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Climate change induced flooding at Burning Man festival leaves thousands stranded in Nevada desert

bob wick | flickr

More than 70,000 people were stranded in the Nevada desert due to flooding at the Burning Man festival on Sept. 1.

Black Rock Desert, a 4,000-acre dry lake bed, received up to 0.8 inches of rainfall or around two months’ worth of rain in the span of 24 hours. 

On Sept. 2, Burning Man organizers asked festival goers, also known as “burners” to shelter in place or leave the muddy playa on foot.  The mud was so thick and sticky that some attendees walked barefoot or placed plastic coverings over their shoes.

Climate experts said the excess rainfall was due to extreme weather caused by climate change.

“A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture,” climatologist and presidential distinguished professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science Michael Mann said. “So when conditions are favorable for rainfall to occur, as they are during the monsoon season, we expect more of it.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Nevada’s average rainfall and storm frequency is set to increase as the climate increases.

Burning Man’s temporary settlement faces excessive heat and dust storms every year, but heavy summer rainfall is unusual. Campers are typically allowed to set up a week before the festivities begin, but this was postponed due to rainfall from Tropical Storm Hillary.

Stranded campers were told to ration food, water and fuel until roads were reopened on Sept. 4.

The campsite is a “commerce-free” zone, meaning attendees are expected to bring and exchange supplies and services.

A 32-year-old man was found unresponsive on festival grounds but the weather conditions delayed investigation, local law enforcement said. First responders declared the man dead when they arrived at the scene. 

President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation and contacted local and state leaders to monitor the flooding.   

Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell believed the attention was unnecessary.

“We’ve made it really clear that we do not see this as an evacuation situation,” Goodell told NBC News. “The water is drying up.”

The remaining 64,000 ‘burners’ that stayed continued the festivities, including the famous ‘burning’ spectacle with fireworks exploding around a sculpture of a man. 

Burning Man is a popular party destination for Silicon Valley billionaires and celebrities. EDM DJ Diplo and actor Chris Rock reportedly attended this year’s festival and chronicled their experience on social media. 

Climate activists barricaded nearby roads and caused a traffic jam to protest the festival’s carbon dioxide footprint of 100,000 tons on Aug. 30. 

Tribal law enforcement rammed through the protestors’ barricade and handcuffed them at gunpoint. The officer who pulled a weapon is currently under review, according to Quartz.

“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,” activist Emily Collins said.

Activists like Collins have called on festival organizers to ban excess propane burning, unlimited generator use, single use plastic and private jets.

Most of Burning Man’s carbon waste is attributed to attendees traveling to and from the festival.

The festival has a “leave no trace” policy encouraging ‘burners’ to keep the area clean but locals have noticed that large quantities of trash are dumped in and around Lake Tahoe every year. 

Despite plans to be carbon negative by 2030, Burning Man Project hasn’t shared a specific strategy to combat these environmental damages. 

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About the Contributor
Mia Euceda, Arts & Culture Editor
Mia Euceda is the Arts & Culture  Editor for The Ticker.

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