Ladies and gentlemen, rev up your RVs, pack your SUVs full, gas up your private jets, and start making your way to Black Rock City, the site in Nevada for Burning Man, the annual art festival and orgy of self-indulgence. The most hardcore of "burners," as attendees call themselves, will start making their way there a week from now. And while you're on the road, guzzling gasoline, make sure to feel really, really guilty about all the carbon you're spewing into the atmosphere. By organizers' own estimates, Burning Man puts 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air. This year, of course, they hope to minimize the impact with a "Green Man." Nonsense.
This chart from CoolingMan, a project to reduce emissions at the festival, tells the story. You'd think that Burning Man's multiple fire-themed art projects, including the climactic burning of the eponymous Man, a giant wooden statue, would be major contributors. But you'd be wrong.
To be sure, the generators used to power huge sound systems and other electricity-using projects and the burning of wooden structures on the site generate other pollutants besides carbon dioxide, and ought to be questioned. But the main impact of Burning Man is how people get there.
More than 90 percent of Burning Man's CO2 comes from travel to and from the hard-to-reach site. So the obvious thing to do to reduce Burning Man's impact is to cancel the festival altogether. Stay home, burn your art sculptures on a local beach, and play your music on stereos plugged into the more efficient local grid. Burning Man creator Larry Harvey constantly talks about how he'd like to see regional "burns" develop, and true greens would take him at his word and abandon the big burn in the desert.
Oh, but what about the "carbon offsets" participants and organizers plan to buy? Offsets — supposedly exchangeable certificates giving the buyer credit for a reduction, undertaken elsewhere, in carbon emissions — are the perfect vehicle for allaying liberal guilt about climate change, but they're of questionable value in actually reducing CO2 output. And offsetting, even if it works, is a stand-still strategy; reducing carbon emissions, not offsetting them, should be the goal. (Full disclosure: Valleywag is contributing to global warming by sending a reporter and a photographer to Burning Man.)
The only truly green Burning Man is a Burning Man that doesn't take place. Which, of course, will never happen; Silicon Valley's cubicle army desperately needs its week of release in the desert. They just shouldn't pretend that their party is good for the planet.