The annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert does not seem like the type of event that would draw environmental protests against it.
An event that celebrates art and creativity and that historically has the mantra of “leave no trace” would outwardly seem to have some sustainable values at heart.
But that’s not necessarily the case, and the Seven Circles organization, which includes activist collaborators Extinction Rebellion and Rave Revolution, made a stand against the event’s lack of environmental concern by blocking the only road leading to the event, The Hill reported.
What was the protest about?
Seven Circles has criticized the festival for its slow progress in achieving its carbon pollution goals and ecological regeneration of what becomes of Black Rock City — the area where visitors set up a temporary community for the duration of the Burning Man Festival.
In a statement, Seven Circles said: “The group believes that Burning Man’s apolitical stance to date is detrimental to its claimed values, especially as carbon emissions continue to rise despite government and corporate commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by more than half by 2030.”
The organization also accused Burning Man organizers of “greenwashing” — a term used for making false or misleading statements to claim sustainable values but either not following through or not living up to those standards.
While Burning Man began with humble origins, it now brings around 80,000 people to Black Rock City every year (according to the Reno Gazette-Journal), and many of those visitors travel in dirty fuel–powered vehicles to get there. That’s not to mention the need for polluting heavy trucks to help set up the site’s infrastructure.
In addition, the event is now attracting celebrities and richer attendees, and private jet use to arrive at the festival has been a growing concern in recent years because of the significant planet-warming gases these planes emit.
A protest and a warning
In an ironic turn of events, this year’s Burning Man festival was hit by severe flooding. A desert rainstorm — perhaps made worse, or more likely, by pollution leading to warmer temperatures and humidity that produces clouds and precipitation — turned the land to mud and prevented vehicles from entering or exiting the site.
According to Reuters, tens of thousands of people were stranded and encouraged to conserve food and water. There was one death at the festival, although the publication reported that it’s not clear if it was weather-related.
The weather disaster at the festival highlighted the importance of the protestors’ actions and the urgency needed in dealing with the overheating of our planet.
What has Seven Circles demanded?
The protest group has called for Burning Man organizers to be more honest about their sustainability targets and the likelihood of achieving them while also eschewing their apolitical stances in favor of calling out those in power for lack of change regarding environmental protection.
Seven Circles also called for attendees to mobilize and participate in direct action, supporting general strikes to initiate such changes.
Finally, the group advocated for bans on private jets, single-use plastics, and unnecessary propane burning for future festivals.
Mun Chong, a Burner and organizer with Extinction Rebellion, said: “Burning Man should aim to have the same type of political impact that Woodstock had on counter-culture. If we are honest about system change, it needs to start at ‘home.’ Ban the lowest hanging fruit immediately: private jets. No single individual should have the luxury of emitting 10 to 20 times more carbon pollution than a commercial airline passenger. Burners, rebel with us.”
How can the protests help?
If nothing else, the actions of Seven Circles shed a light on the principles of Burning Man and its alleged lack of climate awareness.
But it could also encourage both festival organizers and festivalgoers to be more active in improving sustainability and using the event’s platform to encourage more comprehensive systemic change beyond Black Rock City.
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