The Picture of Madness
|The New Normal|
The American southwest has a problem that most residents prefer to avoid. The region is getting pistol-whipped by climate change, a deadly combination of severe heatwaves and megadrought. Las Vegas may be the area's poster boy.Las Vegas’s population is booming and the city is sprawling into the surrounding desert. The extra concrete adds to the sizzle. On hot days, the highways and roads are littered with broken-down automobiles – commuter cars, ambulances, delivery trucks and buses that overheat as they made their way to and from the city-center.
“Nevada’s climate is changing,” the Nevada government’s Climate Initiative website reports. “In fact, Nevadans say, they are already noticing and impacted by these changes. Climate change has come home.”
The changes are particularly pronounced in Sin City and its surrounding areas, which is warming faster than almost anywhere else in the US. Heatwaves are not only getting hotter, they are also becoming more frequent. Summer weather is increasingly encroaching on spring, with less and less room for relief.
The increasing intensity hasn’t gone unnoticed among workers who have to brave the dangerous conditions, but “no one in the valley is allowed to talk,” Jeff, a valet and porter said. He declined to give his last name out of fear of retribution from his employer, a hotel off the strip.
Expecting to run out of space, a new county lands bill has petitioned the federal government for more acreage, pulling roughly 30,000 acres from public lands in the surrounding desert.
Meanwhile, the construction continues. Housing developments in various stages of completion are on full display at the fringes of the city, and even on the hottest days, workers brave the elements to complete them.
As a result of the preemptive drought planning, states have already prepared for the inevitable point when they will have to endure such cuts, said Koebele. “The basin has become increasingly collaborative over time, and people are thinking about it as, ‘It’s not if this happens, it’s when it happens and how do we best handle it.’”
Rising global temperatures are expected to bring more frequent and more intense droughts to the Southwest, according to the latest National Climate Assessment, which was authored by 13 US federal agencies in 2018. Climate change is also increasing the likelihood of long-term megadroughts like the one we are seeing now.