Why Can’t We Sue Burning Man?

Is there anything on this planet quite like Burning Man?

The answer is yes, and it’s called after work drinks at Goldman Sachs. Still, each year, 70,000 people flock to the dusty epicentre of lost souls that is the playa, manically searching for both the will to live and a decent engagement rate.

Though the cocaine-fuelled, dickhead-themed club night in the Nevada Desert vows to leave no trace, an estimated 49,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases were generated in 2017 by Black Rock City and its temporary residents. If you divide that figure by the amount of people attending, that’s about twice the weekly national average per person in North America.

Tomorrow, the first round of tickets to Burning Man 2020 go on sale, followed two weeks later by the FOMO sale, where you can snap up a real bargain at $1,400 per ticket. Seeing as more than half of BM’s attendees came from households earning $100,000 or more in 2018, that absolute face gouge of a price shouldn’t be a problem for most.

How The Man gets to the playa.

Sure, some people might suggest the outrageous sum is nothing more than a villainous display of corporate greed, and at glaring odds with Burning Man’s core principals of equality and decommodification. But those people are probably poor, so who cares? Not Burning Man HQ, whose head honchos enjoyed $40,000 increases to their already six-digit salaries last year. In 2018, Burning Man tax documents revealed that the festival of spiritual chameleons generated $46 million in revenue, with about a third of that revenue going towards salaries. Damn The Man indeed.


Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of the hypocrisy that is Burning Man. If you immerse yourself deep enough in the despair, there’s no end to the madness. Take, for example, the 35-year-old boss of a Silicon Valley tech start-up who last year went on record proclaiming the big-picture benefits of paying for your employees to go to Burning Man, where they can attend ‘educational workshops’ teaching them about the art of ‘authentic relating.’ Yep—real life.

Anyway, here’s the clincher. After hiking their general ticket prices up to $475 this year (an increase of $50 from last year) guess what this non-profit profit-machine is doing now? They’re suing the United States Bureau of Land Management for—drumroll please—‘raises in fees and inflated and unnecessary costs without providing adequate justification.’ Oh my word.

Burning Man’s operating company, Black Rock City LLC, have announced that they are officially moving forward with the lawsuit to recover millions of dollars they claim the government has overcharged them in fees over the past seven years. They are also seeking ‘justification’ for the $2.9 million dollar bill they received from the Bureau of Land Management last year, who provide law enforcement and oversight for the event. To fight their plight, Black Rock City have hired high-powered lobbying firm Holland and Knight, who last year generated more than a billion dollars in revenue and serve nearly every major financial institution in the US, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Capital One. Which reminds me of another of Burning Man’s core principals: ‘Communal Effort’.

Trash left in a Reno parking lot after the 2019 Burn.

Honestly, if you saw the bedazzled steampunk hellscape the Bureau of Land Management and its employees had to face every year, you’d agree that no amount of money is enough for what they—and the whole Reno community at large—are forced to endure. Not only do these insufferable weekend warriors demand impunity despite polluting the world with their basic brand of esotericism, they’ve a history of leaving trails of literal garbage in their wake. After last year’s event was over, pictures emerged of trash-lined roads and carparks-turned-dumps throughout Reno, finally proving what I’ve been saying for years now: Burning Man is full of tossers.

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