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Las Vegas’s Strange Position in the Climate Change Fight

When you think about cities with the potential to lead sustainability efforts, Las Vegas likely doesn’t come to mind. In fact, it would likely be near the bottom of most people’s lists. There may not be another city in the world more closely associated with the excess use of power and electricity — at least relative to size. The general perception of Las Vegas as an energy waster is not unfounded. Only a few years ago, a report on Business Insider delved into what it takes to power the “brightest landmarks in the world.” The Vegas “Strip” — the primary stretch of brightly lit casino resorts — came out on top. The Strip uses a staggering 8,000 megawatts of electricity each day, and as of that writing cost about £350.4 million (or nearly $480 million) over the course of a year. By comparison, the same report pegged the cost of lighting up Times Square in New York City at roughly $9.7 million per year. Those numbers do away with any shred of doubt that Vegas consumes a sensational amount of electricity. Despite this however, the city has begun to emerge as a potential unlikely leader in the battle against climate change. This is happening in a few different ways. The first is that the nature of the city is changing on its own. Visitors to the city are spending a little less time focusing on games. Slots — long propped up as Vegas’s highest-earning attractions — are flat-out old-fashioned in young people’s eyes. Online poker, meanwhile, is experiencing something of a surge. Several states have now made real betting in poker games legal again, and a list of poker apps on makes clear that there are also fun gaming options for those who can’t yet bet real money. These developments mean that there just isn’t as much need to visit Vegas for gaming. Many are traveling to the Nevada desert instead to enjoy the outdoors, see shows, enjoy restaurants and the like. None of these changes make for significant immediate changes in energy consumption. However, they’re worth taking note of. If things continue in this direction, we may see slots slowly disappearing, and online poker slowly taking over. Casinos may gradually be incentivized to change, and the changes may well consume drastically less electricity than the endless rows of electronic games that currently populate the venues’ floors. The second way in which Vegas is undergoing something of a climate transition is that it’s seeing its consumers and residents alike become more eco-conscious. The points above speak to tourist habits and preferences. This argument, however, pertains to more intentional changes in behavior. The residents of the city of Vegas, for one thing, have supported initiatives and efforts to move the city toward greater sustainability in recent years. Many have made the individual choice to transition to solar power, and there has also been action taken to conserve water. As for the tourist side of the equation, travelers to Vegas are — in this regard — like travelers anywhere else. That is to say they’re making eco-friendliness a priority, with a survey discussed at Travel Agent Central in 2018 indicating that 87% of travelers now “want to travel sustainably.” All of these factors provide further incentive for the major resorts and businesses in Las Vegas to step up their green efforts. The third way in which Vegas is transforming with regard to the climate fight is ultimately the most significant. To put it simply, Vegas is seeking to transition entirely to renewable energy sources by 2050. As an article at put it, the city is approaching the idea as a bold ambition, seeking to become the “Saudi Arabia of solar power.” If you happen to have seen reports that Vegas has already transitioned to 100% renewable energy, this may not sound all that impressive. Those reports are out there, but by all indications are far from accurate. Additionally, 2050 still sounds like a long way off, particularly with respect to some of the world’s urgent climate deadlines, so to speak. Keep in mind however that this transition will be a process, and that each step along the way represents meaningful improvement. If Vegas can transition entirely to renewable energy, it will be a wonderful example for big cities around the world to emulate — and they’ll start doing so well before 2050. Even if Las Vegas does become a positive example for cities and attractions that need to lower their energy consumption, we know that much more is needed. Promises need to be kept, new government priorities need to be established, and we need to see more private sector innovation. There even needs to be new infrastructure — a topic touched on in the post ‘Re-inventing Roads is Essential for the Survival of Urban Ecosystems in India’, and which also pertains to climate improvement. The list of changes that have to be made to combat climate change is simply endless. With that said, a city like Las Vegas changing in noticeable ways can only be considered a positive thing. This is an urban attraction that is essentially a monument to excess, and should it lower its consumption and transition to renewables, it will be a meaningful success story.

by Zoe Burns

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