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Should We Attribute the Burning Man Disaster to Climate Change?
Blog...Should We Attribute the Burning Man Disaster to Climate Change?

Should We Attribute the Burning Man Disaster to Climate Change?

Ecology News
Global Warming
bikes parked in black rock city nevada
Why is what happened this past week at Burning man a wake up call to the negative effects of climate change, and how could this inspire people to take action once and for all?
Ecology News
bikes parked in black rock city nevada

From Coachella, to the Outside Lands, to Burning Man – infamous outdoor festivals and gatherings are beginning to face a similar issue that could threaten the future vitality of these popular events : climate change.

Burning Man, an annual week-long camp out in the desert which strives to bring those interested in art and self-expression, recently underwent trouble when campers were left stranded on muddy campgrounds – which are usually bone dry and suitable for long-term camping.

Why is what happened this past week at Burning Man a wake up call to the negative effects of climate change, and how could this inspire people to take action once and for all?

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a week-long camping retreat that occurs once a year in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada in the United States. Burning Man usually happens in late August or early September, and attracts people for its quirky persona, unique ideals, and unconventional events. self-expression ideals. Having started out as a niche, more underground camping retreated for quieter free-spirits – Burning Man now draws in numerous Hollywood stars, tech elites, and other wealthy A-listers to attend.

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Some of the values of Burning Man include:

  • Self-Expression which includes allowing those in attendance at Burning Man to dress freely and wear eccentric costumes, create elaborate art projects, or express themselves in any other artistic way they choose.
  • Community as the event brings together like minded people interested in art and self-expression to “survive” in the desert for a few days. This creates a tacit bond between the other campers as they will rely on others for food, water, shelter, and momentary companionship. 
  • Art is a key point of Burning Man, as there are often many art exhibits for display on-site either brought by individuals or groups. All types of art, from visual pieces to interactive ones, are encouraged at Burning Man. 
  • Participation is greatly encouraged at Burning Man, as those in attendance are expected to partake in the artistic and self-expression activities rather than just being there as a viewer. Examples of participating include creating art, hosting a workshop, organizing a theme camp, or volunteering. 
  • “Leave No Trace” is an imperative part of Burning Man, as participants are expected to leave the desert as they found it – which means no littering or tampering with the land. Ultimately, sustainability is a key part of Burning Man.

Last but not least, Burning Man does include an actual Burning of the Manwhich is often noted as the climax of the week-long camping retreat. A large wooden man is burned, usually on the Saturday of the retreat, alongside other momentous celebrations such as music and fireworks.

This is how Burning Man began, as in 1986 – artist Larry Harvey and his friend took an eight-foot tall figure resembling a man to a beach in San Francisco and burned it for the summer solstice. People began showing up every year, and it turned into a ritual that moved to the desert – creating what Burning Man is today.

In addition to these hallmark qualities, there are also ten main principles of Burning Man:

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Decommodification
  3. Gifting
  4. Radical Self-Reliance
  5. Radical Self-Expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leave No Trace
  9. Participation
  10. and Immediacy

👉 The ten principles of Burning Man are essential to shaping the culture at this annual camping event, and have helped to make Burning Man what it is today. 

Even as Burning Man continues to evolve over the years, its core ideals have continued to entice campers – with 80,000 attendees in 2022 alone.

people walking to burning man

Where does Burning Man usually take place and why?

Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert in the state of Nevada every year – which is located approximately 142 miles (228 kilometers) from Reno. 

👉 Burning Man originated in San Francisco, but moved to the desert after four years due to local authorities expressing their concern over the potential fire hazard. This tradition proceeded to occur out in the middle of the desert, in Black Rock City – isolated from the rest of civilization and other potential complaints. 

Known as the driest state in the U.S., Nevada is infamous for having dry, hot summers and mild winters – with rainstorms highly unlikely and snow precipitation to only occur in the mountains near Lake Tahoe and Reno. In a sense, Nevada is a highly desirable location amongst many Americans – as multiple climates can be accessed within a short driving distance while still maining a main residence with a moderate climate. 

However, the weather in Nevada can differ depending on where you are in the state. Las Vegas is known for excruciating summers and mild winters, but more desert regions (such as Black Rock Desert where Burning Man takes Place) are bound to experience extremely cold winters.

view of las vegas

Is what happened at Burning Man 2023 due to climate change?

What’s typically a dry campground for thousands of those looking to attend Burning Man turned into a dangerous mud bath due to an unprecedented summer storm.

Roads were closed, and any temporary roads used for Burning Man’s “village” turned into rivers – leaving nearly 70,000 campers stranded on Burning Man grounds looking for a way to leave. Exodus operations to retrieve stranded retreat goers began on Monday when the driving ban was lifted. Many attendees and celebrities alike (famous D.J. Diplo and Chris Rock were at Burning Man 2023) had to trudge through miles of muddy ground just to make it to the nearest road and escape Burning Man safely.

However, many campers were reluctant to be picked up despite the unfavorable weather conditions – remaining on the campgrounds in high spirits believing that the muddy terrain would clear up in time to allow the annual traditions to ensue.

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It’s valid to wonder if the unusual muddy circumstances at Burning Man this year were influenced by climate change – something that has been raging across the country and has been “practically declared” as a national emergency. 

The rain storms that left attendees of Burning Man were more than just “mudded in” was more than just a nuisance, but actually a threat to the safety of those who opted to join the annual event. 

While rain is expected in Nevada in the late summer and early fall – what happened at Burning Man is likely an exception caused by climate change. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, heavier summer rainfalls are increasing in likelihood and severity in the southwestern region due to global warming. In short, what happened at this year’s Burning Man could only be a preview of what’s to come in the future. 

In addition to this, NASA recognizes that a 7 percent increase in moisture in the air (also due to climate change and a warmer atmosphere) may have aided in this year’s muddier Burning Man. 

👉 Ultimately, Black Rock City in Nevada (where Burning Man takes place) is prone to muddy ground – but not to the same extent or extreme as it occurred in August and September 2023. This can be attributed to climate change, as warming temperatures are allowing for more moist atmospheres which elicit heavier precipitation. Vast amounts of rain needed to create the muddy conditions that were seen at Burning Man 2023.

view of red rock nevada

How could what happened at Burning Man be a turning point?

For some people, nothing is real until you see it with your own eyes – and those who struggled to escape Burning Man 2023 might finally have a different perspective on climate change.

This is because when people experience a specific circumstance where climate change impacts an activity that they are looking forward to, they are likely to finally view it as a threat. Seeing that Burning Man is a well-known camping retreat in the United States, and that over 90 million people in the country consider themselves to be campers – this can encourage people to realize that our daily actions could be harming our chances at enjoying recreational activities, like camping at Burning Man. 

👉 Did you know? Almost 60 million Americans go camping every year! 

In addition, the most recent and muddiest Burning Man might finally shed light on some of the controversy and criticism Burning Man has faced over the years – which have included commentary on the environmental impact of the annual camping retreat and the potential issues that could arise from thousands of people camping out in the desert.

This already happened at Burning Man 2023, where nearly 70,000 people found themselves trapped in deep mud with sparse food and water supplies. Events like this can engrain eco-anxiety in people’s minds and motivate them to change their behavior in the future, and in this case – in regards to the environment. 

For instance, a camping retreat like Burning Man, which welcomes thousands of people every year – could be seen as a safety hazard given the risk of water contamination, lack of viable or available resources for survival, and the inability for reliable communication in the event of an emergency. As climate change continues to worsen, the likelihood of emergencies is likely to increase as well – meaning Burning Man would have to adapt its event to remain safe for both people and the planet.

people dressed in costumes for burning man

How can Burning Man adapt alongside climate change?

Traditions evolve, and if Burning Man is determined to continue for decades to come – it’ll have to adjust accordingly, too.

First off, areas where Burning Man takes place such as desert land isn’t a very climate resilient place to hold the infamous annual event. This is because the grounds in desert areas such as those found in Black Rock City are made up of soil that is prone to form mud when extensive rainfall occurs. In fact, this year’s access to Burning Man was delayed due to intense rainfall due to Hurricane Hilary – which was no secret to those who were planning to attend this year’s Burning Man.

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Many of us may have the image of Black City Nevada, where Burning Man takes place, to be this perpetually dry, desert area – which isn’t the case. Studies have shown that the “remote, complex environment” is most likely a mud bath all winter-long when the rainy season occurs. This doesn’t make Black Rock City conducive to holding recreational events like Burning Man.

There are a few simple solutions and compromises that could be made to keep the tradition of Burning Man alive while also prioritizing safety. For instance, greater contact with nearby cities such as Reno should be paramount – ensuring that there will be resources and rescue missions available in the event it is necessary. 

Also, Burning Man would benefit from picking another desert area that is closer to a large city – such as Indio, California (where Coachella has been hosted for the past several years). 

Ultimately, climate change played a role in this year’s disaster with thousands seeking to escape Burning Man – but the annual event’s efforts to “Leave No Trace” alongside its other main ten principles illustrate hope for the event future.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about what happened at Burning Man in 2023 has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Keeping up with all the ways climate change can have a profound impact on events and companies can be daunting, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help your company to build climate resilience and remain functional during a natural disaster. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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