The imminent threat of climate change can seem abstract even to somebody like me who is convinced that the science is solid.
Storms are more frequent and more furious but those in the National Weather Service who still dare speak for attribution always note that it’s hard to link any individual event to the general phenomenon. Rising sea levels will someday require barriers from Manhattan to Key West, two places I like to visit, but the warnings come with the kinds of deadlines that I most likely will not be around to see.
If like me you yearn for a clear, immediate and consequential example to use when a skeptic raises doubts, I have two words for you:
I went there once for a journalism convention and as everybody in the business knows well, such gatherings usually took place in the off-season. I got to sample the charms of Dallas in August, Miami in August and Las Vegas in July.
I heard all about the dry heat, the kind that was not supposed to feel that hot but did. I learned that occasionally runways at the airport got too hot for planes to take off and land. I marveled at the sidewalks and minor league ballpark equipped with spritzers so tourists would leave their hotels.
If you are looking for climate change horror stories today, there’s no need to wait. Just listen to a writer who lives there, Dan Hernandez, and his chilling — wrong word but you know what I mean — account in the Guardian under the headline: “The hellish future of Las Vegas in the climate crisis: 'a place where we never go outside.’”
Like many a good writer, he knows how to get your attention. He starts with the Clark county death investigator who calmly tells tales of going into homes and finding corpses in rooms without any air conditioning or where elderly tenants cannot afford to operate it.
The investigator said after such a discovery, she often will “go stand in the sun in the 115F heat to do my paperwork as opposed to staying in the house because it’s that hot.”
And it will only get worse. As Las Vegas grows, it paves more land and lures more vehicles, all accelerating the process being driven by nature. The Union of Concerned Scientists says this fastest warming city in the nation, according to records since 1970, can expect 96 days of heat above 100 by the end of the century, including 60 days over 105F, and 7 “off the chart” days that would break the current heat index.
So we don’t have to rely on warnings about the future when we already have conditions similar to those in many a dystopian novel right now. Imagine working outside in construction or landscaping or as a crossing guard for even brief periods of time. Imagine old people already wondering how they can afford the food they need and the medicine they need, then adding a third element in the form of high utility bills.
As Hernandez reported, it’s no wonder that the Las Vegas-based Desert Research Institute has found that more heat waves are bringing more heat-related deaths.
This gives a whole new meaning to that slogan, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.