“Tree of Tenere” 2017 (Source: Random Acts of Travel)

How often do we as individuals find ourselves in public places with an array of services available to us without a second thought as to who provided them or what efforts were required to make them available to us? This dependency is challenged at Burning Man, a social experiment where 75,000 people gather annually to create a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, asking attendees to practice radical self-reliance, among nine other principles which govern the city and provide a sense of the community’s ethos for the week-long event.

Burning Man camp layout. (Source: Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Burning Man takes place on a dried prehistoric lake bed (now covered with alkali silt) called the playa, which is a unit of the National Conservation Area controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This event would not take place without Leave-No-Trace ethics, as an environmental assessment by the BLM is required for future approval of the annual event. Weather can be extreme due to the desert climate, with drastic temperature changes from day to night, in addition to blinding dust storms created by the playa silt- which can occur with no warning.

Nothing is sold at Burning Man other than coffee and ice, and no advertising is allowed. There is no running water, and not a single public trash can. This requires an immense effort from individual attendees to come prepared with everything they need to survive in a harsh, arid climate for a week.  If you bring it in, you’re responsible to bring it home with you too. This includes all drinking water, water used to shower, cook and clean dishes, as well as making plans in advance for how you plan to store grey water for disposal after the event. Meal planning is a must, and removing all unnecessary packaging from food and other items brought to the playa helps reduce waste gathered throughout the week. If you plan on using electricity, you must build and bring your own energy grid. Burning Man organizers even ask that attendees come prepped with their own first aid and medical gear in an effort to improve self-reliance instead of depending upon on-site medical staff meant for emergencies. These are some examples of Burning Man’s radial self-reliance expectations.

Camp with solar power grid (Source: http://solar-trap.com/?p=1432)

Only when we are removed from the systems which provide most of our daily services to us (with instant gratification) and are forced to provide these things for ourselves at a much higher level of difficulty, do we begin to understand and appreciate how demanding, and sometimes unsustainable our lives can be in the 21st century. You become focused on the efforts needed to provide each and every necessity, and luxury, and sometimes your viewpoint on what is a need and what is a luxury can change within your experience at Burning Man.

At home you wouldn’t think twice about the gallons of water spewing from your showerhead as you take your time showering each day. It’s simply a resource available at your fingertips for 24/7 use.  If you want to shower while at Burning Man you must plan ahead by calculating how quickly you can bathe using as little water as possible within that time, while creating zero mess on the fragile playa surface. Then you need to bring appropriate gear to either store that grey water, or if you’re good at building things you can go through the effort of creating an apparatus to help you evaporate the water, limiting what you need to bring back home. If the thought of organizing shower water and disposal is too much of a burden to consider, you can simply go the easy route and skip showers for the whole week. No matter what each individual chooses to do, by the time they are showering in the comfort of their own home again, they have a better understanding of the systems existing to provide their water on demand, and will likely take more action to conserve their water usage in the future.

These actions help us understand the great magnitude of effort that was once needed to create the human settlements we now live in, and how the resources we use within these places are in fact finite, and not magically available at the turn of a knob or the flick of a switch. Burning Man also acts as an experimental laboratory for those who desire change in current technology and industry standards. In the process of trying to sustainably source energy or provide other unique services for themselves while on the playa, some attendees unintentionally create innovative solutions or alternatives which can be incorporated back into ‘the real world.’ These can vary widely from complex solar power innovations to simpler, everyday solutions like Shiftpods, a sturdy hexagonal shelter originally made for burners – now often used as shelter for disasters and emergency relief.

The event exists with all its originality and flair solely due to the attendees’ imaginations and their willpower to bring their ideas to life in the moment. Burning Man is not comparable to the likes of Coachella, where acts of entertainment are provided to attendees without any participation. There are no stages, no structured schedule of events or musical acts. Anything that happens at Burning Man is a direct result of participation and collaboration between attendees, whether it happens prior to the event, or spontaneously on the playa. The intricate art, celebrations, science experiments and so much more which have propelled Burning Man to a global rank of fame all came to existence because an individual decided to contribute their talents for the city to enjoy. These efforts are results of communal effort, participation and radical self-expression principles upheld in Burning Man culture.

“A Field of Sunflower Robots” 2006 – created using LED lights, wire, solar panels, motors, and electronic components which moved throughout the day to follow the sun. (Source: Courtesy Race Point Publishing/Sidney Erthal and Scott London Photography)

Burning Man asks their community to look within themselves to recognize their inherent power and talents, both individually and as a society. This social experiment sheds light on the grand possibilities we can accomplish together as empowered people, rather than stagnantly waiting for a centralized authority to manage our society as they see fit. Through adopting methods of radical self-reliance, on whatever scale best fits our abilities and goals, we can fight our dependency on unsustainable systems to inspire a new generation of change. If Burning Man attendees are able to practice sustainable responsibility in a challenging environment, then why shouldn’t we be able to apply those practices in our daily lives, where we have many more tools at our disposal?  Here at Calsense, we take the initiative to provide customers with the power to take sustainable action into their own hands through our high quality, industry leading water Resource Management System. Our methods give customers the tools to bring the sustainability ideals learned at Burning Man into their business practices, both lessening their environmental impact while influencing others to also act sustainably responsible. Through dedication and innovative solutions, we all can be the sustainable change we wish to see in the world.

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