2023 Burning Man Festival Clouded in Controversy

By Ava Small

A climactic end to a chaotic weekend: On Sunday afternoon, Aug. 27, tens of thousands of festival-goers attempted to flee the Black Rock City, Nevada desert after being trapped by mud at Burning Man. Heavy rains forced officials to close exit gates leaving attendees stranded in their vehicles.

Burning Man is an immersive art festival best described by its founders as a “temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” 

However, this year was not like the ones before. The harsh environmental conditions challenged the free-spirited ambiance that has historically been at the core of Burning Man’s appeal.

“The community was well prepared for a weather event like this,” having practiced drills and “engaged full-time on all aspects of safety,” said Burning Man organizers. 

Authorities are still investigating one man’s death at the festival. Despite the extreme circumstances and 70,000 people stuck, there were no other major incidents to report. 

Most festival-goers did not let the conditions dampen their time. Many tried to make the most out of it by dancing in the mud to techno music.

“The party’s still going, it’s business as usual,” said one festival-goer. 

According to event organizers, the festival emits 10,000 tons of CO2 annually. The burning wood releases carbon that has been stored over decades. It is more than just trash, Burning Man is known for its tradition of setting ablaze intricate sculptures. Each year many have their doubts and want alternatives, yet the rituals stand. 

It is not yet clear how event organizers are going to meet environmental and sustainability goals. 

One of Burning Man’s 10 Guiding Principles is “Leaving No Trace.” 

“Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them,” states the Burning Man official website.

According to Insider Business many attendees who fled during the storm left behind trash and supplies. 

“They’re forgetting the core principles of the burn,” said Jeffrey Longoria, festival attendee. “The erosion of those core principles might be in part because many of the festival’s original attendees have gotten older, and there’s a wave of newer attendees.”. 

Organizers did not comment on how the storm will affect the cleanup timeline.

Burning Man’s reputation collapsed as this year’s annual gathering started with a controversial climate protest that blocked the entrance to the festival. 

“Non-violent climate protesters are ordinary people exercising a basic democratic right, in an attempt to protect us all from catastrophe,” said Margaret Klein Salmon, executive director for the Climate Emergency Fund. “They deserve our respect and support, but instead, they were met with violence and repression.”

Some have been sharing what really transpired at the event.

“Burning Man attendees called in a fake police report that climate activists blocking the road were waving guns at them, which resulted in the cops brutalizing and ramming the protesters,” said @Anarchitect918 on “X, formerly known as Twitter”.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, Burning Man has three weeks to clean up from the festival. 

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