Raven Reviews: Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West

Las Vegas
Las Vegas

Judith Nies has managed to give me some sleepless nights this week.  Nies has been involved in the research and the events of her book, Unreal City, for decades, and it shows. She knows the players, the terrain, the dirty secrets and the truth and she tells it in an engaging, forthright and credible style that reads like a thriller, but unlike fiction, makes you stop and stare at the wall when you get to the scary parts, while your mind is grappling with the stupefying injustice and corruption you've just read about and never knew.

black mesa
black mesa

Unreal City is about water, coal, energy, money, power, politics, corruption and most of all betrayal -- of the Native American people, the land and western states, and the very  future of the West itself. Mormons, Indians, politicians from Barry Goldwater to Harry Reid, greedy profiteers, government hacks, corporate robber barons all have played and are still playing their parts in this ongoing horror show that will ultimately turn the Southwestern desert into a dry dead husk, and that includes the Los Angeles basin. Watch out Oregon and Washington, they'll be after your resources next and if people don't wake up, they'll probably get them.

I've lived in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, and I have witnessed those three cities waste more water and electricity than any three places on the face of the earth.  The brilliant overkill lights of Las Vegas can be seen from Spacelab, and the golf courses, lawns, vegetation and swimming pools of these towns use more water than anywhere else - ignoring the fact that by all the laws of nature, people shouldn't live like this in a desert climate. In fact, the victory over nature has been erroneously celebrated by what man could do, which sure as hell doesn't mean he should.

It's come with a terrible price tag. Not to mention the billions of federal dollars that go toward building these projects that line the pockets of Peabody Coal, Morrison-Knudsen,  Bechtel and their ilk. As Nies says, "One of the many unasked questions about true costs in an age of climate change is this: Why should the water that supports the Cirque du Soleil's famous aquatic production O, be drawn from an Ice Age aquifer in northern Nevada and in the process destroy a landscape and ecology that took thousands of years to create?"

Why indeed? But it is about to happen and believe that when the water and electricity start to be rationed, it won't be the Bellagio, the Biltmore, Hollywood Roosevelt or Del Webb construction that tighten their belts. It will be you and me, and good luck with those tomato plants and lemon trees. You know, the dead sticks in your backyard.

Roberta Blackgoat
Roberta Blackgoat

Unreal City is a riveting look at the inside workings of how things are, some of which you sort of know about, or at least thought you did. People you thought you could trust, and you never should have. It tells the truth about who works to make life so much richer and easier for the corporate interests and politicians and illuminates people like Navajo activist Roberta Blackgoat, a true heroine of the West. Unreal City takes the myths and rubs off the pretty finish, and leaves you disillusioned, but wiser and sadder. In the end, Unreal City is like a splash of cold water in your face, and it's way past time people woke up to everything Judith Nies has to tell them.  Once you know, you have a responsibility to act, as they say. I urge you to read this book.  Ifyou care about truth and justice, you can't afford not to.

Raven