Greening of the Man

Did Burning Man’s “green” theme make Black Rock City more planet-friendly?

The “Homouroboros” sculpture was powered both by humans and the sun.

The “Homouroboros” sculpture was powered both by humans and the sun.

Photo By Kris Vagner

For every pro-planet change at Burning Man’s green-themed event this year, there were many examples of same old, same old environmental degradation. Still, some Burners hope that a viral infection for ecologic reform was transmitted throughout Black Rock City, the temporary home of the 45,000 denizens who come each year to the Black Rock Desert during the week before Labor Day.

It was widely agreed that “The Green Man” worked as an artistic theme—a launching point or muse—for many of the artists. It was also widely regarded as having failed as a theme for the event itself. The act of transporting the people, their accouterments and their creature comforts to the desert requires enormous resources. There were more full-sized recreational vehicles with their gas generators for air conditioning. There also appeared to be more “art” cars and motorized vehicles whose only relationship to the theme was the color of fantasy fur attached with duct tape.

While Burning Man leaders have been adept at convincing Burners to transport their garbage away from the site, few household items that have stood out in a playa windstorm will return to living rooms—most will end up in landfills back home. And while the Festival claims “gifting” as one of its 10 guiding principles, “gifting” is just another form of consumerism. The trinkets—necklaces, beads, objets d’art, poems, ice cream cups—may be given away on the playa, but the “gift” will likely be thrown away with all the sentimentality of a toy mined from a box of Cocoa Puffs.

If Burning Man has a carbon footprint, it resembles the one belonging to the elusive Sasquatch. In other words, it’s giant.

A young playa-dreaded woman named Ann Marie from Chico says the major thing lacking here is knowledge she can take home with her.

“If they’d really wanted it to be green, there would have been more workshops on permaculture, recycling and solar,” she said.

There were many fine examples of ecology-inspired art. The “Homouroboros,” a sculpture by Peter Hudson of monkeys swinging from trees was part human-powered, part solar. The “Steampunk Treehouse” by Sean Orlando called to mind an artist’s rendition of a tree after all trees have gone. The “Big Rig Jig” by Mike Ross was two semi-rigs dancing (or mating) like giant insects, suggesting the self-perpetuating nature of our world’s petroleum addiction. “Crude Awakening” by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, an enormous oil derrick being worshiped by giant-sized human sculpture, laid it on the line: We humans worship oil.

Silicon Village was one of about two dozen camps that, through their demonstration of green principles, were listed on the Black Rock City map as green. By contrast, there were some 650 total camps.

At the Silicon Village camp were representatives of PlayaTech, an open-source style of slotted plywood furniture. It’s made from wood from managed, sustainable forests.

“As far as theme, I think ‘The Green Man’ worked,” said Arthur Zwern, PlayaTech’s Black Rock representative. “All you can do is do things a little greener than you did yesterday. It’s little things. And little things are going to have an impact. When you push the edge, things don’t go perfectly, but it’s progress, and progress is what matters.”