Mon 8 Apr 2019

To Burn or Not to Burn

Graeme McGregor Public Seen by 204

Hello. Temple and Effigy Co-Lead and all-round over-thinker, here.

While we fully intend to set this year's Temple and Effigy ablaze (in part because I have neither the money nor space to store materials), I think it would be good for us to discuss whether we want to make the burning of a temple and effigy a part of Burning Nest in the future.

While I think we can all agree that the carbon released into the atmosphere by our wee Burn is, in relative terms, pretty teeny, especially compared to much bigger global contributors, there is a question, for me, about whether we should unnecessarily be releasing any carbon into the atmosphere as a result of our event. Carbon released from burning wood is, in relative terms, very high (wood, growing over decades by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, stores a lot of carbon). And not burning the Temple and Effigy is a pretty straight-forward way that we could avoid doing that.

Some other points: I love the symbolism of the Burn. I love the somewhat nihilist destruction of it, the silly, primate awe and wonder of it, and the message it communicates about material transience (more important than ever, I think, in the face of our extinction).

But on the other hand, perhaps there are other ways to communicate these ideas and feelings without actually destroying nature so viscerally and literally.

Other regional Burns don't always burn their Temples and Effigies. I believe the Temple from AfrikaBurn will be going on tour, to engage local communities in Burner culture and to encourage young people in particular to engage in creative expression. By not burning their Temple, AfrikaBurn can also make more colourful, more participatory structures, as well as saving money and resources year on year by having the option of repurposing materials from previous years' structures.

I'd like to hear people's views on this below, including what the Burn means to you, how integral it is to you for a Burn event (and for Nest in particular), what alternatives there might be to burning our Temple and Effigy, and so on.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the potential irony and hypocrisy that the person who proposed and is co-creating the biggest Temple that Nest has ever burned, is also questioning the burning of the Temple and Effigy. If you're surprised by this, then you probably haven't met me. Hi.


Lozmatron Mon 8 Apr 2019

I like the burn but would equally be open to a different kind of ceremony if it is better for the environment.

If a decision was made to continue burning the temple and effigy, could we look into carbon offsetting?

Perhaps we could burn the effigy and keep the temple in future years? Although you're right to highlight that it is costly to store and Im not sure how packed out our storage onsite already is...


Simon Edwards Mon 8 Apr 2019

Personally I wouldn't worry. The carbon footprint of the whole event, all the vehicles getting people there - where do you stop? The best way would not to have Nest at all and I doubt anyone would advocate that.


Graeme McGregor Mon 8 Apr 2019

Yeah, no one is advocating that, because the end goal is to minimise our carbon emissions within practical limits, not to prevent all carbon emissions no matter the cost.

The problem with the argument you make is that, applied to this and other issues, we should never do anything to try and prevent climate change (or any other problem) because where would it stop? You could make the same argument about all kinds of things (and people do, all the time). For example, "If we allow same-sex marriage, then where do we stop? Do we allow people to marry animals? Do we allow incest? Child marriage?". It's called the Slippery Slope argument and is considered a logical fallacy.

My point was more that, if we can avoid releasing that carbon into the atmosphere without seriously undermining Burning Nest as an event - either practically, emotionally or symbolically - then why wouldn't we?


Simon Edwards Mon 8 Apr 2019

Hmm. I don't think I've seen anyone try and jump from the human right of same-sex marriage to non-consensual activities involving children and animals before. I'm not sure that qualifies as a slope.
As Yon says below, there are a multitude of ways to achieve better results than through avoiding a burn. And what happens to the things no longer burned? I doubt much could be re-used.


Graeme McGregor Mon 8 Apr 2019

It was a common argument during the struggle for same sex marriage. And you're right, it's nonsensical. But in rhetorical terms it belongs to the same set of logical fallacies as your point.

I do think Yon makes a good point, too. :)


Yon Mon 8 Apr 2019

To me burning the temple and effigy are central parts of a burn (even being part of the name).
There isnt really any communal ceremony that brings people together in the same way. It's primal and deeply significant. Having experienced many nowheres without burning I can say that you just don't get the same turn out or experience.

If carbon is the reasoning then there are by far more effective ways to reduce our carbon foot print. Organising buses, local food produce supplies, greener energies, getting several people to not fly in a year. Burning wood on this scale real has very little impact compared to SO many other things in our modern lives.

I think a burning some wood is worth the experience provided for the community.


Graeme McGregor Mon 8 Apr 2019

Thanks for that really thoughtful and reasonable response, Yon.

Which actually raises another point, for me: We should have an environmental review and project for Nest, to look at how we can collectively reduce our waste and carbon emissions. I won't have time to set anything up or seriously contribute until after this year's Nest (too busy arranging to burn things!), but it would be good to get that ball rolling and this is probably a good forum to do it in.

For example, I was thinking that a big, communal kitchen camp would be a great way to not only reduce food waste, packaging waste and our collective emissions, but also to reduce costs of attendance for a lot of people.


Lexy Mon 8 Apr 2019

Many camps have camp kitchens & camp meals.

And some camps feed the masses (eg Desanka)

Trying to do a kitchen to feed 500 people with zero infrastructure / buildings while not impossible, would be very difficult and the burden of effort would fall on a few.

Obviously if someone fancied doing this as a community driven project, then it would be welcomed and encouraged!

We do communal meals at Microburn and thats only for 100-150 people and thats challenging enough!


Graeme McGregor Mon 8 Apr 2019

Absolutely. I definitely wasn't suggesting one camp cooking for 500 people. However, I like the idea of a Kitchen Camp that cooks and provides food for people who aren't otherwise involved in camps with communal cooking.

Joining a camp can be prohibitively expensive, so this would be a cheaper option for those who can't afford to join a camp but would appreciate or benefit from communal meals. It would massively cut down on the waste and expense of Nest.

I think I'll look into it for next year. I know there's a big communal kitchen at Fire in the Mountain; I could chat to the people who run that about how they do it. :)


Lexy Mon 8 Apr 2019

I say BURN.

If you are going to focus on carbon emissions - then a much bigger impact is the traveling to get to Nest, and efforts would be better focused on facilitating community transport (coaches, ride share board, sharing info on trains and cheapest tickets available etc) than worrying about a teeny tiny burn.

Also the cathartic and bonding experience for the community is extremely valuable both to individuals and the community as a whole.


Lexy Mon 8 Apr 2019

And I wrote this before I read @yon1 's above ... Great minds think alike hey Yon ;)


Fran Ellis Mon 8 Apr 2019

Totally agree with Lexy and Yon that the impact of the burn is minimal compared to the myriad other ways we could improve our environmental footprint.

And a review sounds great - @graememcgregor1 we could start a thread and review as a community through Loomio on a rolling basis, perhaps collating it all into 'advice' for future burns?


Graeme McGregor Mon 8 Apr 2019

I'd be very up for being involved in this, but I will have to wait until after Nest as I've got too much going on til then.


Fran Ellis Mon 8 Apr 2019

Started a thread just to get a discussion going for now https://www.loomio.org/d/7ZvtoDQ4/reviewing-our-environmental-impact


xavier dubruille Mon 8 Apr 2019

i ll put my voice in the burn side, especially the temple actually.
because burning stuff is primal cf lhe bonfire all troughout the age but for the temple especially, because the temple is full of writing dedicated to dear friends and/or family who passed away and cannot be there to enjoy the shennanigan wee re doing. so burning the temple is burning the message and spread all these message to the atmosphere (or heaven depending of your level of faith) if we have to keep it, all these message will rot in a container which is a waste.....
After to have some structure in metal not burnable and have people fill the sculpture with message on small wood/paper that is another discussion


Bess Wed 10 Apr 2019

I've honestly wondered how the burning of 64 doors is going to work: in terms of combustability, additional material to act as accellerant & fuse, - has the option of dismantling and not burning the outer layer of the temple design, and burning the central section been considered?

I think burning for ritual is worthwhile, but that the resource intensity of designs is worth taking into account: having a bigger is better and each year must be bigger than the previous would be rubbish.


Graeme McGregor Wed 10 Apr 2019

I agree, but no one is proposing to make the Temple bigger every year. It's bigger this year, because that's part of the design and central concept (it wouldn't be much of a labryrinth with only one layer. Three layers deep was the minimal design).

Quick note and not wanting to sound like a dick: If you want to be involved in the Temple & Effigy designs and discussions, plans, etc, then feel free to join the Temple & Effigy Facebook group and take up a volunteer role within it. You'd honestly be super welcome. Sorry if you've already joined the FB group; there's a lot of people in it now but only some are actively contributing.

Re: this year's Temple (and not wanting to get into a big discussion about the pros and cons of the design), we are discussing how to manage the Burn and we have a few different options at this point that we're weighing up. In a nutshell, those are:

  • Burn the whole thing, as it stands, using accelerants, "burlap bombs", etc.
  • Take the doors off and stack them around a central pyre, but leave the frame structure intact, with some accelerant added to it, so that there is a grid of fire around the central pyre. Could look pretty cool.
  • Dismantle the whole thing and pile it up in a big bonfire and burn it.

I'd rather not do the latter because, visually, it's dull and seems a shame to me. At this point, it's most likely we'll go with option two.

Saving the doors isn't really an option as neither I, nor the Temple Team, have the time, money, energy, storage space or transport to store 60+ wooden doors in the hope that they can be resold or repurposed later. And, as noted, there's some strong support for having a Temple Burn as a central part of Nest.


Amandasm Fri 12 Apr 2019

Adopt-a-door policy? Perhaps a few doors could scavenged if someone is willing to take responsibility to take them home? Even with way less doors it will still be a big, cathartic fire. Just throwing it out there..


Graeme McGregor Fri 12 Apr 2019

Honestly, I really don't have the transport, space etc to deal with any unclaimed doors. It seems likely that if people "adopt" a door then they may not then want to or be able to collect it at the end of Nest, for all kinds of reasons. Unless they could then go into the on-site storage for a year, I can't take them with me. Some of them weigh a tonne. And, tbh, I have so much to do to make this happen at all, I don't really know if I have the time or energy to photograph or describe each door and then sort out a system for people to adopt one and take it with them when they leave. And for the amount of wood we would save as a result and the emissions we wouldn't release as a result, it really doesn't seem worth it. x


Ashley Wed 10 Apr 2019

I see the temple/effigy/art burning as being an expression of samsara - the cycle of creation and recreation - like a mandala that you painstakingly create and then destroy to highlight and meditate on the impermanence of all things. In the grand scheme of human endeavour the time and cost to create 60 doors is pretty small, the environmental cost of burning them is tiny (especially held against the rampant and vast industrial world we have devised) - but the value of building and burning to be observed by conscious beings who can take inspiration and enlightenment from the experience, and reflect on that and take those ideas back into the world to effect change, is potentially vast. Burn it in place, as a whole thing, a temporary, beautiful, intangible moment in time. If we're going to have a party to celebrate existing in the present moment we may as well.


[deactivated account] Thu 11 Apr 2019

The burn is the integral moment in time when we all gather to contemplate what called us to this place, in this moment in time, with these people. What has lead us here, what we’ve experienced here, and where our journey takes us from here. Fire is a cumulative spiritual connection that connects us, and allows us to be spiritually open as we enter a trance like state. So I feel, the burn is very important to me. But I totally understand not wanting to burn more than we need to. Why not find a local reclamation company, to come and get the doors, and burn the rest of the wood?


AussieFred Wed 17 Apr 2019

Damn we only ever made and now apply to make an Effigy year on year so we can burn it. Don't take the flames away from us :) Besides, its a community unifying moment, so good that even the famous Secret Garden Party stole it from BM and did it to great affect (claps Freddie).


Graeme McGregor Wed 17 Apr 2019

We can't take anything away from the community. That's not how decisions get made, eh?