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August 22nd, 2007 Rachel Schiff | News Stories
 

Burning Green

Portland’s “Burners” drive hundreds of miles into the desert to attend this year’s “green” Burning Man.

     
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SLOW BURN: This car, designed by “Burners” General Purpose and Lady K., will produce zero emissions during Burning Man 2007. That is, after it gets there.

General Purpose and his girlfriend, Lady K, have worked since May to design a zero-emissions “art car” for this year’s Burning Man.

In keeping with this year’s “Green Man” festival theme, the Portland residents will drive the snail-shaped electric car around the weeklong art festival when it starts Monday, Aug. 27, in the Nevada desert.

But in a perfect example of how it ain’t easy being green, the dinky three-wheeler can’t handle the 482-mile drive through harsh desert to Burning Man in Black Rock City, Nev. So the zero-emissions “art car” must ride on a trailer from Portland, hauled by a 1988 Toyota pickup truck that General Purpose (he and Lady K. gave WW only their Burning Man names) estimates will get just 17 to 20 miles per gallon under its green load.

Their round trip will burn through about 52 gallons of gasoline, emitting 650-plus pounds of greenhouse gases.

“I’m trying to be as green as possible with my art, but I need gasoline to haul it down,” says General Purpose.

He will join an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 other Portland-area “Burners,” many of whom will be loading their gas-burning cars and trailers with art, camping gear, libations and more exciting substances before driving nearly 500 miles to learn about green energy.

Burning Man organizers estimate the event will produce 27,492 tons of greenhouse gases, or about what 1,800 of the most environmentally friendly SUVs emit in a year.

Less than 2 percent of the emissions are expected to come from the event’s infamous conclusion: the burning of the art. “It’s ‘Burning Man,’ not ‘Composting Dude,’” says Burning Man’s environmental coordinator, Tom Price.

Most of the emissions—87 percent—will come from travel. Organizers expect 45,000 participants to drive or fly to the event, which runs through Sept. 3.

However, one Portland Burner, known as deadletter b, won’t be there. Deadletter b, a.k.a. Ben Grad, a substitute high-school math teacher, is heeding the green theme by staying home—and truly reducing his carbon emissions. “To dress it up and call it ‘Green Man’ is a little much. We should just call it a giant, wasteful party and try to clean up as best we can,” says Grad.

Other Portland Burners are displeased by the theme but have decided to wade through the green haze and forge ahead.

Roger Ryon, or DragonFly!, will use 100 gallons to fly his four-seater “art plane” to and from Black Rock City, releasing more than 2,500 pounds of greenhouse gases en route.

“I am no more concerned using this energy this year than I was any year. My flights are my art,” says Ryon.

His plane will also make 20 short flights over Black Rock City during the event to take aerial photographs and sponsor “mile-high club memberships.” Each 45-minute boot-knocking flight uses 10 gallons of fuel—releasing over 250 pounds of greenhouse gases—so burners can lose their aerial virginity.

Despite all Burning Man’s emissions, Price insists the event promotes sustainability.

“Being at Burning Man is an unparalleled way of experiencing your impact on the planet,” says Price, referring to the fact that Burners must bring all their water in and haul all their trash out.

Yet those practices also expend fuel. Burning Man recommends bringing 1.5 to 3 gallons of water per person per day. That reguires burning even more gas to haul about 130 pounds of water per person, in addition to food, camping gear and trash.

As for the “Burning Man” itself, Price claims to have offset twice its emissions by earning “carbon credits” through investments in renewable-energy projects. These modern-day indulgences purportedly cancel the damage from timber burned or gas guzzled.

Burning Man’s environmental website, coolingman.org, claims that a total of 350 tons in carbon credits have been donated, offsetting about 1 percent of the event’s expected total emissions. One percent down, 99 percent to go.

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LOVE THE PLAYA, LOVE THE GAME...Watch the preparations of Portland Burners Delilah and Tucker:

[Video by Paul Leonard]

 
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