We dive into the Burning Man festival’s environmental challenges, namely how its principles are at odds with its practices.
Background on Burning Man
Originating from a small group of artists in San Francisco, Burning Man now attracts around 70,000 attendees annually in the Nevada desert. Attendees would argue it’s not just a festival—it’s a temporary city with guiding principles that resonate closely with sustainability, like radical inclusion, civic responsibility, and environmental protection.
Environmental concerns around Burning Man
As the event’s popularity has surged, so have environmental criticisms. Noteworthy issues include:
- Carbon footprint – Recent reports suggest that the festival generates an eyebrow-raising 100,000 tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to burning 100 million pounds of coal. It’s a statistic at odds with the festival’s ambition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
- Transportation – The festival’s predominant emissions culprit? Air travel, especially as the wealthy and elite increasingly frequent the event from far-off locations.
- On-site emissions – The evolution from rustic camping to diesel-powered installations and air-conditioned RVs significantly contributes to the festival’s carbon footprint.
- Weather: Emblematic of the climate crisis, this year’s event faced torrential rains, which left attendees stranded and forced to ration resources due to the desert’s impassability.
- Physical climate risks – Burning Man underscores the real physical risks businesses and events face due to climate change, especially as weather patterns shift.
- Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) – An environmental justice principle, NIMBY, highlights the challenges faced when socially privileged groups resist sustainable projects in their vicinity. A case in point is Burning Man’s opposition to a geothermal exploration project in the Black Rock National Conservation Area, raising questions about potential hypocrisy given the event’s own environmental impact.
Despite its foundational ideals, Burning Man is now forced to grapple with questions of its alignment with sustainable practices.
1. Wired, “Can Burning Man Pull Out of Its Climate Death Spiral?,” https://www.wired.com/story/burning-man-climate-death-spiral/ Accessed September 7, 2023
2. Grist, “Burning Man’s climate reckoning has begun,” https://grist.org/culture/burning-man-protest-mud-geothermal/ Accessed September 7, 2023