23.2 C
New York
Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Climate Change Has Finally Come for Burning Man

When the history of Burning Man 2023 is written, it’s likely Diplo and Chris Rock deciding to trudge for five miles out of the festival site will be recorded as the point the fun stopped.

The musician and actor were forced to abandon their campsite by foot as torrential rains turned the Nevada desert, which hosts the annual hedonists’ festival, into a mud bath. The temporary roads throughout the vast festival site turned into rivers, and people who signed up for eight days of partying and dancing—Burning Man began on August 27—have instead been forced to plod through thick dirt. Many have resorted to rationing food and water as toilets fail and new supplies can’t reach the site because of treacherous conditions.

This year, rain, and plenty of it, has reduced Burning Man and Black Rock City, the festival’s 70,000-strong temporary settlement, to a quagmire. All routes in and out of Black Rock City have been closed to traffic to avoid the ground being torn up by repeated tire tracks. Attendees are being asked to choose between sheltering in place or trekking on foot through mud to escape.

The cause? Extreme weather wrought by climate change, which is resulting in increasing amounts of rain being dumped on the southwestern US states at this time of year. “These sorts of heavy summer rainfall events in the region are expected, as the well-known southwestern summer monsoon is expected to yield larger amounts of rainfall in a warming climate,” says Michael Mann, presidential distinguished professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science.

TikTok content

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

This year’s summer has been particularly hot in the Southwest: NASA Earth Observatory called this year’s heat wave “relentless.” That has a knock-on effect on potential rainfall. For every degree Celsius temperature increase, there’s a 7 percent increase in moisture in the atmosphere. “A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. So when conditions are favorable for rainfall to occur, as they are during the monsoon season, we expect more of it,” says Mann. And when that rainfall lands on the 4,000-acre dry lake bed that hosts Burning Man, it causes problems. The ground underfoot “consists of the sort of soil that easily creates a layer of mud when you add enough water,” says Mann. Campers know that: The launch of the event was delayed in late August because of rainfall from Hurricane Hilary. And research shows that the Black Rock playa, where Burning Man is based, turns into a mud bath in winter months when rain traditionally falls, “making the central portions almost entirely inaccessible for recreation.”

What Is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a weeklong festival held in the Nevada desert that attracts hedonists and the rich to party in a “utopian” community where commerce is banned and bartering is the main method of economics. Of course, you have to pay for some things—like entry, which starts at $575 but excludes camp fees, which can run into thousands of dollars, and supplies, which cost a similar amount.

Because Burning Man chooses to situate its event in the Nevada desert, resources, including food and generators, need to be trucked to the site—a challenge given heavy rain has made roads impassable. It’s this, in part, that explains why Chris Rock decided to abandon the event: In an Instagram Story, he posted that he understood portable toilets couldn’t be emptied, supplies delivered, and extra generators sent because of flooding.

Most PopularBusinessThe End of Airbnb in New York

Amanda Hoover

BusinessThis Is the True Scale of New York’s Airbnb Apocalypse

Amanda Hoover

CultureStarfield Will Be the Meme Game for Decades to Come

Will Bedingfield

GearThe 15 Best Electric Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

Adrienne So

But others haven’t given up. For Anya Kamenetz, who attended her first Burning Man in 2003, the rainfall hasn’t fazed her—or her fellow campmates. “We’re really prepared,” she says, though she admits that the weather’s impact means “you can’t get around the city at all.” Vehicles are banned from traveling around for fear of making the ground worse or getting stuck and blocking routes earmarked as exit routes for when it’s safe to leave. Those who choose to walk around the site can still party as always, but some have decided against doing so. Kamenetz and her campmates are continuing as normal, with some significant alterations. “We don’t know when we’re going to get drinking water—or if—or portapotty services, or fuel, or gray water services,” she says. As a result, they’re conserving as much water as possible. They're not urinating in the portapotties, but on the ground. “We’re not rationing food, but we’re just trying to make [sure] everyone is as thoughtful as possible,” she says. Showers are out—as is dishwashing.

TikTok content

This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

The rainfall began on the afternoon of September 1 around 1:30 pm and didn’t stop for about nine hours, Kamenetz says. “At first you’re like, ‘Well, it’ll clear up and we’ll go out more later.’ But then we were making dinner and [it] was like: ‘Wow, this is going to be impossible.’” By nightfall on September 2, with the ground turning from desert to quagmire, Kamenetz had resigned herself to being stuck on site. For how long that will be, she’s less sure. “Every time it rains more it sets the clock back a little bit,” she says. However, when there are breaks in the rain, the timescale gets expedited. On September 2, people were uncertain they’d get to leave before September 7; now they’re hopeful to be free sooner.

Kamenetz has been surprised by how well the 70,000-strong community has taken the weather’s impact on their party. “Burning Man people really pride themselves on first of all being prepared to confront the elements, and secondly, being cooperative and being in a good spirit,” she says. She has seen a few confrontations between those who are demanding to leave, getting into their cars and making a break for it, and other “Burners” (as attendees are called) who are stopping them, but mostly Kamenetz has seen people accepting their fate.

An annual getaway for hedonists and a particular subsection of the ultra-rich Silicon Valley tech community has always been a bit of an odd sell: Pitch up a vast, temporary city of 70,000 people every year, with attendees jetting in from all four corners of the globe to party. Some attendees of the event have repeatedly highlighted concerns about the impact the festival has on the planet. The event reports its carbon footprint to be 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide, more than 90 percent of which is accounted for by travel to and from the site. By comparison, the Glastonbury Festival’s carbon footprint is net negative, according to one analysis. Burning Man looks likely to miss its 2030 target of being carbon negative.

Most PopularBusinessThe End of Airbnb in New York

Amanda Hoover

BusinessThis Is the True Scale of New York’s Airbnb Apocalypse

Amanda Hoover

CultureStarfield Will Be the Meme Game for Decades to Come

Will Bedingfield

GearThe 15 Best Electric Bikes for Every Kind of Ride

Adrienne So

The climate impact of the event has long been known as a problem. Climate change protesters, including some Burners, picketed the road into and out of the Nevada desert where Burning Man takes place as the event was due to begin this year. Several were arrested. “One of the reasons we did this protest was because almost everyone involved was a Burner, and we saw the potential for that community to be able to make a real change,” says Emily Collins, a cofounder of the climate campaign group Rave Revolution, who was one of those picketing the event.

One Burner has previously written a Medium post titled “Climate Change Is an Existential Threat to Black Rock City,” the city that organizers create annually at the festival. Nikki Caravelli, a climate resilience planner in Sacramento, California, who regularly attends the event, cowrote a memo with organizers in August 2021 highlighting how the event had to adapt to the climate crisis. (Caravelli did not respond to a request for comment.)

But attendees should take note. “Mother Nature is not without a sense of irony, and surely she displayed it here,” says Mann. “What took place this year at Burning Man speaks profoundly to the message of the climate protesters who were shouted down by Burning Man only days earlier.” Mann thinks this could be a liminal moment for those in attendance. “The very sort of unbridled consumption and exploitation of nature that sadly now marks this event is precisely what is favoring the sort of extreme weather that this year turned the event into a scene from a disaster film.”

Related Articles

Latest Articles