Haters are gonna hate, and Burning Man haters are gonna hate on Burners’ environmental hypocrisy. And you know what? They’re not entirely wrong.
This post is part of the Consider Your Impact series
I’m here to come clean and admit it. It’s true: while we preach Leaving No Trace and all the environmental consciousness hoodie-ha (and we’re legit working towards a sustainable future), Black Rock City participants generate a LOT of waste and pollution. Whether it’s getting to the playa, doing crazy shit in Black Rock City, or heading home, not only do we use a lot of stuff, we burn fossil fuels up the wazoo, and generally subject the environment to a not-insignificant amount of carbon emissions.
Now, to be fair, the argument could be made (and I’ll make it) that we don’t use, waste or pollute that much more than if we were staycationing™ at home, or vacationing wherever we’d otherwise drive or fly to over the Labor Day weekend. This isn’t a zero-sum game we’re talking about here. But let’s be real: we’re not burning towering effigies in our backyards, or blowing off massive fireballs in the cul-de-sac for kicks (or hey, maybe you are — you do you), and that stuff costs.
Harkening the blah-dee-blah of the 10 Principles again, this is a question of Civic Responsibility as much as it is Leaving No Trace. A wise (non-Larry) person once said “with great power [or privilege] comes great responsibility.” In other words, if we’re privileged enough to be able to participate in Burning Man (and let’s face it: it’s a privilege), we owe it to our fellow humans to do so without screwing up everything around us in the process. I mean c’mon, it’s the least we can do.
So we do what we can, right? We carpool, take the Burner Express bus, drive a hybrid, reuse, repurpose and recycle, buy in bulk, use green energy when we can. All that stuff. And that’s great, and good on ya for trying, but sorry, it’s not enough. Not at the scale we’re talking about, across 70,000+ people every year. We need to be closer to perfect. Way closer.
The good news is that on top of those noble efforts, we have the golden opportunity to quickly and easily kneecap (or offset, in more delicate parlance) the impacts of our Burning Man “activities” simply by purchasing carbon offsets.
Yep, a number of websites out there like coolingman.org (which Burning Man used to calculate the overall impact of the Burn back in 2007, which was about 3/4 a ton of CO2.) and carbonfund.org have handy carbon offset calculators, so you can plug in all the stupid shit you’re about to do (or did), determine how many tons of carbon that generates, and offset it by supporting “third-party validated renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects globally that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the threat of climate change.” (The gold standard offset right now is in Iceland, where they’re using geothermal energy to directly suck carbon out of the air and turn it into a rock. Crazy cool.)
CQuest Capital has calculated that “the average carbon footprint of an individual Burner is 1,400Ibs of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), and 80% of that is from transportation to and from the event.” So just doing vehicle and flight offsets will pick up the vast majority of what we’re laying down. Guess how much that costs to offset? $3.80/person. That’s it.
So what’s stopping you? Purchasing carbon offsets literally takes less time and money than getting your morning coffee. That’s right, thanks to the miracles of modernity, with just a few mouse-clicks, you can negate the environmental impacts of your Burn, and go forth with a clean conscience (pun intended). Now that’s using your power responsibly.
If you have other ideas of how we can offset our impact, share ‘em in the comments!
[Hat tip to the great Tom Price for his invaluable contributions to this post. (Not EPA Secretary Tom Price, mind you … that probably goes without saying.)]
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: Yes, we do stuff like this for fun … don’t judge. “Dance Dance Immolation” by Interpretive Arson. (Photo courtesy of Interpretive Arson)