‘Burning Man attracts the elite of the elites to party and pretend they’re in a classless, moneyless society’
Burning Man’s reputation has shifted significantly since it was founded in the mid-80s. Once a space for radical creatives and unbridled hedonism, the festival – which is held in the barren Black Rock Desert – is now an annual retreat for celebrities, influencers, and the Silicon Valley elite, who often rock up in luxurious, air-conditioned mobile homes. Once regarded as a bohemian utopia with space for experimental artworks and a ban on cash transactions, it’s now just regarded as A Bit Embarrassing.
According to protestors from a coalition of climate groups that have roadblocked this year’s event, Burning Man is also a bastion of privilege and hypocrisy.
On Sunday (August 27), a number of activists blocked the two-lane highway that leads to the Nevada festival ground, standing in the road or chaining themselves to a 28-foot trailer. Their demands? A ban on taking private jets to the event, as well as cutting out single-use plastics and the unlimited use of generators and propane.
Holding banners with slogans including “Burners of the World, Unite!” and “Abolish Capitalism”, the protestors represented Seven Circles, a group that brings together organisations such as Extinction Rebellion, Rave Revolution, and Scientist Rebellion. According to the New York Post, the demonstration aimed to highlight “capitalism’s inability to address climate’s ecological breakdown” and the “popularisation of Burning Man among affluent people who do not live the stated values of Burning Man, resulting in the commodification of the event”.
“Burning Man attracts the elite of the elites to party and pretend they’re in a classless, moneyless society,” said Tommy Diacono, co-founder of Rave Revolution. “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.”
Causing a traffic jam that backed up the highway for more than an hour, the protest was eventually broken up by police officers (which is ironic, given the event’s anarchic roots). Video shows the rangers ramming their truck through the barricade, before an officer appears to point a gun at protestors and make arrests. Several are now due to appear in court in October.
The organisers of Burning Man are supposedly making an effort to transition to a greener festival, as outlined in their 2023 sustainability report. This includes a goal to make the whole event carbon-negative by 2030. However, Seven Circles argues that the commitments are “insufficient to tackle the pressing crisis”.
The recent protest was complicated by the fact that it took place on tribal land, belonging to the Paiute Tribe, who clashed with the activists prior to the arrival of officers from the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribal police department. Members of the Paiute Tribe have also been outspoken – alongside Burning Man itself – about green energy proposals in the area, suggesting they could endanger local wildlife. By 2019, Burning Man reportedly generated 100,000 tons of CO2 annually. According to organisers, almost 90 per cent of emissions are related to transportation, with around 80,000 people descending on the desert every year.