(I wrote this last year, pre-pandemic. I meant to try and publish it but life got in the way and I never did, so I thought I’d publish it here.)
The Bellagio Hotel rises up on this hot July night like a moth stretching its antennas to the sky. Staring out from its elevated walkway, I watch with hundreds at its main attraction: an enormous 8-acre fountain emerging from the middle of the desert, gushing synchronized water to techno-pop music in an orgy of flashing lights every half hour.
I watch at first with detached bemusement as if my New York City tastes are better than this. But soon I am giddy with childlike wonderment. What’s not to love in this bacchanal of lights, music, and gaudiness? In the absence of authentic culture Vegas has developed its own reactionary culture: schticky, excessive carbon-fueled capitalism. No requirements needed, besides a few thousand dollars, a lust for gambling, food, drinking, shows, over-the-top spectacle, and Disneyfied versions of world landmarks like Venice gondolas and Roman palaces. It is beautiful in its recklessness, in its complete lack of self-awareness. And as much I want to resist, Vegas has gotten a hold of me, the way a gust of wind gets a hold of a dandelion seed that floats in reverie. I bow to the altar of its excess, its garish, glittering neon lights shimmering and shimmering. I am in awe. I am in dream. I am in love.
But there is a duality to my thoughts, an equal and opposite feeling to my excitement. My solastalgia, a form of existential grief over the environment and climate change, returns. Underneath my awe, I am awash with guilt. I do not belong here. This does not belong here. I know nothing about Vegas and our civilization is sustainable. That I am not looking at a live, thriving city but one that is already dead, too in love with its reflection to notice. That unless something is done right now about the climate emergency, our world will burn out the way a comet disintegrates as it enters the atmosphere as if it never existed.
I am here in Vegas because I’m a shitty environmentalist. I am aware that one flight to Vegas from New York emits 20% of my greenhouse emissions for a year, yet I came anyway, unable to say no to a free vacation with my partner’s family. I am a vegetarian too for climate…