You’ll notice this year’s Burning Man Temple looks a lot different than previous years’ laser cut jigsaw designs of David Best. Best has handed off the task to his previous lead engineers and architects, who’ve come up with a simple but striking concept composed of flat panels. But that’s not the most significant difference in this year’s Temple, as this year’s builders have a new ecological focus in which they’re using wood from trees killed by drought conditions and global warming.
“Throughout Nevada and California there are dramatic changes occurring in our forests,” tree scientist Lee Klingler notes on the Temple 2017 website. “Pines, oaks, and many other kinds of trees are dying in unprecedented numbers from diseases and pests such as Sudden Oak Death and pine bark beetles. Last year scientists reported more than 100 million dead trees in California, and just last month scientists reported over 800 million dead trees in Colorado. Indeed, all of the western US states are experiencing elevated levels of forest decline. Many point to climate change as the cause of this decline.”
Roughly 100 million trees have died in California forests over the course of the drought, according to Cal Fire estimates, all of which need to be cleared and burned to control fire risks. PG&E was tasked with clearing 300 large Ponderosa pine trees killed by bark beetles that were threatening power lines near Yosemite, and now those dead trees are getting a last bit of life at Burning Man.
“They could spark a wildfire, they could cause a power outage, they could fall into a home,” PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paolo told ABC 7 last month, who took a tour of both the Tuoulome County site where the trees were cut down and also the West Oakland studio where the trees were being repurposed into boards for the Temple. “Reuse and recycle is important to the folks who are participating in Burning Man, and it’s important to us as well.”
That wood has been milled into the 3,000 boards being used to create this year’s Temple. "It’s about a hundred thousand pounds of wood," Temple engineer Mark Sinclair told NBC Bay Area. "It’s not structural grade wood but it’s good enough for our purposes."
If you’ve never dragged yourself out to Burning Man, the Temple is one of the few solemn and sober installations where people build small shrines to their deceased friends. It’s symbolically pretty cool that the wood itself is also coming from dead trees this year. But more importantly, it’s a fantastic and sensible avoidance of waste that the Temple is made of wood that a big utility company was just going to torch anyway.