Beyond Burning Man
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Beyond Burning Man

Climate Change Is an Existential Threat to Black Rock City

The Fly Ranch pyrg (Pyrgulopsis bruesi) was part of Charismatic Metafauna, a 2022 Black Rock City piece by Gray Davidson and Majorelle Arts. The pyrg is now at Fly Ranch. This tiny freshwater snail lives in only one pool at Fly Ranch and is at risk because of climate change. (Photo by Joe Childs)

Progress On Black Rock City’s 2030 Sustainability Goals

Five weeks before the 2019 Black Rock City event, Burning Man Project published The 2030 Sustainability Roadmap. The organization committed to be regenerative, be carbon negative, and sustainably manage waste by 2030. We noted in The Roadmap that this is a communal effort: “The organization is not dictating something; we are setting the vision and inviting the community to help.”

Source: @southernbeams

2021 Climate Change on the Ground

In 2020 and 2021 I primarily lived at Fly Ranch, Burning Man’s 3,800 acre ranch in Northern Nevada. Roughly 60 to 250 people visited Fly every week for around 30 weeks in 2021. People camped in a heatwave, managed 150 cows, stewarded the land, took nature walks and Labyrinth walks, and served as Fly Guardians. Conditions were a mix of beautiful and brutal. Climate change impacted Fly Ranch and the neighboring Hualapai Flat in 2021 in the following ways:

Our Dual Challenge: Take Action & Adapt

Nikki Caravelli, a Burner and climate resilience planner in Sacramento, sent us valuable feedback on the 2021 Sustainability Update. Subsequently, Burning Man Project folks wrote a memo with her. She spoke on the 2022 BMP sustainability call. Nikki’s message was clear: climate change is already impacting us and will continue to make conditions more challenging. See her here:

Year-round Climatic Risks in the Black Rock Desert

The Nevada Climate Initiative projects that year-round climatic shifts will continue to impact the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, and beyond. The severe dust and heat we experienced during event week in 2022–and especially during Exodus–could become commonplace. The harsh winds and dust dunes we experienced before and after event week could become common and complicate, delay, and severely impact builds and Playa Resto. If we tried to move the event timing or location we’d face issues. Increasingly, in the Black Rock Desert we can expect:

Climate Adaptation at Fly Ranch

We plan to have peak activity and gatherings at Fly in May and early June. May is often pleasant and seems to present the lowest cancellation risk from fire, smoke, and heat. We plan to make climate resilient, regenerative systems (see LAGI 2020). We will host events that could scale and create the conditions for sustainable events at Fly Ranch.

Photo of Lodgers. Lodgers: Serendipity in the Fly Ranch Wilderness by Zhicheng Xu and Mengqi Moon brings together composting toilets, reclaimed timber waste, traditional thatching methods using local materials, computational script-generated parametric design, and native species shelters to provide an environmental education venue, soil replenishment, sustainable waste management, and habitat enrichment for Fly Ranch. See @burningman post for more LAGI 2020 pictures.

Land Stewardship, Restorative Justice, and Decolonization

From my perspective, those least culpable in the climate crisis are those most vulnerable to its impacts — including tribal and low-income communities. At a local level, BRC participants and Burning Man Project staff (myself included) are primarily settlers, often white, and have a negative ecological impact on occupied Numu land (Northern Paiute). At a global level, settler colonialism, systemic racism, patriarchy, unchecked extractive capitalism, and the symptoms of these systems are inextricably linked to climate change and biodiversity loss (see graph in appendix ii).

An Opportunity to Accelerate Change

Black Rock City is the cultural hub for the global Burning Man community. It will serve Black Rock City and everyone in our community to concurrently work on sustainability and plan for adaptation and resilience. I think there will be three general buckets and scenarios for future years:

The Hualapai Flat from the LAGI Campout (Photo by Alexander Dzurec)



Dispatches on impact and innovation from Black Rock City and beyond.

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