Warming toward extinction or to internet or not to internet


ImageA look at a partially unearthed Columbian Mammoth tusk in the northern part of the Las Vegas Valley. 

Coincidence – often termed irony – can be extremely entertaining and intellectually stimulating.  There were four that qualified for the “best of the day” award in my mind today; from Las Vegas a mammoth tusk and the news that Harry Reid is on his way to introduce an Internet gambling bill during this lame-duck session of Congress; from Cancun, Mexico, Playboy is opening a casino and club this week, while representatives from the United Nations are meeting to discus climate change and planetary impacts of change.

They are all the same story, or more accurately elements of the same story to me.  In Las Vegas, scientist are eager to explore the environment of mammoth and its contemporaries for a number of reasons, but the most important is climate change – that entire eco-system that supported the mammoth community is gone, the victim in the eyes of scientists of global warming that took place 12,000 years or so ago. The better we understand not just the process of warming, but the process of extinction the better we will understand our current world, plan for the future or at least anticipate it.

Stephen M. Rowland, a professor of geology at UNLV, said one reason studying these fossils is important is because when the mammoths died, the Earth was undergoing severe climate changes during the last Ice Age. “That’s something we’re dealing with today,” he said. Stephen M. Rowland, a professor of geology at UNLV, said, “These animals became extinct — the mammoths, the camels, the lions and the ground sloths — 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. We don’t know why they became extinct.”

The effects of those changes were very slow to be felt and to produce the dramatic differences we see between the Nevada desert of today and that landscape of 12,000 years ago.  But at some point in the long slow process of change a tipping point was reached and things started to change at faster and faster rates.  As the changes began to be felt some species picked up and left down – about 150,000 people have left Nevada in the last two years; among those that remained, some of vegetation would have died out, then the animals that ate that vegetation and then the animals that ate the animals that ate the vegetation; and as a friend of mine’s mother used to say “and one day you wake up dead.”

Now Harry Reid and his online gambling initiative;  Internet gaming is just one step in the long slow process of change in casino gambling as the industry has spread outside of Nevada and diversified, leaving Nevada, Las Vegas and the desert to be marginalized one customer at a time.   It seems to me that the Internet could be the tipping point – accelerating the change process and leaving open the possiblity of a scientist 12,000 years from now digging up the frame work of CityCenter and the bones of a long dead Las Vegas show-girls.

The Playboy casino in Cancun by itself is not a major story, hardly worthy of notice, except in its role as part of the expansion by casino gaming into every available niche, going into every place where a potential gambler may be found and feeding him at home, further rendering long trips to such places as the Nevada desert totally unnecessary.  There is a long way to go before every community in the world is served by its own casinos, but in the last 20 years that process has accelerated faster than the melting icebergs that led to mammoth’s extinction.  And as the United Nation’s members gather to discuss the changes being wrought on the planet and the changes that those changes will bring – they will have a chance to play a little blackjack and think about risk and rewards.  An activity from which I believe Harry Reid would benefit.  The industry giants – Harry’s backers – of course hope to capture their share of the Internet gaming revenues and thereby insulate themselves from the changes taking place on land and that strategy may well work for them.  But for the casino industry, those of us who work in land-based casinos and the state of Nevada that strategy will not guarantee their survival. To guarantee our survival will require adapting to some very different conditions.  The mammoth couldn’t do it, but we are smarter, right?

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