Nevada's Burning Man Festival Raises Environmental Concerns

People at the 2023 festival faced extreme weather. But many are also questioning the impact on the environment
The 2022 Burning Man festival in Nevada
The 2022 Burning Man festival in NevadaRAW-films/Shutterstock

The iconic Burning Man festival held in the dusty, dry lake bed of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, has been in the news of late due to extreme weather. A summer storm and torrential rains, according to, converted the week-long counterculture event into a muddy mess, with flooding and mudslides. The storm left tens of thousands of partygoers stranded in ankle-deep muck with no working toilets.

Between September 1 and 3, the area in northwest Nevada received 2 to 3 months' worth of rain. The heavy rain created thick, clay-like mud that festivalgoers complained was too difficult to walk or ride through.

The 2023 festival has had several stumbling blocks related to its impact on the environment. On August 27, a group of climate change activists blocked the only entrance and exit to the Burning Man Festival. The barricade was set up by a group of individual activists known as the Seven Circles Alliance to protest the festival's commercialisation, which they claim is contrary to Burning Man's counterculture roots. Members of the group shackled themselves to a caravan by the side of the road while holding posters reading "Abolish capitalism" and "Mother Earth needs our help."

The Issues With Burning Man

Burning Man promotes itself as the world's largest Leave No Trace event, however the weeklong celebration, which attracts over 80,000 people to the Nevada desert, has a significant, albeit dispersed, environmental impact.

Whether it's the generators running air conditioning inside luxurious RVs or the vehicles sucking garbage from the 1,600 port-a-potties that are constantly filling up.

Environmental activists also point to the vast quantities of gas-guzzling transportation used by attendees to come to the festival. The great majority of guests use their vehicles to drive here. And people travel in airplanes, flying in from all around the world. This year, reports say that the Burning Man airport was expecting around 2,000 aeroplane arrivals and departures during the week. Planes also land directly on the desert floor at the improvised airport.

Then there are the thousands of cases of bottled water and cooler packs full of beer.

The festival is famed for its larger-than-life, often surreal sculptures, such as the annual centrepiece 75-foot-high Burning Man building. These are burnt during the festival, causing pollution. In 2019, organisers noted that "burning art creates atmospheric pollution" and invited participants to seek "alternatives to burning." Moreover, the venue is only a few hours' drive from Reno, which is said to be among the world's fastest-warming cities.


Can The Festival Become Carbon-Negative?

According to reports from 2019, Burning Man acknowledged the carbon emissions it generates and encouraged attendees to seek alternatives to burning as part of a strategy to become carbon-negative by 2030.

The festival, which attracts 80,000 people each summer in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, has developed a draught sustainability strategy after estimating its carbon footprint to be 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.

However, several experts say that Burning Man, with its huge attendee numbers and accompanying consumerism, cannot escape a negative environmental impact.

Meanwhile, reports say that of the 100 percent average carbon emissions produced at music festivals, two-thirds, or 80 per cent, are generated by attendee travel. Then there is the waste—from plastic water bottles to beer and soda cans, food packaging, and more. According to reports, Coachella, Stagecoach, and Desert Trip, three of the biggest music events in the US, each produce about 100 tons of solid waste per day. The typical festival emits 500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the weight of three single-storey houses, according to research by Greener Festival, which analysed data from events held in 17 countries. Several music festivals and organisations are trying to change the situation. Read more about it here.

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