Photo Credit: Burning Man Festival, Peter Ross

Over the past weeks, dramatic shots from the Burning Man Festival in Nevada plagued the headlines. Due to unprecedented rainfall, the event, taking place every year in the Black Rock desert, turned into a mudbath. Over 72,000 people found themselves stuck in the mud, and one man was reported to have died, although organisers claim his death was unrelated to the extreme weather.

The festival, founded in June 1986, has been taking place in the Black Rock desert since 1990. Tickets for the festival sell out in days, and the interest to enter some of the most sought-after camps is so great that attendees must partake in interviews before being admitted to show their dedication to the festival’s principles.

The festival proves that money rules the world. Burning Man became a haven for directors of start-ups and tech moguls. The official ticket costs 450 USD, but their numbers are limited. Experts thus estimate that the average price for a ticket is 5,000 USD and can reach up to 20,000 USD. That limits the structure of attendees that can attend. The naive idea of the founder, Larry Harvey, about radical inclusivity, faces a real test. Officially, there is no VIP zone at the festival. Still, they offer glamping for the wealthiest visitors. The fact remains: Burning Man has become profitable, generating between 10 and 20 million USD profit each year (the budget is just shy of 50 million USD). The organisers last published the budget numbers in 2018: https://burningman.org/expenses/expenses-2018/. That year, the budget amounted to 44 million USD. According to statistics by the US Department of Treasury, the budget in 2019 was 46 million dollars.

Utopic city resembling a post-apocalyptic film

The utopic city became the headline of all global media due to extreme rainfall. Once described as a hybrid between Woodstock and Mad Max, this year, the festival radically resembled the post-apocalyptic film. I am convinced you have read an article, watched a video or seen a dramatic report from the event in recent days. The elementary idea of moving the limits of what is possible is on trial. The festival’s commendable idea to only provide basic infrastructure, security and lavatories and leave the rest to the attendees has clashed with nature’s might. We believe they will have to rewrite their legendary survival guide that notes what is permissible and what is strictly forbidden. You can read it here: https://survival.burningman.org/.

Photo Credit: Burning Man Festival, Leo Horthy

Burning Man Festival has also been making the news for its sustainable initiatives. To get familiar with their sustainable approach, we recommend watching their video with a telling title: Burning Man 2023 Sustainability Report: Year Four Update. The organisers also publicly shared the event’s carbon footprint, amounting to 100,000 tonnes of CO2. According to their calculations, up to 90% of it is generated by the transport of attendees.

In 2022, the festival was affected by droughts and wildfires, while this year, the other side of climate change resulted in catastrophic rainfall in the midst of a desert. Environmental protests have also accompanied the festival for several years for several reasons. First and foremost, the founder’s mission of radical inclusion has been neglected. In addition, the festival needs countless diesel generators to produce electric energy (diesel also powers several RVs that were stranded in the mud). Third, the planet’s wealthiest tech moguls plant trees instead of undertaking proper sustainable projects. The festival seems an apt opportunity for so-called green activities, as Burning Man has several manifests and protocols for the wealthy to exploit.

The festival is a testament to the fact we must start making radical changes to adapt to the climate crisis. Despite their eccentric nature, some events will not take place in parts of the world anymore.

People running off into an artificially crafted dream world, created by Burning Man for decades, do not contribute to saving the planet. Nature brutally showcased what it means to be free from the commodities and challenges of the modern world. Attendees woke up from the festival’s dream world into a stark reality that had no connection to a society without laws and order. From a good practice case for event organisers, Burning Man has transformed into a farce that will be discussed in the same breath as Fyre Festival.

Nature seems to have taken a piss out of the sustainable aspirations of the world’s elite attending the festival.

The reality is that Burning Man had already been drifting from its goal to become a carbon-neutral event by 2030.

Should the project continue in the middle of Nevada, scientists must first prove it is possible to host it in a desert. They must make a comprehensive risk assessment, not to mention all the measures event organisers take to ensure the safety and security of the attendees.

If the event continues on its charted course, radical climate activities will organise protests to stop it. Many remain unfazed by the frivolous words and fancy protocols the organisers publish. Tommy Diacono, the co-founder of the Rave Revolution movement, said this about the festival: “Burning Man attracts the elite of the elites to party and pretends they’re in a classless, moneyless society, but more private jets than ever are flying to the Burn. We’re burning propane for fun. The air-conditioned domes are getting bigger every year.”

The rhetorical excesses of the organisers came to a brutal halt by nature’s force. The exodus scenes of attendees fleeing the venue will serve as a bleak reminder that greed and endless growth have limits. A noble and commendable idea degenerated into a travesty.

Editorial by Gorazd Čad

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