I recently returned from a convention in Las Vegas. It was 110 degrees every day I was there. A lot of long-time visitors to Las Vegas say that it seems that Las Vegas is getting hotter, but most of them assume that its just their imagination. It isn’t. Las Vegas really is getting hotter. According to the U.S. Weather Service, the average daily temperature in Las Vegas has risen by 6 degrees since 1970. That is a very big increase for 50 years. You might assume that this is because of global warming, but that isn’t the reason. Las Vegas is what climatologists call a ‘heat island’. In 1940, the population of Las Vegas was just 8,000. When I first visited Las Vegas in 1970, the population of the city was a little over 100,000. Today, the Las Vegas metro area is home to 2 million people, and the temperature has risen with the population. Here’s why:

1.    Building materials. As the city grew, more and more of the desert was covered with concrete, asphalt, and buildings. Buildings and paving materials absorb heat during the day and release that heat more slowly than the sandy desert that they covered over.

2.    Color. The desert around Las Vegas is mostly light-colored sand, which reflects much of the sunlight that falls on it back into outer space. However, the streets of Las Vegas are covered with asphalt, which is black, and there are tens of thousands of houses in Las Vegas covered with dark colored roofs, which also absorb heat.

3.    The air. As the city grew, so did the number of automobiles, trucks, and smokestacks. When Las Vegas was a small town, the air was thin and clean. Now the air is much denser and full of smog. The air in Las Vegas now absorbs more heat than the air in the desert around it.

What is happening in Las Vegas is also happening in Phoenix and several other fast-growing cities in the southwest. Some long-term real estate investors (including people I know) will not invest in Las Vegas. It can take 15 to 20 years to recover the cost of building an apartment house, and what will the climate in Las Vegas be like then? What will the air be like? What will the traffic be like? Will tourists still want to visit there if the average daily temperature in summer is 120 or 130 degrees? Las Vegas is heading in that direction now. I’ve been in Las Vegas when it was so hot that you could get a first-degree burn by touching something made out of metal, and that happened to me. I once tripped on the sidewalk in front of Circus Circus and put my hand on an aluminum lamppost to break my fall, and I burned my hand. Now, I don’t touch anything outdoors in Las Vegas that is made out of metal on hot days unless it is in the shade.


President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) funds for California firefighters. Trump claims that California’s forest fires are the result of poor forest management by the state. In January, Trump tweeted: “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest (sic) fires that, with proper Forrest (sic) Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”

There are 2 big problems with Donald Trump’s argument.

1. Most really big forest fires in California start on Federal land, not land owned by the state of California. That’s not surprising since the Federal government owns 48% of all the land in California, including most of the forest land in the state. For example, this past summer’s Carr Fire started in a recreation area owned by the United States Forest Service. The fire then moved onto private land and then into the city of Redding itself, where the fire destroyed over 1,000 houses. The most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California’s history was this past summer’s Camp Fire, which also started on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. It was the world’s costliest natural disaster in 2018. A long list of Federal agencies own big chunks of California real estate in addition to the Forest Service, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All of these agencies are under the direct control of President Trump. While it is true that forests in California have been and are being badly managed, most of these forests are under the control of the president of the United States, not the governor of California.

2. Climate change and global warming are major factors in California’s forest fires. Over the past 100 years, the average temperature in California has risen by 3 degrees. In addition, the average annual rainfall in California has fallen. This warmer, drier air sucks water out of plants and the soil, leaving trees and grass drier than they used to be. The California fire season used to be late summer, but now, it is nearly all year round. California used to get some rain in late October that wet things down, but now, the rain doesn’t come until November or December. Global warming is not a controversial theory within the scientific community, but unfortunately, President Trump and most of the people in his cabinet believe that it is.

Sonny Perdue. The U.S. Forest Service is under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. Perdue believes that global warming is a hoax. He calls global warming “junk science” and “a running joke.” Perdue is also one of the neo-Confederates in Trump’s cabinet. For as long as I can remember, neo-Confederates have always frustrated me. I grew up in Maryland, which was a slave state until the end of the Civil War. When Perdue talks about slavery and the Civil War, he sounds like the pro-Confederate schoolteachers I had when I was a kid. When Perdue was governor of Georgia, he tried to put the Confederate battle flag back into the Georgia state flag, and he made April ‘Confederate Heritage Month’. Perdue believes that most slaves supported the Confederacy and that large numbers of them fought for the Confederacy too. Perdue’s claim that there was widespread support for the Confederacy among the slaves has come under a lot of criticism from historians, just as his speeches on global warming have come under a lot of criticism from climate scientists. When I was living in Maryland, I knew white people who shared Sonny Perdue’s belief that black people didn’t mind being slaves and that during the Civil War, their sympathies were with their owners and the Confederacy, just like in ‘Gone With The Wind’; however, I have never met a black person in my life who shared that view.

Global Warming

When it Used To Snow In San Francisco. Donald Trump and a majority of the Republicans in Congress say that global warming is a hoax. Whenever I hear politicians say that, I think about photographs like this one. Its a photo of Market Street in February, 1887. People are in the street because the snow had shut down the cable cars and street traffic. sfsnow1Did you know that back in the 19th Century, it used to snow in San Francisco? Not frozen dew or a light dusting, but real snow. You can see old photographs of San Francisco blanketed in snow on Google Images. For example, on New Year’s Eve in 1881, snow began falling in San Francisco. It snowed continuously for the next 5 hours. The following day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that telegraph and telephone service was interrupted throughout the city because of downed wires and fallen tree branches. Boys and girls had the day off from school. They built snowmen and had snowball fights all over the city. Many of the palm trees and flowers in the exotic gardens in Golden Gate Park were killed by cold and the ice that covered them. Now I have lived in Berkeley for over 40 years, and I have never seen snow on the ground here. The last time it snowed in San Francisco was 1976. The city got 1 inch of snow, and the next day, it was gone. San Francisco is not alone. There are many places around the world that used to regularly get snow but don’t anymore.


The Irish Potato Famine. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the Irish Potato Famine. The potato crop failed in 1845 due to a disease called potato blight. The disease spread quickly, destroying nearly all the potatoes in the country. By 1846, people in Ireland were in a bad state of affairs. Even before winter arrived, millions were weak from hunger, and to make matters worse, a lot of people had sold their winter clothing and shoes to buy food. Winter came early in 1846, and the winter that year was bitterly cold. Snow started falling early, and it kept falling. In some places in Ireland, snow drifts were 10 feet deep. People living in remote areas, already weakened by hunger and cold, were unable to get to one of the few food relief centers in Ireland because snow blocked their way. Here is a letter that was written by an English observer in Ireland at the time and that appeared in a London newspaper in 1847. “Among the thousands I meet, I have seen no one who had clothing corresponding to the bitter cold which is now experienced; on the contrary what is beheld is emaciated, pale, shivering, worn-out farming people, wrapped in the most wretched rags, standing or crawling in the snow, bare-footed and freezing.” People who live in Ireland today find it hard to believe that they ever had winters like that, but then – people who live around here are often very surprised when I show them old photographs of Market Street in San Francisco covered in snow.

The Northwest Passage. dansoloI used to know a magician named Dan X. Solo, a very nice guy. For over 20 years, Dan worked on cruise ships that went up the west coast to Alaska. Dan did table hopping magic and magic shows aboard these ships. Dan used to tell me that global warming was very obvious to him – and profitable as well! That was because every few years, the Alaska cruise ship season got a little longer, and that was because the seas in the Alaska inner passage were ice-free longer every year. Dan said that when he first started working on cruise ships, the Alaska cruise ship season was from June to August, but when he retired, the season was from May to September. The season had gone from 3 months to 5. Since Dan Solo’s death a few years ago, the Alaska cruise ship season has gotten even longer. And now, cruise ships are traveling from Alaska to New York through the Northwest Passage. In September, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity arrived in New York City from Vancouver, Canada across the Arctic, a trip that was unimaginable just 20 years ago. crystalserenityThe voyage took 28 days. The passengers were not ‘roughing it’ through the Arctic. The Crystal Serenity has 13 decks, multiple indoor swimming pools, a casino, movie theater, a spa and health club, a golf driving range, and 6 restaurants. The ship actually has 12 restaurants if you include the specialty restaurants like Silk Road and the Sushi Bar. The ship has an herb garden and olive trees aboard the ship so diners will have fresh ingredients. Each passenger paid between $20,000 and $120,000 to take the trip. Many more Northwest Passage trips are scheduled for 2017.

Evidence of global warming is not hard to find. It is everywhere. It is not surprising to me that all of the politicians who say that global warming is a hoax get big bucks from oil and coal companies. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair, 1935.