Burning Green? Start here: coolingman.org


Two years ago we literally didn’t want to know, and now we’re taking it head on: the total climate change impact, or carbon footprint, of Burning Man 2007 is 27,000 TONS. That’s everything as best we could figure it out–travel, fire art, everything. Wow. That’s a lot of pollution.

To fully embrace the “Leave No Trace” ethic means more than just keeping the playa clean. It also means paying the full price of attending the event. And now we know how much that is.

So, Burning Man is supporting the Cooling Man project. It’s as simple and elegant as their newly redesigned web page. Figure out what your share of the event is, then either take actions or make contributions to offset it.

This site is PACKED with great info. For example, did you know that all the fire art on the playa generates only 1% of the carbon impact of Burning Man? I didn’t, either. Or that if 70% of burners offset one ton of carbon then Black Rock City would be the first carbon negative city in the world? Ditto.

If you’re already convinced, and want to get right to figuring out how you can help, click here to go direct to the Cooling Man site.

Want to know more? C’mon after the jump.

So, wondering “hey, what’s a carbon footprint anyway?” then click here, or here, or here for more info.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of carbon offsets. Many people believe they’re a form of indulgences, purchased to offset guilt while not changing behavior. If behavior weren’t changing, we might agree, but as part of a comprehensive plan to take on an incredibly complicated issue, we say right on.

Some of you have questions, no doubt, I’ll do my best to answer a couple obvious ones:

Q: Will we still be burning the man?

A: Don’t worry, it’s still Burning Man, not Composting Dude. We’re still going to have the big fire in the desert. Only now, we’ll be cleaning up a bit more completely afterwards.

Q: So Burning Man the org’s share is 6%-what are you doing to offset it?

A: switching 11,000 gallons of fuel to biodiesel, running the entire man complex on solar power, using better power management, and encouraging conservation in every aspect of the event, are just a few things we’ll be doing. Will it add up to 6%? We’re not sure, but there is someone doing a baseline environmental assessment of the event, and they’ll be capturing this info and we’ll share it when it’s ready. We’re definitely leaning toward the doing and not paying side ( you know, the whole participation and immediacy thing).

Q: What’s Cooling Man going to do with the donations they receive?

A: I’ll copy directly from their website at length, but in brief: they’ll use it to build new, clean, greener energy. Here’s the copy:

CoolingMan aggregates donations from participants and obtains offsets from new renewable energy or other emission-reducing projects. We seek projects that advance a variety of technologies and deliver sustainable development co-benefits. CoolingMan’s porftolio includes non-CO2 offsets to support a range of technology options, match emission profiles, and achieve rapid benefits.

CoolingMan invests in the following types of GHG offset projects:

  • Renewable Energy
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Methane Gas Capture
  • Local Air Pollution Mitigation
  • Forestry Sequestration (with social/environmental co-benefits)

Want more factiods? Here you go:

A Ton of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e*) is Emitted When You:

Travel 2,000 miles in an airplane.
Drive 1,350 miles in a large sport utility vehicle.
Drive 1,900 miles in a mid-sized car.
Drive 6,000 miles in a hybrid gasoline electric car.
Run an average U.S. household for 60 days.
Have your computer on for 10,600 hours.
Use a bio-diesel generator for 125 hours.
Graze one Ugandan dairy cow for eight months.

Average CO2e Emissions per Year
4.5 tons for the average U.S. car.
4.5 tons for the average global citizen.
6.2 tons for electricity use of the average U.S. household.
21 tons for the average U.S. resident.
1.5 million tons for a 500 MW gas power plant.
8.3 million tons for an older 1,000 MW coal plant.
6 billion tons for the U.S. as a whole.
Greater than 25 billion tons for the planet as a whole.
Approximately 100 tons from burning the Man at Burning Man.
Approximately 27,000 tons for the entire Burning Man carbon footprint including travel to the festival, on-site energy use, and fire art.

To offset 1,000 tons of CO2e You Could:

Move 145 drivers from large SUVs to hybrids for one year.
Run one 600 kW wind turbine for an average year.
Replace 500 100-watt light bulbs with 18-watt compact fluorescent lights (10-year life)
Replace 2,000 refrigerators with the highest efficiency model (10-year life0.
Install 125 home solar panels in India (20-year life).
Plant an acre of Douglas fir trees (50 years of growth).
Protect four acres of tropical rainforest from deforestation.

CO2e = Carbon dioxide equivalent emissions including all four Kyoto gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and refrigerants).

Want more manageable actions? Here’s stuff you can do at home, and how much it will help offset–thanks for the reminder, Elena!

Direct Actions Effect on GHG (CO2eq) Estimated GHG Offset (CO2eq) Assumptions
Plant a Tree
How? – Listing of Tree Planting Organizations
1 ton absorbed per tree
(over 50-100 years)
0.2 ton per tree planted 10 years growth of tree w/ 50 year lifetime (discounted due to timing and permanence concerns)
Buy Renewable Electricity for Your Home
How? – Listing of Renewable Energy Retailers
Avg. U.S. Home:
10 tons eliminated per year
1.6 lbs eliminated per kWh purchased
Source 1,Source 2
20 tons Average home, 100% renewable electricity, purchased for 2 years
Increase Home Energy Efficiency Electricity: 1.6 lbs eliminated per kWh saved
Gas: 0.1 lb eliminated per cu ft saved (117 lbs per million BTU)
Case by case
Lighting and Appliances
Install a compact fluorescent light bulb 150 lbs eliminated per year
0.4 tons Average use for 5 years
Replace 1973 refrigerator with Energy Star refrigerator 1.4 tons eliminated per year
7 tons Average use for 5 years
Heating and Cooling
Lower thermostat 2 degrees (F) in winter and raise 2 degrees in summer 1 ton eliminated per year
2 tons 2 years
Caulk and weather strip windows and doors 1,100 lbs eliminated per year (upper estimate)
2.8 tons 10 years (50% discount due to high estimate)
Plant shade tress & paint house light (hot climate) or dark (cold climate) color 2.5 tons eliminated per year (upper estimate)
5 tons 2 years (discount due to long time delay)
Insulate walls and ceilings 140 to 2,100 lbs per year
Saves 20-30% of household heating energy
5.6 tons 10 years, mid-range estimate
Super-insulate walls and ceilings in cold climate Gas Heating: 5.5 tons eliminated per year
Oil Heating: 8.8 tons/year
Electric Heating: 23 tons/year
55 tons 10 years, gas heat
Modernize windows (replace w/ argon-filled, double-paned) Gas Heating: 2.4 tons eliminated per year
Oil Heating: 3.9 tons/year
Electric Heating: 9.8 tons/year
24 tons 10 years, gas heat
Water Heating
Wash clothes in warm/cold (not hot) water Gas Water Heater:
150 lbs eliminated per year
Electric Water Heater:
500 lbs eliminated per year
0.4 tons 5 years, gas heater
Lower water heater 10 degrees (F) Gas Water Heater:440 lbs eliminated per year
Electric Water Heater: 600 lbs/year
0.4 tons 2 years, gas heater
Install low flow showerhead Gas Water Heater: 80 lbs eliminated per year
Electric Water Heater: 300 lbs/year
0.2 tons 5 years, gas heater
Wrap water heater in insulating jacket Gas Water Heater: 220 lbs eliminated per year
Electric Water Heater: 1,100 lbs/year
1.2 tons 10 years, gas heater
Buy a solar water heater 2.5 tons eliminated per year
25 tons 10 years
Increase Transportation Efficiency
Drive more fuel efficient vehicle
Walk, bike, mass transit, or carpool
~20 lbs eliminated per gallon saved
~1 lb eliminated per mile not driven
Case by case
Keep tires inflated 510 lbs eliminated per year
Increases fuel efficiency 3%
0.3 tons 1 year

Source: Clean Air-Cool Planet, Cooling Man.

Whew. Lot of data. As always, your questions, comments and feedback welcome at environment (at) burningman.com

About the author: Tom Price

Tom Price

Tom Price is the former Executive Director of Black Rock Solar. Prior to that he was the Environmental Manager for Burning Man during the Green Man theme, and was in the Gulf Coast for six months during the genesis of Burners Without Borders. He's been attending Burning Man since 1997, and he's proud to say that his decade plus streak of breaking down from sun stroke on the playa on day three remains intact.