Famous American Music Festival Faces Risk from Climate Change

    02 July 2022

    Bonnaroo is a well-known music festival that is held each year in the southern United States. The four-day event is held on a farm in rural Tennessee. It is known for using Earth-friendly practices.

    But last year, the planet's changing climate forced the event's cancellation.

    A rainstorm flooded parts of Tennessee just before the start of the 2021 festival. The storm killed 20 people. Weather experts say 50 centimeters of rain fell on August 21. That set a record for an area not near an ocean. The wet weather made it impossible for the expected 85,000 people to get to the festival's location, about 100 kilometers from Nashville, Tennessee.

    Festivalgoers use the free solar charging station at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Manchester, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
    Festivalgoers use the free solar charging station at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Manchester, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

    Janey Camp is a civil and environmental engineering professor at nearby Vanderbilt University. She said one problem with heavy rains in Tennessee is that much of the area sits on hard limestone that does not absorb water.

    "We're seeing these more intense precipitation events that don't align with the historic data," she said.

    This year's Bonnaroo took place in mid-June without a problem. But organizers who put on large outdoor events such as Bonnaroo worry that changing weather patterns will put future festivals at risk.

    Andrew Joyner is the climatologist for the state of Tennessee. He said it is hard to know if Bonnaroo is going to be "more affected" by extreme weather in the future. But, he said, "it's definitely vulnerable to it."

    Because of such risks, the organizers of Bonnaroo are trying to fight climate change in a small way. During the four-day festival, the farm becomes the size of a small city. The event uses solar power and has recycling and compost areas. People who come are given free meals if they help clean up by collecting items to recycle.

    During the festival, a group called Clean Vibes helps with recycling and waste collection. Anna Borofsky is the co-founder of the company. She said, "We are basically the public works department for a temporary city."

    Clean Vibes aims to keep half the festival's waste from reaching landfills. Between 2002 and 2019, the group kept over 3,500 metric tons of waste away. Food waste that ends up in landfills creates the greenhouse gas known as methane.

    Borofsky called her group "the trash police."

    Bonnaroo organizers are also trying to help make the area more energy efficient. While this year's festival was dry, air temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius. The area's power company said two demand records were set during the week of the festival.

    The Bonnaroo Works Fund pays for energy improvements in homes nearby. Volunteers go to the homes of low-income families and put in new lights, fix water pipes and make other improvements to help people stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

    Joyner, the state's climatologist, said Tennessee needs more information to continue preparing people for bad weather.

    The weather data would help people make improvements for their homes. It would also help organizers of other large outdoor events.

    Tennessee is home to large outdoor concerts because it is the top city in the U.S. for country music. It also holds outdoor car racing events. More data would prepare cities and emergency offices if bad weather comes.

    Borofsky, of Clean Vibes, said she knows "what we're doing at this one event for one weekend isn't changing the world."

    But she added that what her group does "is evidence that it can be done on a larger scale in other applications."

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.

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    Words in This Story

    precipitation– n. water that falls to the ground in the form of rain or snow

    align –v. to put something in order

    vulnerable – adj. open to harm or damage

    compost – n. a decaying mixture of plants and food waste that can be used to improve soil

    landfill – n. a place waste is buried under the ground

    efficient – adj. capable of producing the desired result without wasting materials or energy

    income – n. money a person earns from work

    scale – n. related to the size of something, from lowest to highest or small to large

    application – n. the use of an idea in a situation to solve a problem