Flat World Partners

Jun 10, 2021

4 min read

Environmental Impact of the Desert Metropolis; Let’s Talk Climate Crisis in Las Vegas

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Las Vegas was founded in 1905; the city had a late and slow start given that the arid desert land was characterized by an abundance of heat, unproductive soil, and limited access to water. Nevertheless, gambling and entertainment allowed the city to flourish in spite of the harsh conditions. The state outlawed gambling from 1910 until 1931, but illegal casinos and organized crime thrived, giving the city the nickname “Sin City”. The re-legalization of gambling in the 1930’s coincided with the creation of the Hoover Dam. With the addition of sufficient water and electricity, Las Vegas experienced an incredible amount of growth. Along with being home to 2.8 million people, the casinos bring tens of millions of visitors and billions of dollars to the state of Nevada. Las Vegas is one of the United States’ most popular vacation destinations with visitors flocking to enjoy the casinos, entertainment, cuisine, and the incredible nightlife.

Population and economic growth in Las Vegas has caused a net-increase of carbon emissions, pollution, heat, and water scarcity. What was once an inhospitable arid desert land is now a desert metropolis with an abundance of concrete and asphalt. Earth’s climate is changing “faster than any point in the history of human civilization, primarily as a result of human activities” (USGCRP n.d.). People across the world are feeling the effects of climate change, but the warming is occurring at different rates in different places. Unsurprisingly, Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city the United States. Las Vegas’ rising temperatures have worsened extreme weather events including, heat waves, droughts, floods and wildfires, that are all putting infrastructure and human lives at risk.

Las Vegas gets only 5 inches of rain, on average, per year and has an average high temperature of 103.8°F in July, the hottest month of the year. A recent study shows that the city will experience an average of 96 days of heat above 100°F by the end of the century. In 2017 alone, there were 147 heat-related deaths in Las Vegas. Las Vegas residents are already suffering from the high temperatures and these problems are multiplying as the city gets warmer. These negative effects will also disproportionally impact minority and low income communities.

The rising temperatures and severe drought in Nevada has caused Lake Mead to reach its lowest point since the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1935. Scientists have explained that this drought is unlike others in the past because it is being amplified by carbon pollution and rising temperatures. This water shortage is one of the many notable environmental consequences of Las Vegas’ rapid growth as the limited water supply threatens the way of life for the entire region.

There needs to be drastic measures taken to limit the carbon emissions, pollution, and temperature increases caused by the growth of the city. In the last few decades, we have observed dire consequences from global warming, and if we continue on this trajectory, life on Earth will be drastically different for future generations. In the words of the Governor of Nevada:

“The growing effects of climate change are already being felt in all corners of the Silver State, impacting our collective public health, threatening our natural landscapes and limited water resources, and challenging the vibrancy of our communities and economy. For the sake of our future, and our children’s future, we must take bold action to stem the negative impacts of climate change while moving quickly to capture the economic benefits of creating sustainable communities throughout Nevada.” — Gov. Sisolak

Sam Rippley, BD Intern

Forecasters expect Lake Mead’s levels to drop below 1,075 feet before the end of this summer, triggering cuts under Congress’ 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. And models predict all of this will only get worse.

Water flowing through the Colorado River Basin supplies 40 million people in seven states and Mexico — and it supports an economy that would be the fifth largest in the world if the region were a separate nation.

Promising solutions have been proposed to address these crises. In December, Gov. Steve Sisolak released the Nevada State Climate Strategy. This proposes policies and initiatives to help Nevada meet its goal of reducing GHG emissions 100% by 2050. (“Gov. Sisolak Launches New State of Nevada Climate Initiative” n.d.)