UNREAL CITY: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West
Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West
When award-winning author Judith Nies attended a glamorous movie-star event in Phoenix in 1982, she thought it was a celebration of the ancient culture of the Hopi Indians. Why, she wondered, did the reception include the executives of some of the largest mining, construction, and utility corporations in America?
Ten years earlier, as a young congressional staffer, she had watched Congress divide up between the Hopi and Navajo 4,000 square miles on Black Mesa, Arizona, lands that held the richest untouched coal deposit in the United States. Soon 15,000 Navajo were being relocated, and 21 billion tons of coal was being strip-mined to provide cheap electricity for Los Angeles, pump water into Phoenix, and illuminate the dazzle of Las Vegas’ Strip.
In the intervening years, she followed the money that flowed from Black Mesa and witnessed long-term drought, temperatures up, and water supplies down.
Las Vegas has much to teach us in an era of climate change. The desert city may still attract 39 million visitors a year, but tourists don’t see a city with the highest rates of foreclosure, unemployment, or suicide in the nation. They don’t see the astonishing drop in the water level of Lake Mead, or follow the route of “the new Chinatown,” a multi-billion dollar water-pipeline into a mountain aquifer 200-miles north. The same mining and construction companies operate globally and are spending millions to convince us that climate change isn’t happening and coal can be “clean.” But for Las Vegas, and for the United States, the mirage of limitless supply and limitless wealth is now dissolving.