Burning Man is quite environmentally-friendly on a local scale because it’s almost impossible to damage the Black Rock Desert and they really do leave no garbage (or water!) behind. But not surprisingly, a festival about getting far away from civilization and lighting shit on fire is incredibly bad for the climate.
Naively, the problem with Burning Man is the amount of electricity required to keep 45,000 people alive in the desert for a week. There has been a push to use biodiesel for generators and art vehicles in recent years. But analysis finds that participants emit ten times as much carbon getting to the festival as they do once there, for a total of 0.7 tons of carbon per person! (Although that analysis only includes direct emissions and not the indirect emissions caused by producing materials used at the festival.)
Back in 2007, when Americans could afford to care about the environment instead of the economy, the theme of Burning Man was “Green Man”. This article gives an excellent overview of the carbon footprint of the festival (including the tantilizing prospect of transportation by train). I can’t find any discussion online about the environmental impact since then.
One argument given in favour of the festival is that it is environmental-consciousness raising. But given that 0.7 tons per person is about half the sustainable global yearly output, at some point consciousness must get raised to the point when people stop going.
Another argument is that there is a carbon opportunity cost: if people didn’t drive to Burning Man, they’d take a plane on another holiday. That is true as long as carbon emissions are not priced. Once people can’t afford to go on any holiday that’s unreasonably far away, they’ll direct their efforts into more local gatherings. BC has two explicitly Burning-Man-themed festivals (Recompression and Burn in the Forest) and some other festivals that could be become cozier, more human-scale Burning Men.
Lefty website AlterNet recently posted this list of tips for living without an air conditioner, aimed at residents of the Sun Belt. They forgot the most effective: move somewhere cooler. There’s a theory that one of the causes of the Sun Belt’s population boom since WW2 is the availability of air conditioners: you no longer had to be crazy to live there, so people did.
This reminds me of the criticism that BC’s carbon tax disproportionately costs rural residents, who have to drive everywhere. Well duh, if you want to live somewhere that will require a lot of resources* to survive in, you should have to pay for that. In BC’s case it turns out that commuters in the Lower Mainland use more gas than rural residents, which is not surprising because the whole point of sprawling suburbs is to trade travel distance for more living space.
Some of the AlterNet comments imply that alternate energy should let us crank our air conditioners to the max all summer long. But I think that if cheap energy giveth these lifestyles then it’s totally reasonable that climate change should taketh them away. Or, preferably, that the cost of lifestyle choices should include externalities and people can decide for themselves if living in places like Lousianna is worth it.
On the other hand, the appropriately-named Sun Belt could have a sufficient advantage in producing solar electricity to more than make up for the heat. A move away from electric air conditioning could lead to a boom in cities near bodies of water for deep water cooling. And although it’s easier to green heating than cooling (entropy’s not just a good idea – it’s the law), Canada may face a similar movement away from places that are particularly cold.
I recently attended a talk by David Hume, a BC government expert in civic engagement. He gave the Apps 4 Climate Action contest as an interesting form of civic engagement. The contest submissions are in and people’s choice voting has started. I’ve reviewed the apps:
- The Climate Reports
- Given that the Net is now full of data visualization toys like Gapminder, visualizing single datasets in a PDF is fail.
- Your app demo is a video?! Fail.
- The Dictionary of the Climate Debate
- Why is this an app? Fail.
- Rain Caddy
- I love that the app loudly recommends using a tin can instead of this fail.
- Save the Rain
- Cool trick to calculate roof area, but this app doesn’t really do much.
- First fail for requiring sign-up. Second fail for not understanding anything about economics.
- Etho App
- Vaporware. I hope they failed their course.
- This game sucks and just has some data bolted on. Fail.
- Looked pretty good until it told me I should consider watering my lawn today even though it’s illegal. Fail.
- Canadian Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Industrial Sector
- This isn’t an app. Fail.
- Requires Microsoft Silverfail.
- Vancouver Bike Routes
- Useful until Google Maps rolls out biking directions for Vancouver. Fails to use climate change data as per contest rules.
- They don’t use the best visualization for some of the data, but the real fail here is the lack of comparison to other municipalities.
- This commercial app was launched in fall of 2009, which is allowed by the contest but lame. The app also fails to make sense.
- The Effects of Rising Sea Levels on Vancouver due to Global Warming
- An amaturely low amount of effort went into this failapp.
- Wonderful app and receiving lots of great press, but it clearly violates the terms of the contest by not using climate change data.
My #1 pick goes to Save the Rain followed by BCEmissions.ca. No other apps deserve anything. Given that the top prize is $5500, I’m surprised that the competition was so weak. (I was ineligible to participate.)
Via Defamer (because I’m watching the local Lindsay LOLhan drama unfold), the stuff they’re using to clean up the BP spill is poisonous too.
Once the spill started BP moved Beyond Petroleum and into Big Pimpin’:
Yo dawg, I noticed you like chemical spills, so I spilled some chemicals on your chemical spill. Now you can spill chemicals while cleaning up your chemical spill.
I did notice that the media was being strangely silent about the effects of dumping chemicals onto oil. They seemed to silently assent to the fiction that oil + dispersant = nothing.
But then, I didn’t publicly complain either — so I gets no props.
Again the question arises: should we be drilling in areas where the backup plan is “I dunno, um, I guess we could drop a funnel on it? Or maybe a top hat? And some poison?”
Victoria has been ordered by higher levels of government to implement secondary sewage treatment. The regional committee in charge of selecting a solution limitted the terms of reference to plants that work with existing sewage pipes. I believe this is an attempt to constrain the scope of the already massive project. It’s a problem because the existing pipes allow rainwater to leak in, so there will be very high max flows.
All the plans under consideration call for building multiple treatment plants. Some recent discussion has cheated on the terms of reference by pointing out that if the plants are built one at a time, some of the leaky pipes may have been replaced by the time the later plants are built.
But maybe that’s being nowhere near radical enough? Stewart pointed me to this article about sewage systems that separate urine and feces, leading to far more efficient treatment. We don’t just need to patch up our pipes, we need to replace them with pairs.
The Dockside Green development has its own little sewage treatment plant, so they won’t pay the property taxes to cover Victoria’s system. Maybe we need sewage metres like we have for electricity? If properties are charged based on their sewage production, that’ll be an incentive for things like low-flow and composting toilets. Reducing the load on the sewage system will mean the future plants won’t need to be built at all, like how BC Hydro is increasing capacity through conservation rather than just building more dams.
Alex says sins of omission (aka not upholding virtues) are no worse than sins of commission; I dispute that even if that is true in theology, our Judeo-Christian culture makes a strong distinction. I’ve talked before about how the distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission divides the environmental movement.
It turns out this aspect of ethical theory is being implemented in certifications for carbon offsets. Some projects remove carbon from the atmosphere after it has been produced, some prevent the carbon-producing activities in the first place. And then there are projects that do actions now that have the potential to reduce carbon, like planting trees…if they don’t burn down.
What’s different about what [we] do, is that what we’re doing is actually good for the environment, it’s not just less bad. Even if we got our doing bad down to zero – and I doubt that will happen – we’ll need some doing good too.