VIDEO: Burning Man’s climate contradiction

September 7, 2023

The Week in Sustainability – September 4–8

Annual burn of the Burning Man

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.

More context

  • 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.

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1. Wired, “Can Burning Man Pull Out of Its Climate Death Spiral?,” Accessed September 7, 2023

2. Grist, “Burning Man’s climate reckoning has begun,” Accessed September 7, 2023

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Alyssa Rade
Alyssa Rade is the chief sustainability officer at Sustain.Life. She has over ten years of corporate sustainability experience and guides Sustain.Life’s platform features.
Sustain.Life Team
Sustain.Life’s teams of sustainability practitioners and experts often collaborate on articles, videos, and other content.
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