Posted on | December 1, 2009 | 6 Comments
AS the US heads to Copenhagen without any clear plan to combat the effects of climate change on water, one of the areas predicted to be worst hit by global warming, Las Vegas, Nevada, is opening “CityCenter.”
In a preview so unctuous that it would embarrass an ad agency, the Los Angeles Times travel section writes, “Even in Las Vegas, a town not given to architectural subtleties, CityCenter looms large. The 67-acre, $8.5-billion, 18-million-square-foot ‘city within a city’ combines size and flourish with environmental consciousness.”
Leaving aside the wisdom of building a metropolis where it’s already so hot that outdoor plazas need cattle misters, Las Vegas is running out of water and its existing reserves are shrinking. Rather, it built its latest playground on the assurance from its politicians and water-planners that it could also construct a vast pipeline to de-water the fragile aquifer underlying much of the Great Basin, a 200,000 square mile region encompassing all of Nevada, half of Utah and slices of Oregon and California.
The sheer cynicism and chutzpah of the plan have made headlines for the 20 years since Las Vegas applied for an unprecedented block of water rights. There is not a credible hydrologist outside of the hire of Las Vegas who does not believe that the Las Vegas pumps, if allowed, will dramatically compound steadily occurring desiccation of the region caused by climate change.
What’s worse, hydrating the super-arid Las Vegas will drive damage north. In short, what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. The cost will be the destruction of this country’s most beautiful and largely unperturbed deserts, most of it federally-owned public land, a region unique in the world, only approximated thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia before the cradle of civilization pumped the place dry.
If this is to happen, then it is time that Las Vegas water manager, Patricia Mulroy, its leading Congressional delegate Senator Harry Reid, environmentalists such as the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Barry Nelson (who on behalf of the NRDC has accepted funds from Mulroy’s Southern Nevada Water Authority while steadfastly pleading ignorance about the Las Vegas pipeline plan) and Sierra Club’s Carl Pope (who privately says the pipeline plan is bad, but relies on Senator Reid for political clout) cut the crap. Enough of their lies and prevarication.
They need to own what they’re doing, which is trading two national parks — Death Valley and the Great Basin, countless endangered species, hundreds of thousands of square miles — for Las Vegas and the profit of the handful of players who run the place.
The challenge posed by Las Vegas is bigger than the ever-swelling city, bigger even than the Great Basin. It’s nationwide. How is the US to address climate change, or take the Senate Majority leader, the NRDC, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, any of the participants seriously about global warming when their actions so completely belie their words?
As is so often the case, they are aided and abetted by a magazine rack full of greasy celebrities. Add to the list of public figures who deserve only skepticism and contempt are eco-stars who play Vegas. That’s you Bill Maher. That’s you every “terroir”-spouting celebrity chef with a clip joint in Southern Nevada. It’s long been Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman et al, but you’re beyond embarrassment, you’re living embodiments of America post-shame.
Copenhagen is upon us. The bottom line on climate change is: We can’t expect our leaders to take a stand unless we do. Those who back the unfettered expansion of Las Vegas must stand up and say: This is what we are and what we are doing and we acknowledge it. Forget sensible development. Screw the Great Basin, its public lands, its people, flora and fauna. We trade all that for conventions and gambling.
Or if they have doubts about it, they must say openly: This is where absurdity meets obscenity. We will not take their dollars while looking the other way. We need to find a way to slow growth in Vegas while preserving the livelihoods of its current residents, but stop putting millions more people so far from tenable water supplies.
Climate change cannot be checked with greed and lies. It can only be exaggerated and disaster accelerated. Our politicians cannot bring meaningful reform while in the pockets of craven developers and the gaming lobby. The threadbare news media must remain vigilant and critical. Nobody, anywhere, should for a second be indulged while they describe Las Vegas as “environmentally conscious,” unless they mean they’re environmentally conscious but have elected to deny impending disaster because looking the other way is too damn profitable or prickly.