Burning Man: how green is this dusty desert event?

The eccentric, controversial festival has gained quite the reputation, evident from the 55,000 tickets that were swiftly grabbed up, even after being offered on a raffle basis. The new lottery model was introduced after last year’s event was unprecedentedly sold out.

Even though it is organized in the desert, where space is not an issue, the limited capacity is imposed so that the festival still maintains some degree of manageability.

However, in the past few years its popularity has risen to mainstream status, and a level that, it can be argued, is no longer sustainable.

The grounds, called Black Rock City, are like an alternate universe: restaurants, bars, clubs, cinemas, boutiques, and even a farmers market, post office and media bureau are all assembled for a week, but it is not quite what one would expect. No commercial sponsorship, advertising or monetary transactions are permitted. Instead, it is based on trade, exchange, sharing and gifting.

The event organizers and long-time attendees continuously advocate ridesharing programs, a network that connects individuals who are looking or offering a ride from various points to BRC. A new addition this year is an organized bus transportation from the most popular points in California. This will potentially relieve the traffic of a few hundred vehicles.

Although it rests on 10 guiding principles, such as de-commodification, radical self-reliance, civic responsibility, and leaving no trace, the festival can still be seen as an indulgence. A lot of people who come are not willing, or are incapable of letting go of the luxuries of modern life. It is not uncommon to see elaborate camps with fully-stocked RVs, air-conditioning, and five-star standards.

On the other hand, it recognizes and celebrates momentary pleasures that must be appreciated and valued while they last. The installations are famously burned at the end of the week, raising awareness about the acceptance of transitional analogies of life: “immediacy: no idea can substitute for this experience”.

This is a brilliant analogy for today’s world, and all the uncertainties we are facing.

So, how can a temporary city, built only for a week, where a large volume of people congregate from various parts of the world, be a model of sustainability?

The interactivity results in an open society that is easygoing, flexible, responsive, friendly and generous. Is it utopian?

Throughout the rest of the year, regional groups organize events that intend to keep up with the main principles, affirm commitments, and extend the same code of behavior to the rest of the society in ‘the real world’. So, its now widespread fame can be seen as a positive aspect.

Written for and published in the Living Green Mag.

8 thoughts on “Burning Man: how green is this dusty desert event?

  1. Pingback: The Price, Cost and Value of the Culture of Burning Man | Travel Culture Magazine

  2. You write so honestly about this. I guess it’s because it’s from your own experience.
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Good morning, Ashley here attempting to get in touch, personally, with the rebel person. Hi, could not find a “contact” slot on the site so I shooting this arrow out to see where it lands.

    A couple of energies: I live in Patagonia on a magic estancia, see http://www.ranquilco.com, I am launching a web business with the mission of garnering a worldwide grassroots community of conscious Earth Care energy, I have created a Revolution – an interesting and doable anti consumerism deal, with some real teeth behind it (so every Revolution needs its rebel, no?)

    I am looking for peers, including someone to Preside over the Foundation…….thought we might have a lot in common and would love to hear from you……I was at Burning Man this year!

    Hope you are enjoying success with your efforts here – congratulations….

    all the best,

    besos, (In san Telmo, headed back to the estancia)

    ashley (a male Ashley, btw)

  4. Another Burning Man recedes into the distance. I like your perspective. BM tries to be environmentally sound. Whether it succeeds is another question. If participants go home with a greater environmental awareness, I suspect the answer is yes. I read a disturbing article in one of the Black Rock City newspapers about a travel agency in New York that offers fully catered trips to Burning Man. I suspect it’s pricey. It hardly seems in the spirit of the event. Loved the octopus. Great photo.

  5. Nice job of capturing the flavor and the positive attributes of the event. Great photos as well. Thanks for stopping by my site.

  6. “If you are a dreamer, come in
    If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
    A hoper, a pray-er, a magic-bean-buyer
    If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
    For we have some flax golden tales to spin
    Come in!
    Come in!”

  7. Although I am not a big fan of it, the article is a nice refresher of stories and descriptions heard from a participant (“my insider”) of one year ago. The argument about interactivity and an open society that is easygoing, flexible, responsive, friendly and generous, I may accept just because it is a temporary society = a temporary city, and therefore easy to play friendliness, generosity, flexibility etc…

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