Dousing a big fire in Nevada
When climate change interferes with a hot jol in the desert
The pictures from Black Rock City, Nevada, (temporary) population 80,000, show scenes not unlike Flanders Fields circa July 1916.
Hectares of mud. Vehicles bogged down to their axles. People up to their knees in gloop. Others coated in grey muck, heaving bicycles through the ordure. More people huddled outside tents, turning their wet faces to the freezing sky.
Welcome to Burning Man 2023, where 130mm of rain fell in a single night, turning the Playa, the expanse of wind-scoured desert where the annual art bacchanal takes place, into a quagmire.
As the rain began to fall, many “burners” opted not to stay for the final burn, when the wooden artworks are set alight, but caused an eight-hour traffic jam instead as they fled to the one and only exit to the road to Reno.
With vehicles consumed by mud, the authorities closed the road and festival organisers urged the remaining 70,000 burners — about 3½ times the number of British dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme — to “shelter in place”.
There were lashings of Schadenfreude that those compelled to stay included various one-percenters whose charter aircraft could also not depart from the mud-strewn temporary airport. Fair do, as they don’t say in these parts.
From its humble start on a San Francisco beach in 1986 to today with its fleets of RVs, sprawling theme camps and dance rigs powered by diesel generators, not to mention the fiery artworks, Burning Man generates, according to Vox website, about 100,000t of CO2 in eight days, or as much as 22,000 petrol-powered cars in a year.
This year, though, climate change had the last word. Can you spell irony?
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