Counterculture

Burning Green and the People's Republic of Berkeley

|

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 .

NEXT: Getting Hit at the Sperm Pump

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. 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.
    Call me stupid, but how much carbon emissions does burning firewood give off?

  2. Any combustion based chemical reaction gives off carbon dioxide. The environmentalist hate fire!!

  3. Fire bad!

  4. Any combustion based chemical reaction gives off carbon dioxide. The environmentalist hate fire!!

    I’ve been thinking about that with the latest forest fires in Cali. I’d love to know how much carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere every time one of those blazes occurs.

  5. “grim hateful alienating realities of capitalist modernity”

    Very funny. Spending many days in the desert heat requires significant provisions and equipment that are invariably obtained from capitalism modernity.

  6. I appreciate that Burning Man is bringing attention to some important causes, but if I was going to pick one cause of many to highlight, I’d have probably picked this one.

  7. Call me stupid, but how much carbon emissions does burning firewood give off?

    Eleventy millions tons of CO2 is created every time you forget to switch off a light when leaving the room.

  8. Goddam dirty hippies

  9. Thats too bad about Berkeley shutting down the Shipyard, its a really great space and a cool community — its the ultimate display of cultural and ideological division on the left, with the forces of the cool left losing this one…

  10. Larry seems to see it as an example of how to live outside the grim hateful alienating realities of capitalist modernity.

    Speaking for myself, this is why Burning Man always elicits a yawn from me. The people that seem to be the most involved with Burning Man aren’t really about freedom from the “coercive state”, they’re about freedom of a vague artistic expression, and that’s about where it ends.

    To the liberal, freedom concerns none of these things. Apart from freedom of expression, the liberal’s idea of freedom is mainly about privacy. It is about a place for whoopee, and for not being held to account or morally judged afterward. In many ways his idea of freedom is the 15-year-old’s: Stay out of my room. Show me respect. And hey, when’s dinner?

    http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2006_12/ramsey-conservatives.html

  11. Just wait till all the Little Eiichmanns get a load of these crunch tunes!

  12. You know Brian, I had actually been musing about going to BM again this year (I went twice before, in 2004 and 2005)– until I found out about the “Green Man” theme. That nixed it. The environmental bit is shoved down our throats every friggin’ day here in the default world. The last thing I want is to go on vacation and pay homage to it for ten days straight on my own dime. (And, of course, the irony of 40,000 driving thousands of miles in their vehicles to congregate and bitch about using fossil fuels.)

    BM has conceptually a lot to offer, but yes, it’s gotten way too political.

    Recently at one of the clubs I go to a friend asked if I was going to BM this year. I told him no, and about the Green Man theme. He looked at me deadpan and said, “So, Al Gore’s going to be there, right?”

  13. Why not move Burning Man closer to the bay area? Everyone’s coming from there anyway. Cut down on the carbon emissions from all those cars. Or else build a mag lev train from Berkeley to the Playa!

  14. Call me stupid, but how much carbon emissions does burning firewood give off?

    that’s not the proper question. The correct question is how much carbon is emitted when 50,000 burning man fans drive their antiquated automobiles thousands of miles to burn a wooden effigy?

  15. “Any combustion based chemical reaction gives off carbon dioxide.”

    This is true for combustion of organic compounds like those in wood, oil, flags, paper money, etc. But, if you burn, say, hydrogen or copper, no CO2 results.

  16. Well, I mainly was trying to just make fun of the Green Economy people, but yes, true enough. I was thinking more of the hydrocarbon based reactions at the time I wrote that since they mentioned the wood.

  17. And just to be specific: Yes, wood itself is not a hydrocarbon.

  18. So, converting my hybrid to steam power is better than what I am doing now?

  19. How many years before it is shockingly revealed that the whole (or most of) “carbon offsets” thing is a bunch of bullshit?

  20. You can burn copper? I mean copper, the metal, not, “you’ll never take me alive, copper” copper.

  21. “How many years before it is shockingly revealed that the whole (or most of) “carbon offsets” thing is a bunch of bullshit?”

    Dave, here is a free lesson in economics: “Carbon Offsets” is bullshit designed to separate fools from their money.

  22. You can burn copper? I mean copper, the metal, not, “you’ll never take me alive, copper” copper.

    Yes, and iron too, many (if not all) metals. Magnezium (sp?) makes a very hot, self sustaining, fire.

  23. How many years before it is shockingly revealed that the whole (or most of) “carbon offsets” thing is a bunch of bullshit?

    About a month ago.

  24. Wood is a hydrocarbon, just not a petroleum hydrocarbon. The burning of fossil and non-fossilized fuels is 100% organic, however, the burning of hydrogen is not organic at all and releases a greenhouse gas (dihydrogen monoxide)that is more than 10-times as warming as CO2.

    To celebrate the Green Man collective, I am driving from Berkeley to BRC in a VW bus that runs on 100% post-consumer recycled patchouli oil.

  25. Wood contains things other than hydrogen and carbon, so it itself isn’t a hydrocarbon.

    It is primarily a mixture of cellulose (a polysaccharide), lignin (which is made up of..phenyls I think mostly I forget), and a few other things.

    Now, if you burn it you can get hydrocarbons, aldehydes and all assorted amounts of goodness out of it though.

    Good point about the water, though I thought it was that it was ten times as warming because of greater concentration in the atmosphere not that it is inherently 10 times as warming.

  26. How many years before it is shockingly revealed that the whole (or most of) “carbon offsets” thing is a bunch of bullshit?

    Already happened. The Financial Times had a big write up about it.

  27. Why not move Burning Man closer to the bay area? Everyone’s coming from there anyway. Cut down on the carbon emissions from all those cars. Or else build a mag lev train from Berkeley to the Playa!

    Actually, Burning Man used to take place annually in San Fransisco until it grew so large that the police shut them down.

  28. Very funny. Spending many days in the desert heat requires significant provisions and equipment that are invariably obtained from capitalism modernity.

    Not to mention the couple of hundred bucks that Black Rock City, LLC (Larry Harvey, director) collects for the privilege of spending that week in the desert.

    “So, Al Gore’s going to be there, right?”

    Ooooooh, the Million Al March.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.