Burning Man faces existential threat

The Electric Fencepost

Aerial View of Black Rock City

We’ve reported a few times recently on the ongoing permit issues that Burning Man has with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), who want to impose a number of significant demands. For more background info, have a look here.

As part of this wrangling over the permit, which would also include an increase of attendance from 70,000 to 100,000 over the next few years, BLM has hosted a couple of events to discuss the proposed requirements. The most recent one was held on 8 April, and was attended by representatives of Burning Man, BLM, Burners, locals and environmentalists.

Emotions ran high over what is acceptable for Burning Man as a environmentally conscious event, and also aligned with the principles at the heart of Black Rock City.  To support this, Burners in attendance were vocal in their opposition to BLM demands, some of which certainly seem unreasonable and at odds with the ethos of Burning Man, along with the perception that BLM has a generally unfavourable view of Black Rock City.

Lastly, locals and environmentalists presented what the environmental impact on the Playa and surrounding areas actually is, especially given a proposed increase in numbers. In particular, air quality was highlighted as a real health issue with several long term Burners having developed respiratory issues due to exposure and inhalation to toxic Playa dust. Based on internationally accepted measurements, air quality at Black Rock is worse during the event than in the world’s most polluted cities, and whilst it may be from natural causes, the dust plume also impacts other communities and residents in the area. Other environmental impact on the Playa is that the delicate eco and hydrologic system is experiencing disturbances due to vehicle and foot traffic, no matter how careful organisers and Burners are.

Burning Man becomes Nevada’s third largest metropolitan area every year, and despite the best efforts made by the organisers and Burners, this article from the Reno Gazette makes some interesting points regarding the BLM environmental impact report, which formed the basis for the admittedly quite harsh proposed requirements, and the meeting itself.

This article on Burning Man’s website gives more detail on individual elements of the environmental impact and proposed solutions. These permit issues hit at the heart of what the BLM wants to achieve, what the impact is on locals, and most importantly, how the event can keep growing in a sustainable and low impact manner whilst staying true to the essence that makes it so special.