As We See It

Surviving the collapse of civilization like a true Las Vegan

Photo: Aaron Mayes / AP

The average American knows about as much El Niño trivia as Chris Farley revealed in his famous Saturday Night Live sketch. Rocking a ruffled flamenco jacket, bare belly and tight red pants against a dark and stormy backdrop, he bellowed:

“All other tropical storms must bow before El Niño … For those of you who don’t habla Español, El Niño is Spanish for—the niño!”

Indeed. What Farley (rest his hilarious soul) didn’t mention is that it’s short for El Niño Southern Oscillation, a phenomenon that strikes the tropical Pacific Ocean every five years or so (because, like all weather, it can’t be counted on). By “strikes,” I mean seriously messes with humankind by raising the surface water temperature and air pressure. Shouldn’t that just mean better snorkeling conditions? Maybe if the Pacific didn’t drive wind and thereby weather patterns across the globe, the spikes correlating with typhoons and floods, droughts and ice storms, fish kills and red tides. In non-scientific terms, El Niño is an environmental bitch slap.

That much scientists have known for quite a while. Current research is focused on whether these bitch slaps are to blame for “episodes of widespread violence and even the collapse of civilizations.” Forget your snorkel trip being ruined. How about life as we know it?

A study just published in the esteemed journal Nature suggests that the stability of nations (financial, social, political, physical) has been a plaything of El Niño over the years. Looking at data from 1950-2004, researchers found that the probability of new civil conflicts arising in the tropics doubles during El Niño years. Globally, that means crappy weather may link to a fifth of all notable civil conflicts over the last six decades. In a report for the Nature news site, the study’s lead author and Princeton economist Solomon Hsiang couched the announcement like so:

“Different hypotheses have been proposed as to how one phenomenon causes the other, and we aren’t sure yet what the correct narrative is. It could be that agricultural income in El Niño years drops to levels that can trigger violence. Furthermore, psychologists think that aggressive behavior gets generally more widespread during exceptionally warm conditions.”

Had Dr. Solomon asked a Vegas native, he could have confirmed both theories (no local strawberries + magma-hot dashboard = road rage). Knowing their findings would cause a stir, the research team advised the public not to rush to conclusions about global catastrophe. I just can’t help myself. Let’s assume Earth’s climate will warm enough to give El Niño an extra row of teeth, making this part of the planet even drier and hotter and its already cranky people crankier. What are the keys to surviving the collapse of civilization in true Vegas style?


If you think paying $6 a bottle at the bar is bad, imagine the taps running dry in your kitchen. You’d want to find a standing water source and stock up or hole up. Avoiding the obvious, I would head for Wynn’s Lake of Dreams. The reservoir of liquid gold also has a 150-foot “mountain” that could serve as a lookout for marauding Californians.


Buffets won’t fly in a world without electricity, and other scavengers will be swarming grocery stores for dry and canned goods, which are heavy to pack. I suggest making your way to the Ocean Spray beverage plant in Henderson, a 212,000-square-foot silo of antioxidant-rich superfood that’s even better when it dries up.


Gas or electric, your motor vehicle will be up a creek. Ditch the big wheels and check out the small ones in the stockroom at Boulder Crystal Palace, where classic and inline skates are plentiful. We paved paradise, so let’s use it, baby.


Defending against unknown foes would be easy at Excalibur, an urban castle with ramparts and turrets and jousting equipment (and possibly horses) in the prop closet. Or there’s always the Harmon, provided it doesn’t implode before the rest of the world.

Comic relief

It will be hard without YouTube, but this is Vegas. We have billboards with people getting punched in the junk and sculpted Pegasus bodies coming out of walls. We have hideous carpet. We’ll figure it out.


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