I failed in my duties as the Burning Man's unofficial biographer to note this from earlier in the week: the event's attempt to link its highly carbon-consumptive character as a site for festive communal combustion to the newly hot n' hip "green economy" makes the New York Times. An excerpt:
If you head to Burning Man this summer and see an 80-foot slug belching plumes of fire as it inches across the desert, don't worry: it's not an environmental disaster.
It's quite the opposite. The slug, named Mechabolic, will be converting the festival's garbage into clean energy as people walk around inside it to see the process in action. Artist Jim Mason's Mechabolic is a centerpiece of this year's Burning Man theme, "Green Man," which celebrates clean energy, green technology and environmental responsibility. The theme also provides an opportunity for organizers to show they are serious about using the festival to help make the world a better place.
"It felt to me that the time had come to do the first overtly political theme" in Burning Man's 22-year history, said founder and director Larry Harvey. "Not political as in party or ideology, but something that would inspire people to do in the world what they do at Burning Man."
Last year…..a group calling itself Cooling Man, decided to raise the money to buy carbon offsets for the environmental impact of the burning of "The Man," the wooden effigy that serves as Burning Man's central art piece and is immolated near the end of the event each year.
This year, Cooling Man is taking that goal a step further by trying to raise money to buy enough offsets to compensate for the event's entire carbon emissions, according to Tom Price, coordinator of Burning Man's green efforts. Price said it will cost an estimated $7 per participant to achieve that goal, which he admitted was ambitious.
When Burning Man attendees arrive in the desert this summer, they will find no shortage of art pieces and installations focused on the green theme. The most visible of all of these will be the so-called green pavilion, on top of which the Man will be installed.
According to Price, the pavilion will be tantamount to a world's fair of green technology, brought to the desert by companies doing some of the most advanced work in the field.
Yet, in keeping with Burning Man's anticommercial ethos–there is no buying or selling of anything at the event except for coffee and ice–the companies who install their technology in the pavilion will not be allowed to display their brands or logos.
I had many long conversations with Burning Man's founder and leader Larry Harvey about the potential political meaning of Burning Man while interviewing him for my book; the libertarian v. communitarian sparks often flew. (To my mind, Burning Man's best and only political function is to serve as a living example of intentional community without the need for a coercive state; Larry seems to see it as an example of how to live outside the grim hateful alienating realities of capitalist modernity.)
So to continue that conversation/argument here: I think he's mistaken (though revealing a lot about his own motives) in referring, as he does to the Times's reporter, to the green theme as "overtly political." At least in how it is being carried out (though the corporate involvement in the alt-energy pavilion at the base of the Man will surely raise the hackles of many of the event's devotees) it isn't really about politics, which is the art of some people forcing their decisions on others, but merely about the free experimental play of technologies and techniques to do neat things that make human life better. That's as Burning Man as it gets, and not political at all.
In an irony that I'm sure Berkeley's city officials will little note nor long remember, within 72 hours of that story appearing, the collaborative art site where its creators were going to make the "Mechabolic" that leads off the story (and itself only one part of a general fascinating attempt to prove that off-the-grid decentralized "hacked" power has great potential both for individual, er, empowerment and environmental benefit) is being shut down by the city for code violations; see the sad details here and here and here .