The Chef and the Power of Community Prototyping
Logan and Andie talk with Matthew “Chef” Kwatinetz about Black Rock Power, an ambitious new sustainable energy initiative rooted in the Burning Man community, and how Black Rock City is the ideal laboratory for prototyping and iterating solutions for the larger world. No pressure.
They discuss Burning Man’s 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap and how the struggles of 2020 have affected everyone’s plans, for the worse and for the better.
Chef brings his immense economic development experience to his work in Black Rock Power and his service on the Burning Man Project Board. An avid Burning Man participant for a decade, he has cooked meals for the Temple Kitchen, “Feed the Artist” programs, and sunset dinner cruises on the “Sacred Cow” mutant vehicle – and now he’s advising the Project on economics, city planning, and innovative approaches to sustainable power for Black Rock City and its neighboring Northern Nevada townships.
Sponsor: The Leaving No Trace Workout Program
Burning Man Project’s 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap
Environmental Sustainability Roadmap Update
Special thanks to Dario Russo and David Ashby for letting us use their music for the closing credits:
LOGAN: Hey there everybody. Welcome to Burning Man Live.
Today for this recording session anyway, due to the unpredictable nature of existence. And the reality that a major part of the human experience is that most things are almost always completely out of our control… We will be flying without our usual host Stuart Mangrum at the helm today as co-hosts to get me looking at yourself and the always fantastic Andie Grace. Hi, Andie.
ANDIE: Hi. Hello again, how are you doing?
LOGAN: I’m very well indeed, Thank you. Stuart normally provides excellent framing and insightful context for these live sessions, but today we’re just going to move forward without his insight. And without those we’re going to venture straight into a conversation with a man who has a long and varied history with Burning Man and outside of Burning Man.
And we’re going to talk to him about what he’s working on and how it ties into what he sees as Burning Man’s future or at least, his role that he’s going to be playing in it. Before we do that, though, we’re going to go straight from here to a word from our sponsor.
SPONSOR: LEAVING NO TRACE WORKOUT PROGRAM
LOGAN: We’re back. Fantastic. Today. I’m happy to bring onto the Burning Man live podcast. Matthew Kwatinetz, also known as Chef. Chef has shaped much of his career around building communities and supporting art and art centric initiatives. He’s a member of Burning Man’s board of directors. He’s a professor of urban economics at NYU, and he’s a 10 year theme camp organizer for Sacred Cow.
One of the largest restaurants on playa. Currently, he’s up to some interesting things in Gerlach and in sticking with my theme that I’ve had going on. What does Burning Man do when it can’t build Black Rock City? I wanted to have him on it to talk about what he’s working on it out there. Hi Chef. How are you today?
CHEF: Hey, Logan. Doing well. Thanks for having me on the show.
LOGAN: Absolutely. Thanks for being here. tell us if you would, briefly about your history with Burning Man. How did you get involved with all of this mess?
CHEF: Well, I think it began back when I was living in Seattle, I ran a cultural incubator there and had a ton of Burners that were coming there.
It actually was the site that incubated the nonprofit, which supports Burners and produces regional events in Seattle called ignition Northwest. And kind of actually, when I worked in that. incubator there. Two of the people I worked with were people you probably know, a gentleman named Tabasco and a woman named Kim Morrison, who are now very involved with Burning Man then. I was not, and they tried to convince me to come out for many years.
It took actually Larry Harvey coming out to our incubator called Shack and getting up there, talking about how Shack was a great example for Burner-run business. And afterwards, I went up to insight. What are you talking about? You can’t co-op my stuff here. I’m not a Burner? And he said, Oh no, you are. You just don’t know yet. You’ll find out soon. And I did. I went after that and that was… 2007 was my first year. And, unfortunately I wasn’t going to be able to stay for the whole time, which on my way there, it didn’t bother me. Cause I didn’t think I would like it. But once I got there, I was super bummed that I wasn’t going to get to see the man burn. If you recall, 2007 was the year the Man burned twice. Paul Addis got up there and Burned the Man.
LOGAN: So you did get to catch it after all…
CHEF: I caught it. And then the next gig Paul had, was performing a show at my arts center. So actually I was the first one to interview him after that too. Wow. It was pretty entertaining.
Anyway, the thing that was shocking about Burning Man to me, when I first went to Black Rock City, was that, It’s not a metaphor that Black Rock City is a city. It’s an actual city. I can say that confidently as an urbanist. And, I spent that whole first year just walking around and wondering if the same way I did when I went to Barcelona for the first time.
And, as I’m sure you all can attest, walking the back streets of Black Rock City is one of the best ways to see. What an incredible coterie of people, ideas, dreams, that we actually are in the city there. And, it was truly impressive. I definitely knew I was hooked for life at that point.
LOGAN: Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, it’s fantastic. especially if you’re like an infrastructure nerd walking around Black Rock City and seeing how all the pieces put together, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I, I’ve, I’ve spent a lot of time in Tokyo and trying to wrap my head around how Tokyo actually exists, evokes that similar feeling that runs somewhere that is just very detached from my day to day.
And yet it is functioning like any other place for the most part, in terms of just, you know, human interaction in terms of what’s prioritized in terms of how people need to move around all of that. So fascinating stuff.
CHEF: And then it’s kind of, it’s also kind of funny, cause a lot of people that were talking about this briefly before, but a lot of people come to Black Rock City and it’s their first time actually caring how a city works and they look around and they ask, why is this like this?
This is so messed up. Why is this like this? And what they don’t realize is that’s how all these work.
LOGAN: Right. And it’s funny how it takes getting pulled out of our regular context to kind of jars into examining the normal functions of our lives. Right? When you’re raised in a situation or when you’re just used to all that.
So it becomes invisible and then suddenly you’re like, wait a minute, wait, how, where’s my trash, how do I water? Yeah. Like all of the things,
CHEF: right. All the things. What was your impression of it as a city? When you saw the infrastructure through the lens that you view it, a city? I was super impressed.
I have to say, especially experiencing the grid for the first time and seeing the deployment of certain critical services. Yeah. In each of the plazas, I’m seeing some, I meant the street grid, but also seeing the electric grid that covered different portions of the city. I was really surprised and impressed.
I think I sent Mail that year, both inside the city and to myself back home, and caught some rides on some art cars. And it was, it was, it was truly a magical experience.
LOGAN: And have you been hooked ever since? Have you been back since ‘07 every year? What’s that look like
CHEF: Nope that was it
LOGAN: One and done! I got it, and I went home and I felt like I could hang up the phone
CHEF: One and done. It was cool. I wasn’t able to go the next couple of years and you know, that first year you hear things about it being a gift of con to me. So I shoved a bunch of stuff in my bag to give out, you know, chatchkas, and then when I got there, I was like, I can’t give this stuff and this is not what they do, man.
And, thankfully there was a, there was a healthy storm and a lot of people needed help just, you know, maintaining their camps. And that’s a good way for. A newbie as I was to just jump in and actually give a gift. That means something to people. And isn’t a remnant of the commercialism we’re supposed to have left behind.
So I was able to go back, but I said, I didn’t want to go back until I could go with the theme camp because I wanted to contribute something as part of a cooperative group. And so it was a couple of years. And then, I fell in with a bunch of theater people, as I do from time to time and we produced a show together, I went really well.
And at the end, They said, let’s all go to Burning Man! Take us Chef! And I was, well, I wasn’t chatting to him, but they said, take us Matt. And I said, “well, that’s not really how it works. We go together!” and we wound up making the first, Sacred Cow during metropolis, which was 2010, I guess. Yeah. Indian food restaurant, three seatings, a night reservations, 50 seats, a kitchen cooking lessons during the day, table service. It was amazing. It almost killed us. We were 34 people, three of whom have been to
Burning Man before. None of whom had been in a theme camp before we were on seven 30 and A, I think. so that kicked off a series of restaurants. I went most years after that, skipped a year and thought I was done.
And then before it happened, I got pulled in to do the temple kitchen. In 2015, the one year I wasn’t going to go. and that was a magical experience. That was, when you do the temple, those listeners who haven’t been to Burning Man, you wind up getting to go a lot earlier and you see. The beauty of sorta of, the ocean coming in from nothing, getting as crazy as it could get and then going out and being gone and coming in there early and just every day, seeing things being built by people and you being one of those people is magical that year in particular.
Was the invasion of the locusts, which I know still many people don’t believe happens, but it really did happen. There were animals everywhere and owls and birds and beasts on four legs. So that was great. And we went all the way through last year.
LOGAN: Nice. And when you say we, that was Sacred Cow?
CHEF: We adjusted our name a little bit. We were a Sacred Cow grill to start the Indian food restaurant. Then we were Sacred Cowgirl saloon. We were Western style for Rite of passage. You had to ride a barrel messy in order to get served. You have your right passage. We wound up doing a lot of Feed the Artist stuff. The next year we were the Fertile Crescent village.
I’m with the sacred Calloway Oasis. And we did a food village of about 170 people, with five different restaurants, including a fuss stand that was run by a camp called air noodle where they all dressed up in, you know, flight year. They gave out chopsticks with every Pho Bowl and every hundredth one was golden chopstick.
If you got that one, you got to get a plane ride up above Black Rock City.
ANDIE: Wow. I’ve got to get out and see Black Rock City more.
LOGAN: See what’s going on every once in a while, it happens to me accidentally where I’m on my way from one work crisis to another. And I’m like, “Whoa, that’s nice pancakes” or whatever. And yeah, it’s fantastic. That’s great stuff, man. I, I, I have not had to be honest, I’ve been going to Black Rock City for 23 years and I have not had a ton of experience with restaurants on playa. And so it’s fascinating to me that that is both thriving. And so it’s so huge. It’s wonderful.
CHEF: Yeah, that year we made a whole restaurant district.
We kind of applied with placement to sync up a bunch of our restaurant camps. And in seven 30, I think we had 14 restaurants.
That was the year where they first tried out the alley. I forget what it’s called, but yeah, yeah, yeah. So they set up an alley of really small vendors that were all doing food.
Yeah, so we eventually migrated to, we put food on our art car. And we did a Moroccan seven course tasting menu on the roof of a bus that was transformed into a cow. And we’d do sunset dinner cruises where we’d tour the art and do seven courses of meals and all that stuff. Those were the days.
LOGAN: That’s incredible. So now I’m even more curious, like, how did you get from that point on the map? Doing that sort of thing for Black Rock City to the role you’re playing with Black Rock City. Now tell us about your role and how does, how does one get from point a to your
CHEF: Yeah. So first of all, I’m really fortunate to be in the place that I’ve been invited into on the one hand, being a board member, and, on the other, doing some real estate work this year for Burning Man, how it happened was: back in those early days
I was doing work and then in life I was running my arts center, doing a lot of work preventing gentrification or combating gentrification for artists around the country. So we had some real success with that in Seattle and that success was seen and then wound up popping around the country.
And then what actually happened was, Burning Man was going to get gentrified out of the San Francisco offices, mid market street, and mid market, and, Kay Morrison who I was working with at the time had suggested that I come in and, I did a couple of years of volunteer work. for, Black Rock City, LLC at the time.
And I also became a Meta regional, meaning representing, normally represented a geographic area in my case, a Meta geographical area. And as a part of that year, I think it was 2012 maybe. And we were in Oakland and there was a decision to kind of embrace the regionals and become a nonprofit.
I was a little bit a part of that transition and got to know a lot of the folks that I had to go off and do my own thing for awhile. A lot of stuff in urban development, anti gentrification, economic development and, just a couple years ago, Marion reached out to me.
And the board was looking at how we were using the real estate that Burning Man owns to bring our mission into the world.
And the feeling was maybe we could do more. Maybe we could do some more socially relevant stuff. Maybe we can participate more with the local town, which is called Gerlach. She invited me to come in and I wasn’t a board member at the time, but she invited me to come to a real estate retreat.
And just last year, at the beginning of last year, I wandered around all the properties and sat with the board members in the
Nevada Art Museum as they discussed all the different possibilities and everything came up from workforce development, to, you know, using some of the real estate to bring some important amenities to the local town.
I say town, but Gerlach actually has a population under 200 and it’s in an unincorporated county. It’s not technically even a town.
And so there’s no grocery store there. There’s no reliable internet, there’s no reliable power. And, it was decided by the board that maybe we should. You know, put some effort there and see if we can help that area grow.
And they invited me to join a board and be a part of that. So, that’s been really interesting, especially during this period of time, interacting with all of that.
LOGAN: Sure. What can you tell us about what you’ve got going on in Gerlach right now, in terms of, of how that development is kind of moving forward?
CHEF: Well, So the task that I was given was to look at our mission as a nonprofit, which is to bring Burning Man culture into the world, and then look at how we were in the world in terms of real estate and see if there were ways that maybe we could improve, realizing our mission. And so, for the last year or so, I’ve been in Gerlach at least every month.
I actually now have a house there that I’ve rented. And, I spent most of the last three months there actually. and, just, you know, all of this work, whether it’s Burning Man work or economic development work more generally. Has to begin with talking to people and understanding what actually is going on.
Not trying to impose your vision on it, but trying to understand what people are feeling, what they’re doing, what the gaps are, you know, spending enough time there, that you could experience them yourself and not just go with rumors, et cetera. And so it turns out Burning Man, over the years has. obtained a bunch of properties, a lot of which have stayed vacant through most of the year or all of the year.
As we’ve just been so busy, dealing with the incredible growth that we’ve had and all the different things of bringing the culture into the world everywhere. And what we’ve tried to do is take a look at those properties and Gerlach and think what are some of the things we could do here that will improve life.
And those turn out to be, bringing grocery stores and fresh food. There’s an incubator, that is with the Nevada small business development center that was getting kicked out of a nearby town, Empire, is going to have nowhere to go. And Burning Man has actually offered to temporarily house it in our own offices.
As we build a new space for them, we’ve been working with Friends of Black Rock Highrock about that. Yeah. Or future plans and helping to bring more people into the area when Black Rock City is not happening to explore some of the beautiful places, help support expeditions, there needs to be more places to stay in order for that to happen.
Cause there aren’t many. So we’ve been looking at some of our properties, for that use as well, and also bringing the history of
Gerlach more to the fore. It is such a really fascinating town. it’s slogan is where the pavement ends and the West begins originally as a railroad town and then was a mine town and now really is a Burning Man town.
And so we’ve been asking: what does that mean and what are our responsibilities there? How can we partner with folks to, to realize some more? So there’s a lot of great ideas that are going on. and I’m really excited to continue to. Keep people aware as they happen. And that kind of gives you a taste of what we’re working on.
LOGAN: Nice. Yeah. It’s my understanding too, that the Empire store is either in flux or is currently not open. I’m not positive which one of those things it’s actually, I should figure that out before this goes to actual production, but yeah, the store is closed.
CHEF: I can give you the whole, the whole shebang. So basically the empire store has been owned by the mine, and, previous to the current owners of the mine, they made a deal with a private citizen named Dana who, Ground leased the store, which meant that the mill still owned the land, but he owned the store and could fix up the store.
And, that is what he has done for the last, I don’t know how many years, but as long as I’ve been going to Burning Man, at least.
So, over 10 years, for sure. Earlier this year, the mill decided that. They prefer to run the store themselves. And, they declined to renew his lease and so they shut down, for about a month. Some changes ago. actually a bunch of us, Burning Man staff and volunteers went to help him move out and he’d been there for quite a long time. It was a lot of work to get things moved out and we’ve been trying to entice him to reopened in Gerlach. And, I think that’s an expensive proposition, especially during COVID.
And so we continue to seek out ways to make that possible. We actually have had. A lot of great conversations, with the County, Washoe County about, since this is an unincorporated County area, the County, while they have a lot of money that is available to help with economic development, they have no organization locally to work with to get it done.
And we’ve been pitching them on Burning Man. Becoming more of that organization. And so, they have been working with us to identify grants, to help locate buildings, to help locate programs. And we’re just at the very beginning of that, say between Washoe County, we’re also working with the one political entity that does exist in Gerlach, which is the general improvement district or GGID they mainly are in charge of.
I’m bringing water, a shared water system to the town, but they also get involved in some of these issues. They’ve been working with us on that and also on the citizens advisory board and economic development committee, in Gerlach. And as you know, in Burning Man, we have a lot of folks that have extraordinary experience in government, community relations and community development.
And they all have been stepping forward to try to see how we can really make the coalition there. That’s more like we would see in Burning Man culture. then maybe some of the things we’ve had the capacity to do before. So it’s really exciting. It’s really turning Gerlach. I’m not into Burning Man, but it’s turning it into a place where people can all work together to help realize the collective dream, which is the ethos of a lot of what Burning Man is.
LOGAN: Yeah, that’s a fantastic amount of, there’s a fantastic amount of opportunity there. And it’s really great to see how involved Burning Man is, in trying to kind of channel that into, with all the places that it can go. Right. There’s a lot of people out there that are really passionate about that town and want to see more from that space.
So I’m really grateful that we’ve got a role in helping to facilitate some of that. tell us about that when you and I first had it, or the first conversation you and I really have is about Black Rock Power, as it was starting to manifest. Tell us about Black Rock Power and tell me kind of what’s happened since, since you and I last spoke.
CHEF: Absolutely well, Black Rock Power. it’s something that we started conceiving of. Once we knew that we’d have to cancel Black Rock City, this year, while Black Rock City is canceled, that doesn’t mean that Burning Man has canceled. And so we were trying to think of ways to create. A green new deal for Burning Man.
The concept of a green new deal is that we’ve been, sort of immersed in, very difficult, producing every year, year after year. And we’ve had some great visions, goals, and plans such as our sustainability roadmap to really turn the event and the city that is Black Rock City, more toward a renewable and eventually regenerative city.
And so the country except while we’re all paused. I’m between Black Rock Cities. Why don’t we create a new social enterprise that will allow us to advance the goals of regeneration and at the same time, create some jobs in the local area. and, for people. in order to make this move forward.
So today in Black Rock City, unlike most of the cities where I have worked, the utilities, for most of the participants, are outsourced.
However, the ethos of economics in Black Rock City is not the same ethos that is normally used by those companies in the rest of the United States. And so while, and the rest of the United States there. There I’m perfectly fine being profit making companies and engaging in transactions in Black Rock City.
We really try to minimize those types of injuries, actions in favor of communal and cooperative interactions. So I was in camps today, which are, just like my group, Sacred Cow groups that get together to collectively purchase and manage their contributions to the city. part of their budgets always is paying one of these outside service providers should.
We said what if instead of that, we pooled all of the money from all those theme camps and together purchased renewable energy solutions. That over time after we pay for them, we’ll also reduce the cost of everybody going. to Black Rock City and allow more of that money to be spent on arts or scholarships or low income people or whatever, pleases the group that is making those decisions in each case.
ANDIE: Renewable energy solutions like a solar array, right?
And the reason that we’re starting with this one solar thing is because it’s very minimal. Products that we can accomplish in a finite period of time that becomes financing. And that gives us revenue stream now to turn around some of the other items that might not be a self-financing, and build from that, some of the critical areas that we’ve been talking about, not inside black art power, but inside Burning Man and sustainability committee, is things like really dealing with the footprint of transportation to and from, Black Rock City and dealing with the waste stream and, dealing with some of those other items that it’s not so easy to start a company around those. But BlackRock Power is a very chewable, digestible piece that people are familiar with the idea of solar cooperatives and how those work.
LOGAN: Gotcha. So just so I can wrap my head around it really simply again, you talking about theme camps coming together and collectively coming up with solutions for their systems, but what you’re talking about as an actual, like solar array to power, the theme camp that these guys would be teaming up to bring to Black Rock City. Is, is that like, that’s what the focal point is for Blackboard.
CHEF: Yeah. I think you got it. And as you look at any city, it’s not always one solution fits all. And, with Black Rock Power, we’ve come up with four solutions that we think address the four different kinds of populations that we’re trying to serve.
There’s a lot of people in Black Rock City that are already doing this, don’t need our help, or that would rather do it themselves and don’t want to necessarily buy into something. And so we’re creating a, what hopefully will be a year round community on another one of our properties, that allows people to pull out their equipment, get help in sort of converting their equipment themselves.
Or hold workshops to teach other people how to do that kind of stuff. It gives them the time, space tools, information, how to do that.
Here’s a question, what are the benefits of the solar array? If this project moves us away from profit-based rental companies, what else, what’s the benefit, can you describe specifically, like, less gas, less toxicity, less footprint, less noise pollution, in Black Rock City, can you go into that?
CHEF: totally. I think there are a couple of different benefits. Some of them economic, and some of them more social or mission. And on the economic side, the first benefit is converting from being a renter of something, to being an owner of something.
Even a co-owner means that your overall cost over the long term goes significantly down. so that is a really big benefit. I know for me as a theme camp organizer, Pretty often, we have a budget of maybe around $60,000 that we fundraise or all contribute for for approximately a hundred people.
And of that 60, almost 20 is just paying for the rental for that diesel generator. And we’re not that happy using a diesel generator. It’s loud. It’s smelly. It’s noxious. it doesn’t do good things for the environment, but to change over to solar, which we’ve looked at individually as a camp for many years, we don’t don’t have the same kind of expertise and the financial resources that some other camps do.
And so really it works better if we can pool our money with other people. And someone else can deal with the upfront cost of acquiring the equipment and the ongoing cost of storing and managing and maintaining the equipment. And so that’s really big economic advantages to an individual camp. from that perspective also, since we only use this equipment really for something between two weeks and two months a year, depending on who you are and how much time you spend in Black Rock City, the camp can also look to leverage the use of that equipment in other places at other times.
So offset that cost, that use could be in for-profits activities, renting it to other festivals, things like that, or it could be in things like workforce development, or bringing power, to fire prone zones, very relevant today, places where we need to do blackouts in order to protect people, you need backup power.
And a lot of times that either is not being provided or it’s being provided with diesel, which isn’t. While it’s less pleasurable to gas, it’s not the greatest solution there. So you get those benefits, all economic and some social, and then further in social. We really want to demonstrate. We can work together as a community to bring forward something with our readers, sources that when you eliminate them, some of that profit of a third party, we can apply that same amount of money to extending the mission and getting better and better equipment.
At the same time, we could cut the emissions of the city as a whole, not just one camp and show that it can be done at the scale, which would be. one of the first times, I would say at the scale, certainly for a temporary city, probably the first time. So there’ll be a lot of applications and things like, refugee camps, disaster relief efforts, that kind of stuff, as well as, you know, the US Conference of Mayors comes to Black Rock City every year, looking for lessons.
And, hopefully we can develop some solutions that are applicable in other more mainstream environments.
LOGAN: It’s really exciting to see. I’ve always thought of Black Rock City is a great place for experimentation in terms of things like, you know, what, what civic infrastructure can be, what human interaction can be like, all the things that kind of naturally get played with when we’re out of our normal environment and out of our normal culture, we’re getting to make it up as we go and any opportunity we have to, to really create things and define things and showcase them in a way that is easily transferable back out into the real world. I feel like we’re really, that’s where our success can really be. You know, as if Burning Man itself is this incubator of different ideas and this test ground for, you know, different ways of approaching and, and kind of manifesting solutions.
Anytime we get a chance to show how those solutions can be easily applied to, you know, this is a solution you can take home. This is a concept or, or a reworking that you can just walk away with and apply it to your circumstances. That’s where we can be really impactful and successful in the world. I love seeing that stuff manifest.
CHEF: I really agree with you. It’s one of the things that continues to really attract me to go to Black Rock City and be a part of the year around Burning Man community, that network of people that is really looking for new ideas, new ways of doing things, whether it’s for innovative purposes or social mission purposes.
And I think we have a lot of appetite to experiment inside Burning Man at Black Rock City with different forms of stakeholder capitalism instead of just shareholder capitalism.
LOGAN: Sure. The top down model is, you know, it’s so wildly popular because it’s promoted by the top. Right? So anytime you get an opportunity to. To help share the responsibility and the profits and all of that is that that’s good playing with capitalism and what capitalism can actually do to serve communities and larger bodies instead of just playing into normal hierarchies. That’s great stuff.
ANDIE: We have this advantage. It’s kind of a boon in a way that we have this year off to focus on this kind of stuff. It’s great. But at the same time, it’s 2020, and everything is crazy sideways. Is there any way that 2020 is now negatively affecting these plans or is it presenting any specific challenges, getting people together to work on things? or how’s that?
CHEF: I have to say, I think it’s supercharged us. I, you know, I’m not a fan of taking a year off from Black Rock City personally. I’m not one of the people that’s been there for 25 years in a row. Every one counts for me. but I have to say for these particular efforts, it’s really allowed us to focus more on them than I think we would have been able to in a normal year and to have some real, impactful conversations, with people that normally are too busy to have those conversations, whether they’re inside our organization, inside the volunteer base, that really makes up the heart of our organization inside the beam camps, or even in the more general areas like Gerlach or at the state or County level, or I’m in the solar industry generally.
And we’ve been having such incredible zoom chats, as well as, you know, in person volunteer parties, that have been, you know, very, very small groups of people in masks and following strict COVID protocols and all of that. But hopefully over time, we’ll be able to slowly build an expertise in gathering that allows us to continue to ramp that up.
And on the other side, these conversations, because people have had time we’ve been able to. Flesh out some of these ideas about what is working and not working in terms of solar structure. And look, we’re at a tipping point, for the economic viability of renewable power right now, it really is taking the country by storm.
But it’s a really exciting time for us to jump into it, especially when we have so many people in our community that have been in it for quite a while. Couldn’t teach us a lot about how to do it.
LOGAN: Yeah. And with Gerlach, especially. And when it comes to solar power, I mean, one of the things that that place really has an excess of is the sun. It’s constantly being present in a way and not being utilized. Right. I was fortunate enough to be involved with building the first solar array in Gerlach with Tom Price back in the early two thousands.
Actually, when we were building a rate for the school and BlackRock, solar was getting off its feet. And so I’m personally stoked to see us just driving back in that direction in terms of. No, any effort and initiative to really take advantage of what is abundant out there.
CHEF: Tom has been a great mentor in some of this stuff.
And also, I really enjoyed, I think one of the first Burning Man lives, you had him on here, maybe it’s number two or three. And I enjoyed hearing his stories, about the start of that and how that went. And, you know, those are raised that, BlackRock, solar built all across Nevada are all still.
There. And, they are, powering the school still and empowering, some of the stuff, over in Wadsworth and Nixon. I mean, there’s, there’s, there’s a lot going on. That’s been really positive.
LOGAN: That’s really fantastic. We have now been, I guess it’s a little over a year since Burning Man published its 2030 Environmental Roadmap. And I definitely see where Black Rock Power is sort of manifesting one of the major kinds of aspects of that. Can you tell us any more about how we’re looking, how that’s going so far? Any effects that are like setbacks that we’ve had with the current climate, or if it’s all just kind of going according to the plan.
How’s that look, how are we doing with our environmental roadmap right now?
CHEF: First of all, we have some of the most motivated people, anywhere inside our organization and volunteer base. And I think that the publishing of that plan, which I know a lot of people have a hand in, really, set a vision.
And helped us direct some of the energy we have. That’s going in a million directions all the time. Sometimes you have so many excited people. It’s hard to all combine efforts on something. And so I think that first plan being written and published was really able to demonstrate that we had a shared value beyond just leaving no trace or in understanding what leaving no trace means.
That ‘s more than just, you know, cleaning up your bottles and cans and garbage. It’s leaving no trace on the planet as well. So I think that, really set a direction and an openness yes. For people to start working on this, certainly, the foundation for BlackRock Power, really comes out of that roadmap, which the first thing that we would do is start a small-scale solar company.
So I’m really just building right out of that. And I’m trying to advance the goals that already existed, especially as someone that’s, you know, relatively new to the staff and board. Just like I said, with Gerlach, I would never want to walk in and come up with some plans from my head about what we should do.
That’s not really, you do things as a group. So, that really was an inspiration. And, as we start getting Black Rock Power up, we had more cycles to think about these different aspects of the plan and thinking about which ones we could and couldn’t do. And then really there’s been a lot of leadership, especially for more days, in the organization to start up a sustainability committee and department in general and start looking at all the aspects of that plan.
Cause I think what we found when we picked it up was, there’s a lot to do and it’s not that we can’t do it. It’s just that. It takes people and focus and money. And, when you overlay COVID, canceling Black Rock City onto it, it’s kind of challenging to figure out where to start. And so I think power, like our power, has really put a stake in the ground.
No, actually, it might be easier right now to do it. And here’s how we can involve our community, who already are spending money on this and let’s save them money, but redirect it so that it helps grow something I knew. And from within that, we can turn to some of these other aspects. So I think the thing that has happened in this last year is.
It’s become more real. And some of those goals for 2030 and even 2027 and 2025, the whole year went by, and then we were looking at it and saying, wow, that’s for 2025. That’s if the part’s high, but just like, we got lots of things, we’ve got to speed it up. so I think that’s been helpful. We’ve been able to have the time to have that conclusion and not just be like, I gotta think about this now.
I gotta get my camp, department, whenever up and then I gotta take it out. Then I got arrested and then, Oh, do it all again. So I think it’s been really, there’s been space created and I think a lot of people inside the organization have seized upon that space to start diagramming out specific pathways to get there, which, you know, Black Rock Power is one. And, there’s probably going to be eight or nine of them.
LOGAN: That’s excellent. I, and it’s really good to hear that. I remember the first thing that struck me when I read it. I was actually already on Gerlach working on the 2019 season, when the Sustainability Roadmap got published. And so I, in my first thought about it, was really bold, super ambitious and wanted us to just drop it, especially having, not formally. You said a lot on the subject before for us to suddenly be like, actually our plan is this, and to have this really bold vision out there, and I got to see it. I was very fortunate in that. I got to see it ripple through the DPW community and in the DPW community.
There are a lot of people that are super passionate about it. Certain aspects that tie directly into sustainability. We’ve got people on the TSA, we’ve got lifelong members of Recycle Camp. We’ve got a whole bunch of people. No, the crew that work as a group called the trash pirates to go from event to event, helping them with sorting and recycling and composting and all that stuff.
And watching them get excited about it and watching them. You know, because I think of them as a group that is really kind of on the bleeding edge of passionate with that sort of thinking right where they’re just like, no, we have to do this stuff. Now we have to get our hands dirty. We have to make the world a better place right now with our effort.
And so to see them react to the roadmap. Not in a critical way, but rather in a, “wow, this is impressive. We’re going to reflect this out right now” was really inspiring. And so it’s great to see us making tangible strides in that direction. And I completely agree with you actually, that COVID and the shutdown and taking a year off, all of that has had terrible effects on the world.
And also has given a lot of people an opportunity to reflect on their own repeating cycles of existence, especially those of us who were particularly bound to the cycle of Black Rock City and really given us the time and space to examine what our goals are and to reflect differently than we normally would have been able to on how much progress we’re making.
CHEF: Yeah. You know, one of the interesting conversations that I have a lot with people who haven’t been to Black Rock City or have, the same. Maybe a negative impression or, or skeptical impression of Burning Man that I had for many years before I came. One of the things that we get to explain when we take on an effort like this is the levels at which we have resources in our community are really legion and they are those of the city. We have municipal workers who build power grids. We have people who organize urban landscapes and people who organize small groups of 60 to 80 to 100. We have people who have started solar companies. We have people who are at the forefront of building cooperatives.
We have, you know, lots of people who work for Tesla. We have. You have all of these regional researchers. We have academics. And so when we, it is hard as it is in any city or any organization to align people toward a common goal. But what we have inside Black Rock City is once we align. the majority of people on a path that we all agree on, our ability to execute and do something far surpasses that of even a, a city like New York, for instance, you know, I’ve, I’ve worked for New York for many years and, I can’t even grok the concept of what it would look like if New York did something.
Like, what does that even mean? I guess we see it in the face of tragedy during, during Superstorm, Sandy, New York Rose up and helped people who were, who couldn’t get food or couldn’t leave their places or in darkness, or had to go to the hospitals, New York as a whole Rose, or you can look at, post nine 11.
I mean, very often it’s tragedies that caused us to happen. I don’t know about New York rising to do something like go. renewable because the very motives of why you would do that are really split up by how we divide into different types organizations that have scripted goals and, sort of metrics for success in Black Rock City and in Burning Man, our metrics, even though we’re divided our metrics for success inside that community are relatively similar. Now people will argue that, Oh, there’s this kind of camp and that kind of camp and these classes Wars and that thing and staff and all, but in the end, the gap, the largest gap we have is much, much, much smaller than you would find, in a more, a typical city. And so I think what that means is the time is short.
The goal is large, but if we can align people on doing it, our capacity for execution is much larger than most goals that people would take on.
LOGAN: Very well said then, that has fantastic perspective on everything we’re doing. And it’s really exciting to hear about all the things that you’ve got your hands in right now and the ways moving forward
Thank you very much for coming on today. I really appreciate you spending some time with us and kind of sharing what your vision is for all this and sharing the progress we’ve made so far. I really look forward to seeing how all of this comes together and hopefully we will be able to see you face to face and Black Rock City again, very soon.
CHEF: I look forward to it. Thanks for having me on the show, and I’m really excited. I’ve always enjoyed everyone you had on here. Proud to be one of those folks passing through.
LOGAN: Absolutely. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, Matthew quantum, that’s AKA chef for joining us today. and thank you Andy, for being my co host and helping me steer the ship and Stuart’s absence and thank you to our studio audience for today.
If you remember. We would appreciate it if you were to follow us and like us and review us and subscribe and all the places where you do those things. Once again, our burning, our website is live.burningman.org. And you can find us at @burningmanlive all one word on Facebook and Twitter and the social media things.
This show has been the production of the philosophical center of Burning Man Project. Our executive producer is Daryl Van Rhey. Our regular host is Stuart Mangrum. Our producers are Andie Grace and me, Logan Mirto, our technical producer and story editor is Michael Vav. Our liaison to the digital spirit world is Devin from the Internet, our graphical guru is Tanner Boeger.
Our intro theme was cooked up by Jay Kanizzle, and our correspondents are each and every one of you. Please send your show ideas, any letters, any suggestions, any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are always appreciated donate.burningman.org. And thanks for being here today. And thanks Larry.