What We Really Need to Learn from Las Vegas

Las Vegas has always epitomized American excess. But with its water supply running out and its constant illumination warming the planet, it also represents the extent of our economic and ecological unsustainability.
December 29, 2008, 12pm PST | Michael Dudley
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"There is something especially unsettling about visiting Las Vegas these days -- and it is not the town's lascivious culture. A voyage to Sin City in this moment of ecological and economic crisis is a journey to a giant concave mirror reflecting back the magnified -- and ugly -- truths about this epoch of cataclysmic consumption and hubristic hedonism.

Like most flights into Vegas, mine last week soared over a shrinking Lake Mead. Visually, the white strip around the manmade reservoir is beautiful -- the bright chalk line separating the blue water from the red-brown desert evokes memories of a Bob Ross pastel painting minus "happy trees." But it is a menacing harbinger of depletion. This water source for 22 million people is at its lowest level since the 1960s. Strained by the Southwest's population explosion and by drought-accelerating climate change, the lake now stands a 50 percent chance of running dry by 2021, according to scientists.

Whether hanging Christmas lights in Toledo, buying SUVs in Boulder, taking long showers in Atlanta, residing in sprawly suburbs near Chicago, or overspending anywhere, we are all Las Vegans now. And because we have become so environmentally and economically interconnected, what happens in our own Vegas no longer stays in our own Vegas -- it affects everyone."

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Published on Saturday, December 27, 2008 in AlterNet
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