Burning Man, the transient bacchanal that attracts more than 70,000 partygoers to the remote Nevada desert for eight days every August, prides itself on its environmental bona fides. One of the festival’s main operational tenets is “leave no trace,” an essentially impossible feat for an event of its size. The Burning Man Project, the organization that runs the festival, has set a goal of becoming “carbon negative” — removing more emissions from the environment than the festival produces — by 2030. 

It’s a tall order: The festival generates around 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of burning over 100 million pounds of coal. A series of disasters at this year’s festival have brought the gap between Burning Man’s rhetoric and reality into sharp relief: First, a half dozen protesters demanding stronger environmental commitments from the organization blocked the festival’s entrance for roughly an hour before they were forcibly removed. Days later, torrential rain — the kind of event made more likely and extreme by climate change — stranded revelers in a dystopian free-for-all. But the greatest irony of all may be Burning Man’s less-publicized opposition to renewable energy in its own backyard.

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