Burning Man: Is There Anything Green About It?


Here I am with the Tuna Crew in the desert at Burning Man 2005.
Burning Man 2008
So another year passes in the Black Rock desert, in ultra rural Nevada, where the infamous yearly Burning Man event takes place. It is the most far out city in the world and as much as I think I have grown out of it each year I just returned from my eighth consecutive year on the playa. The playa seems like the surface of some other planet. It is so flat and barren that you could literally ride your bike with your eyes closed for long distances. There is nothing. This year there were over 50,000 people there, ranging from newborns to an 85 year old and it’s certainly not your average hippie fest. It is a true human experiment that brings all walks of the alternative movement to live together in the harshest conditions for a week.Is Burning Man Green? And How About the Food?
I would like to touch on two aspects of this crazy desert art festival: the food of Burning Man and is there anything green about it? There are literally several hundred camps at Burning Man and each of them have different ways they go about feeding their camps. Some are super low key and small but others have more than 500 people and dish out all organic meals three times a day. Burning Man is based on a gifting society. That is well beyond the barter system, this a society where everyone strives to gift as much as possible. One could just walk around and find everything from barbecued elk burgers to freshly caught albacore tuna sashimi. It is the latter I want to focus on here for a bit.

There is this camp called The Tuna Guys and they epitomize the true spirit of Burning Man more than any other camp I have visited. They are a crew of fisherman from Coos Bay, Oregon who ended up in Burning Man by mistake 10 years ago. The fish market in their area was hurting really bad so they decided to take their fish on the road. They first went to the Oregon Country Fair and sold out quickly and it was there that they first heard about Burning Man. So they packed their trailer with fish and ice and headed out to the Nevada desert.

Only after a two-day drive when they arrived they found out that it was not permitted to sell anything within the confines of this glorious city. So in complete faith they decided to go anyway and follow the rules. They proceeded to give away over 1,500 lbs of freshly caught albacore tuna that they worked super hard to catch. Their camp is now one of the most popular camps on the playa and fresh tuna is served in every possible way for the entire week. This year the fish was caught the day they left for the desert so it was as fresh as ever. These are not large-scale wealthy fisherman, they are hard working guys and women that truly understand the true spirit of Burning Man and fill thousands of bellies each year.

Burning Man and the Environment: Leave No Trace
Now when talking about the environmental cost of such a festival there are many layers to look at here. The Leave No Trace attitude is strong everywhere you turn and there are MOOP (matter out of place) patrols sweeping every inch of the desert where the festival takes place. Yet, there is all of the burning of very useful materials especially wood that seems completely wasteful. We also need to think about the 100’s of generators fueling the city and the thousands of RV’s that get rented for the week and the thousands of miles that people travel to be there. While at the same time, we need to factor that there are 50,000 people that are not driving their cars to work for the week and not using grid electricity.

The festival in my opinion is FAR from sustainable but does that mean as an environmentalist I should not go? I mentioned a few weeks back in a blog here about the permaculture term transitional ethics. The idea is that sometimes it is worth doing things that in the moment do not seem to be the most sustainable but in the end bring about more positive change then it just may be worth it. I know personally that the camps that I am always involved in are as sustainable as we possibly can while creating a beautiful and harmonious community. The amount of growth that I experience and the hope and faith that is instilled in me for the future of humanity is extremely encouraging. Each year I wonder what will I learn this year that Burning Man still holds for me? and each year I am surprised by what this magical desert art festival rewards me with.

More on Burning Man
TreeHugger Radio: The Greening of Burning Man
Participate! and Go To Burning Man
Participate! Eco-Ideas at Burning Man Contest

Tags: Burning Man