Leaving Las Vegas : Can We Say Goodbye to Catalysmic Consumption and Hedonism?

Lake Mead: Beautiful but shrinking. Photo by Ron Niebrugge / Niebrugge Images.

‘Will we finally accept the public policy and lifestyle changes that the real world now requires? Or will “Viva Las Vegas” always be America’s motto?’
By David Sirota / December 27, 2008.

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.

As the plane descends, Vegas comes up on the horizon faster than ever. As one of the country’s quickest growing locales, it has become a massive blob suffocating a fragile ecosystem. Sans urban planning in the libertarian West, that unbridled growth encourages more roads, cars and smog.

At least McCarran Airport is only a short ride to the city’s core, but that is the most troubling area of all. Recently recast as a family-friendly Disneyland, downtown Vegas nonetheless retains its identity as the place where a recession-plagued country gambles away its dwindling paycheck.

Vegas’s colorful lights are supposed to be the “enjoyment” for those who inevitably lose at the slot machines. But with each twinkle the atmosphere warms. Despite advances in clean energy, electricity is still primarily produced with carbon-emitting sources that drive global warming. Indeed, the blinding Strip that prompts tourists’ drunken cheers is a monument to the same gluttony that helped make Nevada the fastest-growing emitter of carbon dioxide in the country.

Sure, Vegas boasts of renewable power investments and energy-saving light bulbs. But bragging about such efforts rather than simply shutting stuff off is as silly as Arnold Schwarzenegger trumpeting his supposed commitment to environmentalism by pledging to make one of his Hummers more fuel efficient.

But that’s always been the American way, hasn’t it? We don’t stop driving Hummers around a warming planet just like we don’t stop building population centers in deserts, just like we don’t stop gambling when wages drop just like we don’t stop wasting energy on casino signs. Why? Because it’s fun to drive tanks, live in desert climates, double-down on 11 and gape at bright lights in the big city. And during the years of cheap energy, income growth and seemingly endless water supplies, fun always trumped pragmatism.

That period, of course, has been supplanted by the Age of the Finite. And to its (few) sober visitors, Vegas implicitly asks whether our whole society is genuinely ready for that new reality.

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.

Knowing that, are we ready to turn off some lights in our homes? Is it possible for Americans to forfeit McMansion dreams, drive smaller cars, take public transit, embrace water restrictions, or live in more sustainable geographies? Can we resist materialism, halt the bone-crushing stampedes to Wal-Mart, and stop needlessly spending beyond our means?

In other words, will we finally accept the public policy and lifestyle changes that the real world now requires? Or will “Viva Las Vegas” always be America’s motto?


[David Sirota is a best-selling author whose newest book, “The Uprising,” was just released this month. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is here.]

Source / AlterNet

Thanks to David Hamilton / The Rag Blog

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1 Response to Leaving Las Vegas : Can We Say Goodbye to Catalysmic Consumption and Hedonism?

  1. We’re back from California; hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas.

    We have friends ‘leaving Las Vegas’ – heading back to Palm Desert for numerous reasons, none of which are ‘happy’.

    We’re the southern neighbor to Las Vegas; we’re included in the ‘plight’ because our town is also a ‘gambling town’….

    I keep in touch with a man who sponsors a homeless web-site – located in Las Vegas. You might like this post he placed most recently.

    Another Homeless Year Ends

    By RIVER Organization

    With Christmas Behind Us and A New Year Ahead of Us, We Hope We Can See Some Changes That Need to be Made.

    One of the RIVER Organization’s homeless researchers, A.P., has sent in a few articles about the homeless.

    The vast, Las Vegas Valley is home to homeless people the public is seldom aware even exists. The hundreds of miles of storm drains which web the valley beneath Las Vegas is home to hundreds of homeless citizens. These remote homeless citizens live in a society far from the public eye.

    During flash floods, these underground storm drains have been the killing fields of countless, unsuspecting homeless citizens during past violent storms.

    This story, written by Adam Burke, tells about Las Vegas journalist Matt O’Brien’s adventures as he wrote about the underground hideaways of Las Vegas homeless.
    Underground Tunnels of Las Vegas

    Volunteers lend a hand at the Las Vegas Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada Christmas Dinner. The less fortunate enjoy a day at St Vincent’s thanks to the kindness of many volunteers. Christmas Dinner

    In Tulsa, the John 3:16 Mission, which normally serves about 100 meals to the homeless on Christmas Day receives a surprised visit. The famed Radio City Rockettes showed up for a Christmas performance for the homeless.

    And finally, the saddest story of all, and one we which we wish we didn’t have to tell you about, the continued violence across America toward the homeless citizens. At the end of Christmas Day, another sleeping homeless citizens is attacked and murdered. We blame in part these episodes of violence on public officials who incite violence in their public hate statements about the homeless. Florida and Nevada run high on the national list of hatred and public hostility toward the homeless. If you track the elected officials public statements you will find an alarming similarity.
    Suspect Arrested in Homeless Man’s Slaying

    The cowards seem to always attack when the homeless are sleeping. I know of many men and women who have been attacked while sleeping right here in Las Vegas. These senseless beatings and killings must end. And, if there is anything we hope to accomplish during the new year, it is to end the violence against homeless citizens.

    Thanks again, A.P., for contributing these story lines to our attention. Some are happy, some are sad, but they all reflect the lives (and death) of homeless citizens across our country. Let’s hope this New Year is a better one for the homeless citizens of this nation than the one we left behind.

    In Christ
    Cliff Harrison

    Of course this homelessness has been going on for so many years; I saw it the first time in 1984 – just like parts of Hollywood where the bag ladies and homeless wander; in New York City – the same, as Christ said: “There will be poor – always…”

    In this coming year as in this past 2008, there might be a few more on that ‘poor list’ – ones who never thought they’d be part of those in dire straits.

    I hope we all have a happier new year; thank you again, for being such a responsible source of information and the hard work all of you do to make it a superb place to ‘visit’. Diane

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