Right before the gates opened in Black Rock City for the 2015 event, a petition was published on Change.org asking our organization to redouble its efforts to make Burning Man environmentally sustainable. The petition aptly says Burning Man could do more to lead our community toward better environmental stewardship.
We appreciate the petition’s author and the folks who signed it. This blog post is the first in a series that will share the organization’s work on this issue so far and collaboratively explore where to go from here.
We should start by clearing up one point. The Change.org petition incorrectly claimed that Cooling Man (2007) was the last time an emissions analysis was done for Burning Man. Burning Man is held on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the BLM is required to adhere to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) guidelines. Whenever a permit applicant requests to use public lands for a project that may significantly affect the environment, the BLM is required to conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA). The 2012-2016 Burning Man EA, which considers a BRC population of 58,000-70,000 participants, conducted a thorough analysis of air quality emissions. You can read it here. It’s a public document. When the BLM conducts another EA for Burning Man 2017 and beyond, air emissions will again be evaluated.
In the 2012-2016 Burning Man EA, it was determined that the scale of emissions resulting from our event would not have a significantly impact on the global climate; while three greenhouse gas emissions were analyzed under different event population sizes, an extensive quantitative analysis was deemed unnecessary and not conducted. Going forward, this analysis may be necessary. Currently, our friends at Black Rock Solar are reviewing our 2012-2016 EA documents to calculate a carbon footprint from the model that the NEPA engineers developed. Once we have this data, we’ll understand the scope of the problem. Then it’ll be time to find solutions, which is what Burners do best.
One thing we know for sure is this: there’s a lot the Burning Man organization can do to help, but all of us have to work together to address this problem. Our informed estimates suggest that the majority of Black Rock City’s emissions are caused by transportation to and from the event. That means we all have some innovation to do!
It’s not easy to live lightly in a rugged, harsh and dusty environment that’s actively trying to kill you. We have a culture of bringing a lot of stuff for our own survival and to gift to others in the community. But could we do it while still staying carbon light? There are choices to make about how we burn, and how we get to and from Black Rock City that will determine our future carbon footprint.
So what happens now? Black Rock Solar and Burning Man staff are exploring ways we can help our organization and our participants learn about and invest in both decarbonized or carbon-neutral power solutions and meaningful offsets for carbon emissions we cannot reduce.
We look forward to working together with participants on this important issue. Stay tuned for more to come.