For those of you who read my first piece on Burning Man and were left wanting more, or for those who checked out their site were overwhelmed by the amount of information, the festival began in San Francisco in 1986 and moved to Nevada in 1990.
The Burning Man community received a new permit allowing them to hold the event in the Black Rock desert from 2006-2010. Here’s where the trouble starts. Locals have requested a rescindment of the permit, citing the festival’s impact on the land. And since this year’s theme is The Green Man, it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore the subject and speculate about Burning Man’s future.
I called my friend Ilka who is currently enjoying her final semester of graduate school at the University of Reno and eagerly awaiting her degree in Environmental Engineering. Here is our conversation. (And no, you’re not eavesdropping.)
Boise: When did you first go to the Burn?
Ilka: I started going in 1998 when it was only 8,000 strong. The last year I attended was 2003 and nearly 30,000 strong.
Boise: Your studies are all about the environment, and you live right there in Reno. What are your concerns regarding the land used at Burning Man?
Ilka: Black Rock is where the Burn has lived for years, but…there have been proposals to not have [it there]. The amount of people (multiply 40,000 people x 2 feet x a week of running, walking and dancing around) the bicycles, the cars, all have an impact. Not to mention people carelessly using the playa as a bathroom.
Boise: Sounds like the theme this year is a bit of a paradox.
Ilka: It is ironic. A girlfriend and I came up with a term called “hippy-crite.” I have been to festivals and venues where all kinds of hippies are saying they’re loving nature. Then they turn around and defecate on the ground.
Boise: Tell us about the Black Rock Desert from an environmentalist point of view.
Ilka: The Black Rock Desert without the Burn is a different place. There are natural hot springs. It is amazing and huge! It is something like 300 square miles. That is a lot of space. It doesn’t have a lot of vegetation. There have been several architectural digs, as it’s not too far [from the] Paiute Indian reservation and [is] considered a spiritual place.
Boise: But this area has 10-11 months to regenerate itself, doesn’t it?
Ilka: In the wintertime, it gets flooded with water with the run off and snow melt. You get a few inches of water each year and the run off comes onto the playa. Once it infiltrates, you have a clean playa again. Every winter it is said it cleanses itself.
Boise: As an Environmental Engineer, what would you like to see happen?
Ilka: I don’t know… that’s a tough question. I love the concept and idea of Burning Man. A leave-no-trace aspect of the festival, that’s a beginning. Thousands of people and hours and prep go into keeping the Black Rock clean before and after.
Boise: Thus this year’s theme of Green Man?
Ilka: 40,000 people on a Nevada wilderness area doesn’t seem very “green”… At the end of the event, cigarette butts, glass, and fire pits have been left behind by revelers of the event [who are] unconscious of their effect.
Boise: What kind of information can you provide from a local’s perspective?
Ilka: The locals — especially the Black Rock Rescue — feel that the environmental concerns far outweigh the commerce or tourism benefits. After years and years it leaves an impact.
Boise: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Ilka: That’s just my two cents… you are welcome.
Boise will attend the final five days of Burning Man 2007 and bring back stories on whether or not the event was actually Green.