Climate Change Denial

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November 20, 2006


George Marshall @ 2:50 pm

Welcome to our guest blogger, Professor Sue Roaf, expert in environmental architecture and passionate advocate of sustainability. Here is her postcard from Las Vegas- the heartland of denial.

Cruising the Strip and playing the pokies here in Las Vegas I won and was wonder-struck by Bling-city Las Vegas. My favourite film is Blade Runner and I was living the dream …….and researching a lecture for the Architecture School here. It did not take long for the awe to turn to horrawe at the plans they have for the city.

las vegas mayorThe Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B (I’m a two show-girl Mayor) Goodman spent 30 years as a Lawyer to the rich and powerful who run the Strip and is one of the local politicians to demonstrates an affinity with the Cha Ching of the Bling. But what I can’t understand is why they, or whoever makes the decisions about the future of the city, would think it is in their interest to push Las Vegas over the environmental cliff towards which it is travelling fast.

The city and neighbouring Clark County have a new hobby – imploding buildings. They get an idea that a tower block is ‘sooooooo last year’ and blow it up. They have over $30 billion las vegas developmentworth of new developments on the books with the first one being the City Centre Development. This covers two blocks of an imploded MGM lot and will include 7 major buildings covering 1.8 million square meters of hotels, residences and casino. It will house 8000 new apartments and will need 12,000 additional staff to service it, who in turn will need housing, schools and cars. This, in a city with high levels of employment, soaring house prices and an electricity and water supply system in crisis.

On the back of an envelope my host, Alfredo Fernandez, an architecture Professor here at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and I gasped at every new calculation.

Each new resident will need 20,000 kWh of electricity a year. That will be 400,000 megawatts at a cost of $40,000,000 a year producing 160,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. But that is at a time when Wall Street Analysts predict that the $60 barrel of oil will be $300 a barrel by 2015 energy running costs may be five times higher- $200,000,000 a year at a time when many of the median income visitors will no longer be able to afford the air flights in.

The total electricity output generated by the Hoover, Parker and David Dams is only 200,000 megawatts in a good year. So the new development will need yet more power. They are already building two more coal power stations. They are also commissioning the Solar One 64 megawatt solar generator in the Nevada Desert but even with this they still will not have the generating capacity to keep the lights on in the new development let alone the rest of the Strip. Haven’t they done the Math ???

Then there is water. This new development will create additional demand for 2,300,000,000 gallons of water per year. . This is taking a very conservative assumption of 10,000 people in the development multipled by the average Las Vegas Valley consumption of around 230,000 gallons of water per year

Las Vegas already has barely enough water for the next 20 years at current rates of depletion of the vast dam complexes that serve it including the Hoover Dam. The warming climate has led to the rapidly decreasing snow pack on the Rockies that feeds the Colorado rivers and its dams. The Hoover dam alone is 104 feet below its 1998 peak and falling inexorably lower.

Nevada is already triggering a water war with neighbouring Utah as it tries to purloin its underground water reserves by drilling in areas in the north of the State like Snake Valley and it seems that once again the lawyers will be the ones to cash in big time. In the face of this Las Vegas just gets more and more water and energy greedy.

From the Colorado River every year Arizona takes 2.8 million acre-feet, California = 4.4 million acre-feet, Mexico = 1.5 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet from which the Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of all the water. 1 acre-foot = c. 326,000 gallons. Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam today holds an optimistic 13,958 KAF (thousand acre feet), not allowing for the considerable silting with is filling its bottom. This is 4,550,308,000,000 Gallons, around 54% of its potential capacity. Lake Mead may have enough water for 2000 years of this new City Centre development, but will it be able to provide for the five more huge developments on the books plus the rapidly population of greater Las Vegas area – 1.6 million people and rising.

And that is not to mention the Golf Courses (Turf requires 60 gallons of water per year per square foot, compared with xeriscaping, which requires 20 gallons of water per year per square foot). A web of corruption ensures that more and more are built every year. One new development proposing seven courses alone. For example see the corruption mooted in relation to the Royal Links course: LINK…

This is all happening at a time when the city tells householders they can’t collect their own rain water and can’t put in new trees around their homes.
What really amazes me is that the design of the proposed developments are sooooooooo 20th century. Big name, unsustainable architects wheeled in to put up huge glass towers that are the most stupid and energy inefficient buildings in the history of the world. Who do they think will buy these places? Who would choose to sit in a glass box with ‘full view’ forty floors up when the energy begins to fail (as it did for nearly three days recently in the Bellagio Casino development), and when the water can’t get all the way to the top of the building ? The Arabs are too busy chucking their oil dollars down the Dubai pan at the moment and the Chinese, happy as they are to spend an hour or two at the tables, are not unintelligent investors. They too have very large amounts of their readies wrapped up in city projects in China.

One gets the idea that this is not even about dreams anymore. If you ask the project
promoters ‘what particular dream are you selling in this glass tower to investors’.. they have to admit ignorance… they have lost the thread and that magic dream that has drawn seekers of dreams to Las Vegas for the past half century.

It was energy that created Las Vegas – the millions of megawatts of it that the Hoover Dam started generating in 1936, that enabled it to become the home to great inventions like the cluster bomb and the two show girl Mayor. It is energy that will see it out as new developments like the City Centre, and its short sighted architects like Norman Foster, push it over the energy cliff. It is perhaps fitting that one of the greatest global polluters in the world will be first over the cliff – but hey – you pays your money and you takes your chance – that’s show biz !

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10 responses to “DENIAL IS A CITY IN NEVADA”

  1. Mark Ritzenhein says:

    Human beings do not change course until forced to by circumstances. That means that the current manner of conduction business will continue until it no longer works (“human beings exploit an opportunity to exhaustion”). As the author states, the people planning new development in Las Vegas are motivated by the usual human concerns: personal profit and comfort, ignorance and shortsighted planning, and the tacit belief in unending progress.
    I sometimes wish that the belief in Progress would come to an end, but that will happen with the realization that we cannot escape the dead end trap in which we find ourselves caught–like a roiling pod of increasingly crowded fish.
    There is only one solution to the human predicament, and i believe that it is auto-annihilation. Unfortunately we will take down most of the life on the planet with us, it seems.
    Las Vegas is, indeed, a prime example of blind excess. However, when the ability to sustain such an artificial oasis finally exceeds the natural capacity of the land, then people will be forced to abandon it in whole just as happend seven hundred years earlier. We shouldn’t gloat about this, however, not only because it will just be another signal development in our planetary crisis, but because it will be our fellow human beings who will be suffering for it–regardless of the cause.

  2. Nancy Rutman says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who recognizes that Las Vegas is a fool’s paradise.

    Funny how all those critics who say we shouldn’t rebuild New Orleans do not apply the same logic to Las Vegas. They’re both unsustainable. One location is too low and wet; the other too hot and dry. One shouldn’t be rebuilt; the other should never have been built in the first place. Meanwhile, perfectly livable (from a climate standpoint) ex-farming communities in the Midwest are starving for population.


  3. Robert says:

    Just a thought I wanted to pass on.
    Our family had 10 second feet of water in the Colorado
    About 14 years ago, we tried to sell it or lease it to the City of Las Vegas.
    We were told to talk to your senator Harry Reed.
    Your Senator Harry Reed, said he wasn’t interested. And
    now I wonder what he would say?

  4. Calem says:

    Does anyone know where exactly (or which company) they intend to get this water from?

    That may help us to understand what one of the sub plots behind this really is..!

  5. Would the City of Taking Chances be interested in investing in 2 new technologies that might work for power generation& water conservation. The first is based on the properties of magnetics, I believe that the principle of repellation could be the clean energy supply of the future. Secondly, I believe that the whole body dryer system could probably save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a week , just in eliminating a load of bath towels in your washer. I believe that applied magnetics will be the saviour of planet earth.

  6. In a heated argument over who’s kids would survive the future, I witnessed two parents; one vegetarian and one omnivore, who both had good points. The vegetarian claimed his kids had the best chance due to less toxic food intake and more efficient nutrition. The omnivore theorized that as the world’s food choices become more and more processed, a toleration to junk food must be aquired, and therefore his kids were better fit for survival.
    I myself am vegan, so one would think I’d agree with the vegi-family, BUT it seems the omnivore/eat-whatever family may be the victors, as the human species is currently going thru a genetic mutation at the DNA level. (google “Indigo Children”) That’s right, our very DNA codes have changed more in the last 40 years than they have in the last 400,000 years. Since 1994 kids are being born with livers that are more capable of processing fast food than their previous generation.
    In addition, the Great Flood, the Black/Bubonic plague, and AIDS were all also supposed to “wipe out humanity” but neither did.

    So, with all of the above in mind, it’s hard for me to believe that Vegas (or America) will crumble in our life time, or even anytime soon like the next 200 years. The people who run Vegas are of that “by any means necessary” variety. They will truck, plane, and helicopter bottled water in if necessary, and Vegas will evolve to be the first city where drinking or cooking with tap water is illegal. And later when climates become untolerable, we will witness the emergance of the great bubble cities inwhich the entire city is covered and state to state travel is done by vacuum tube trains, both over and underground.

    Summary: If the comedian George Carlin is right, then the human species has already been flushed by Mother Nature and we are now living in one of the hundred-thousand year curves deep down in the final cone of the spiral.
    And Las Vegas? ..Vegas is one of those stubborn turds that pops back up after the flush.
    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    Peace, love, and a cinnamon bagel w/veggie spread!

  7. Interesting what 2 years can bring Projects on hold. Jobs going away. Station Casinos and 14,000 jobs about to go bye bye.

    Water? Power? Goodman’s solution is “We’ll Buy our Solution”. Dubai going to fund everything with oil back to less than 40 a barrel?

    In 1998 it was hard to find a home over 1 million. In 2004 it seems crap shacks were 1 million. Now the market is collapsing because the “REAL MONEY” was never there.

    Vegas is in some serious trouble.

  8. Preserv E. says:

    I think Las Vegas should never have been created, but since is has been, there is no use in crying over spilled milk. All we have to do now is find a way to deal with the problem we created. Much easier said than done, especially because many people are ignorant to the fact that Vegas is such an energy drain. If Vegas shut down its power for one hour every day, so much energy and money would be conserved.
    Las Vegas doesn’t do much “good” to the world economically or scientifically. It is a rather “dirty” place where people go to indulge in gambling, drinking, and adultery. Not everyone who goes to Vegas do this, and the residents of Las Vegas probably don’t do this as much, but I am speaking of a majority. Even morals aside, Las Vegas just does not contribute to the world (overall) in a positive way.
    So, to the issue of dealing with this immense energy drain known as Las Vegas. There are really only two options to deal with this problem. The first is to somehow get Vegas to be much more environmentally friendly in its energy consumption. Any energy being consumed not provided by the hoover dam, should be provided by alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind. Also, the residents of Vegas would have to be more motivated and open to conserving energy and be more willing not to waste the energy given to them. This idea has a low chance of success, as many Vegas residents (mainly Casionos and malls on the strip) are so energy consumptive and wasteful, and are not willing to change.
    The next plan, would be to get rid of Vegas, and cut its powere supply, until the strip closes down, and all of the hotels are abandoned. Then the ghost town could be destroyed, and the power generated by the hoover dam could be used elsewhere. This would conserve energy and water, however it is also highly improbable. The government would not let Vegas be destroyed, even if only their fear (which its not) is because another Vegas would spring up somewhere else, in its place. Also, the people who live in Las Vegas would not want to desert their homes to conserve huge amounts of energy and water. Either way, it is going to be extremely expensive and a difficult task for the residents of this desert town.

  9. John VIncent says:

    Vegas is thriving. New pipline in the works and breakthrough technology is pending to re direct Colorado River.

  10. […] Here are a couple of interesting predictions related to the consumption of electricity which were made by Alfredo Fernandez, an architecture professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, …: […]

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