the low 70s and cool nights that may go down into the mid 30s. If you want to volunteer, please call Richard at xxxxxxx.

Some of the crew have been seeking out folks who are even more needy than this community. They found Plaquemines Parish, LA (google maps) which is estimated at 7 to 8 weeks behind even Biloxi. Folks are returning to find no power, no lights, no water, and no phone, no nothing left. We want to get them food, water, tents, blankets, and other necessities.