Waking Dreams: Evoking Greener Burns

This is the third installment in a Journal series that explores the ins and outs and random asides of this year’s Burning Man theme, Waking Dreams: past, present and future visions of our hypnagogic reality.

If Black Rock City and our global community are in fact a manifestation of our collective dreams, what have we been dreaming for the past few years, and what might that look like in the light of day? For many, the pandemic has offered a space for reflection on the need to make our ephemeral city a cleaner, greener place to live.

Being both the residents and engineers of BRC, we have a unique opportunity to literally create the city we want to live in. Which means that YOU, dear Black Rock Citizen, can build and participate in a temporary city that’s kinder to the planet’s ecosystems. In doing so we’re also creating a living laboratory to prototype much-needed solutions that can be applied year-round beyond the trash fence. What we create, what we learn and build, can and will change the world.

Solar array powering “The Folly” by Dave Keane and the Folly Builders, 2019 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Together, we’re coming up on the third anniversary of our 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap, which sets three explicit goals: Handle Waste Ecologically, Be Regenerative, and Be Carbon Negative. Join us virtually on Wednesday, July 20, at 12pm PT, 3pm ET, 21:00 CET to hear about progress and next steps at the 2022 Sustainability Report: Year Three Update.

As we prepare for Black Rock City 2022, the decisions you make, the gifts you bring, and the learning curve you choose to embark on can bring us all closer to meeting these goals… and then some. This collaborative work is well underway, and you can participate! Read on to learn about five groups of dedicated Burners who are sharing knowledge and offering on-the-ground support for anyone who is looking for ways to green their Waking Dreams Burn. 

Green Theme Camp Community

In October 2020, Burners Without Borders and members of several theme camps, including IDEATE and Hotel California, came together to co-host the Green Theme Camp Summit. Its purpose was to brainstorm ways theme camps could contribute to Burning Man’s sustainability efforts. This event was one of a series of events that BWB has hosted at Fly Ranch that have catalyzed remarkable work toward making our events, and our global community, more sustainable. And it just keeps building momentum. 

Out of that summit emerged the Green Theme Camp Community (GTCC) — a collective of engaged Burners helping to design the future role of theme camps in making Burning Man sustainable and regenerative.

This formative event hatched three of the projects that are supporting and educating BRC-bound Burners as they explore ways to make their projects more sustainable; the fourth we introduce below has been up and running successfully in Black Rock City since 2015 with plans to continue and expand in the years ahead. Read on to learn about all four projects, and to find out how you can get involved this year in Black Rock City and beyond.

Members of the GTCC have their first in-person meeting at Fly Ranch, 2022; featured: Annie Coleman, Bruce (Badger) Cooper, Christopher Breedlove, Claire Wild, DA, Drew Moxon, Elyse Lee, Nick (Brace) Farr, Satya Kamdar, Stephen Chun (Photo by Eric Linnert)

Burner Leadership Achieving Sustainable Theme Camps (BLAST)

This year in Black Rock City, the GTCC will be prototyping BLAST, which provides a framework for theme camps to become energy and resource efficient, environmentally conscientious, and regenerative. 

If you’ve heard of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for green buildings, think of BLAST as the Burning Man equivalent. BLAST will provide accountability, education, and incentives to “Green Your Burn.”

For its first year in Black Rock City, the BLAST team is supporting 20 camps on their journey to adopt renewable systems and infrastructure. During Waking Dreams, volunteers will visit participating theme camps to document and track their efforts using the BLAST Radius Sustainability Tracker (use your Burner Profile to create a Burning Man Hive account). Successful camps will be certified based on the number of credits they earn.

How to Get Involved with BLAST

Want your camp to participate? Fill in this form. BLAST volunteers will review your application, then provide support in creating viable sustainability solutions for your camp. Join the BLAST Group in Hive to participate and learn about upcoming community events. If you’re on playa in 2022, drop by PlayAlchemist (Esplanade & 10:00) Tuesday for an afternoon and evening of inspiring talks about Burning Man’s regenerative future.

Renewables for Artists Team (RAT)

Out on the open playa, all artists are required to light up their installations. This safety requirement has inspired artists to embark on remarkable feats of creativity — some of which are integral to the artwork, others are more like the icing on the (dusty) cake. Beyond illumination, playa art installations move and speak and do all kinds of crazy things. And of course it takes power to do this. 

The Renewables for Artists Team (RAT) sprung into existence with the goal of equipping artists with the skills they need to move away from generators, and toward creating art projects that are powered by renewable energy. 

RAT in action at Fly Ranch (Photo by Sataya Kamdar)

Project lead Bruce ‘Badger’ Cooper explained RAT’s mission: “RAT does not do the building. We’re there as mentors for renewable energy… We are helping the artists and giving them the tools to be successful at doing this. Our process is education, and education is for everyone.”

As educators, RAT has a strong presence and community in Burning Man Hive, where anyone can create a free account using their Burner Profile and follow their courses, which include Solar Power 101, Solar Powered Art on the Playa, How to Do a Camp Electrical Load Analysis and Solar Skill Sharpening. Bruce has been teaching Solar Power 101 in person at the Gerlach Workforce Development Center; the abbreviated course lecture will be available at Prismaticamp (4:00 & F) on Wednesday at 1pm in Black Rock City. 

How to Get Involved with RAT

The RAT team meets weekly on Hive, Wednesdays at 11am PT. RAT is also active on Facebook and can be reached at renewablesforartiststeam@gmail.com.

RAT-supported Projects Headed to Black Rock City 2022

“Ripple” by Josh Vermette, 2022 (Image courtesy of the “Ripple” team)

RAT is mentoring 10 remarkable Black Rock City art projects on their journey toward using solar to power their installations in 2022. Out there in the desert, you’ll be able to marvel at these works of art that are fully powered by renewable energy:

Photo courtesy of the “Chilopod” team
  • Giganty’s Boundless Energy Gadget” by Sarah Gonsalves: A colorful, friendly giant picks up and peers into a boundless energy gadget.
  • “IntraNurture” by Sylvia Lisse: A giant eagle whose wings embrace a courtyard; inside is a tea bar and an immersive multi-sensory experience.
  • Harmony Strandby Cynthia Fleischmann: A harmony strand symbol that will help “facilitate harmony-driven global alliances with increased partnerships.”
  • Rippleby Josh Vermette: A “space filled with the sound and sight of falling water, shimmering beneath an open sky.”

Thrival Guide

The Thrival Guide will be an open-source playbook for emerging sustainability and cultural projects in Black Rock City and beyond. Initially conceived to focus only on sustainability projects, Thrival Guide lead Satya Kamdar is imagining a broader scope that covers three aspects — sustainability, cultural conversations, and Burners doing things out in the world — topics that are often intertwined in the Burnerverse.

It will begin life as a podcast that gathers stories from project leads. Anyone interested in the topics discussed will be encouraged to join relevant working groups. As the number of projects documented grows, the Thrival Guide will morph into an open-source playbook that shares knowledge, so Burners don’t have to reinvent the wheel when they want to do something new.

The third element will be connectivity — connecting Burners to projects and community; think of it as a Rockstar Librarian Handbook (which, if you’re not familiar, lists music events in Black Rock City) for sustainable projects that people can visit and learn.

Learn more and get involved on the Thrival Guide website.

IDEATE Compost Program

Once again this year, all Black Rock City camps and participants are encouraged to save compostables, dry them out, and bring them to one of IDEATE’s compost drop-off locations during Burn Week.

IDEATE is a non-profit and long running Burning Man theme camp dedicated to green initiatives and community action. Their composting program is a regenerative movement to keep food waste out of landfills and instead turn it into nutrient rich soil. Join the communal effort to collect, dry, and offer your organic food waste to the program. IDEATE will also be hosting sustainability workshops throughout Burn Week. 

How to Participate in IDEATE’s Compost Program

Register for the Playa Wide Composting program here. Collect and dry out your camp’s food waste, then drop it off at IDEATE, located at 6:45 and C, Monday to Saturday, 3-6pm.

A Dusty Laboratory for Changing the World

It’s not unusual for Burners to think of Black Rock City as an escape from their day to day lives. And yes — it is! BUT the projects and experiences we cultivate in our desert Home have a measurable impact on the world beyond the trash fence. Living together in the desert for nine days gives us a rare opportunity to practice new ideas, technologies, and ways of living that can bring about a more humane, creative, and sustainable world. Together, let’s imagine all the ways Black Rock City can be a catalyst for building a better world, and then let’s make it so.


Cover image of “Big Al” by Brennan Steele, 2014 (Photo by ajpn)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) is a story slinger and Communications Strategist at Burning Man Project. Through words, voice and digital tools, she tries her utmost to share the wonders and marvels of global Burning Man culture with anyone who will sit still for a minute to read and listen.

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