Consider Your Impact. You Might Be Surprised.

I was driving in my neighborhood recently, when a particular billboard caught my eye. Two versions of SpiderMan from different multiverses are engaged in what appears to be a pretty intense conversation, while crouched atop some high perch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge (as one does).

This post is part of the Consider Your Impact series

The original SpiderMan (Peter Parker) is telling his young prodigy/alternative-universe self (Miles Morales), “EVERYTHING YOU SAY AND DO CREATES AN IMPACT.”

Seems obvious enough, really … but apparently not so obvious that it doesn’t bear repeating, passed down from one angsty self-absorbed vigilante to an up-and-coming neophyte.

When we were digging through the BLM’s voluminous Draft Environmental Impact Statement recently, we were reminded — in exhaustive detail — of the impact we Burners have on the environment around us. Not just the physical world environment, mind you, but the cultures with whom we come in contact — the people who love us, the ones who can’t live without us, the ones who would rather we quietly go away, and even our fellow Burners.

We’ve talked for ages (literally nearly 30 years) about mitigating our impact on the environment, because we know full well the delicate balancing act that is our residency on the Black Rock Desert, and how easily it can be taken away from us with a few wrong moves.

I mean hell, we seriously have a 99.98% Leave No Trace mandate from the BLM, or we don’t get our permit for the next year’s event. That’s not an exaggeration. We have to pick up EVERYTHING off the playa short of .02% of detritus, following a bacchanalian week’s worth of 80,000 people living a full-throated life in the desert, or we don’t get to do it again. The average size of that detritus (or MOOP, as we like to call it) is ¼”, and it’s spread across seven square miles under a layer of constantly shape-shifting playa dust. That’s utterly ridiculous. But the more ridiculous part is that we have successfully accomplished this seemingly-impossible feat for 3 decades … without fail.

This is 100% due to the diligence of each and every (well, just about) Burning Man participant to Leave No Trace so that Black Rock City’s Playa Restoration team has any chance in hell to finish the job, picking up the bits that are inevitably (and understandably) missed. Without everybody’s awareness and participation in this magnificent feat, Burning Man would have been dead and gone a long time ago.

Many of us veterans take it for granted, and new folks need to be made aware of the fact that everything you say and do  — not just MOOPing your camp or not properly tying down the load atop your playafied Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of a vehicle — creates an impact, for better or worse.

The author, one playa night. credit: Xina Ocasio

So we thought this might be a good opportunity to take a philosophical tour of what it means to be a Burner, and the myriad ways we impact the world around us while we’re doing what we do. This goes well beyond picking up after yourself. It’s an opportunity to be alerted to the stuff we’re likely not even aware of, and to be reminded of the ripple effects we generate, so we can consider our impact and step up our game.

We’ll explore the very real impacts (good and bad) we have on the small towns we pass through en route to and from the playa. We’ll look at the impact our seemingly innocuous actions have, and how simple they are to fix. We’ll even talk about the power of positive interactions and how they can change perceptions and develop relationships. Really this is going to be an entertaining spelunk into the deeper reaches of the 10 Principles which, it’s worth remembering, don’t begin and end at the playa’s edge. You’re likely to glean ideas that apply as much in your day-to-day life as they do when encircled (well, en-pentagoned, more accurately) by an orange trash fence.

We hope you enjoy this series and the stories. We hope you get at least a little inspired, and learn something along the way, even if your mentors are wearing pink tutus and unicorn horns rather than a Spandex bodysuit.

[This post is part of our ‘Consider Your Impact’ series, where we’re telling stories that explore our community’s known and lesser-known effects on not just the Black Rock Desert itself, but the world around us as well. We hope it will raise awareness and inspire you to, well, consider your impact. Hence the name.]

Top photo by Will Roger Peterson

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

13 Comments on “Consider Your Impact. You Might Be Surprised.

  • DhammaSeeker says:

    It’s good to see/hear your voice again, Will!

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  • Ron Jeremy says:

    Very nice to hear from you again William! Miss you!

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  • Wow, we all missed your voice so much Will. So nice and reassuring to see this.

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  • Tangles says:

    How wonderful to read your writings again. Made me smile out loud to see your name as the author. I’m very much looking forward to this series.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Thank you for this project, looking forward to the posts.

    I would love to see the Burning Man Organization institute more detailed carbon accounting, including transportation from home to Black Rock City and back.

    Each year we can improve our reduce, reuse and recycle efforts too.

    The EIS indicates we need to work much harder improving our relationship with the tribes. It may seem ephemeral, but we are having a spiritual and relationship impact. Perhaps we need some videos on the Burning Man YouTube hearing first person from the tribes.

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  • Earf says:

    If you’re concerned about the environment your children will inherit, don’t have them. The Earth thanks you.

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  • RockStar says:

    The amount “stuff” purchased to fulfill the events interaction quota, then disposed of afterwards made me rethink my participation. I’m happy to celebrate my two year BRC free anniversary this August. Save the earth and participate in real life.

    Signed, 15 year Veteran

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  • Lucia says:

    I’m so glad I opened this jrs, this series will be fantastic

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  • Honey Bee says:

    Glad you’re back.
    I’m looking forward to reading useful advice on reducing my impact, to/from/at/and away from Burning Man.

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  • MSJ says:

    Ya’all probably aren’t aware of the impact on the last stop community of Gerlach! We get everything from large magnet piles of garbage to vomitous attitudes to lovely happy smiling faces of ill-considerations. We pick up all the left over pieces of can’t wait to get there pre-event blind enthusiasm, that can’t curtail where my garbage lands to the “can wait to get the fuck out of this baby-powder-dust’ don’t give a shit, where my garbage lands attitude. LNT is a lifestyle not a fad, it just doesn’t happen exclusively at the event! Garbage has value, especially to those that have to pick up after you, it cost someone else their hard earned time and energy to clean up your mess! Lets be more (man)kind to one another!

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  • Cynthia Adamson says:

    Love this❤️

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  • Jill-o says:

    So great to ‘hear’ your voice again, Will!

    I’m sure you already have your blog entries mapped out already, but on the off-chance you don’t… I found SFSlim’s playa restoration photos on Instagram from a few years back *verrrrry* eye-opening. Seeing the microscopic stuff they all pick up (a single sequin! A 1/4″ length of fishing line! A teeny washer buried deep in the dust!) was really sobering, especially as it accumulated in their MOOP buckets. Might be something cool to highlight.

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  • Kylee says:

    I have gone to burning man and helped with building domes and many other things. I was very in live with the beauties but very saddened at the amount of lumber that was burned… as excuse of “letting go” with the earth being of so little forest left. It is just so hard for me to believe it is a good thing to be doing. The most important thing in my opinion could be using that lumber afterwards to build soo many homes and more!
    Just some feelings that I have been holding on to for quite a while now.

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