Yes, I really am from Las Vegas. No, my mother is not a stripper

Viva Las Vegas. Image: Getty.

And No. My mother is not a stripper. Nor is or ever was a showgirl. I have never lived in a casino.

Growing up, I was forced to make these statements …  all the damned time.

A few years ago, it happened again: “You mean people are actually from Las Vegas?”

Yes. And I am one of them.

From is a tricky bugger. Like all prepositions in all languages that rely on such things, it only seems like the most inconsequential part of a statement. From indicates the point at which something begins – a journey, an action, an everyday movement from one spot supposedly and eventually to another.

In other words, from denotes what has been left behind. Or at least it should. The problem is that endpoints make more sense in light of beginnings. 

Personally, I think beginnings are overrated. Who cares if I came from, let’s say, Los Angeles, if I am now in, let’s say, Baker, California. I’m in Baker, now (home to the world’s tallest thermometer!). But when you say I am from Los Angeles in order to indicate a starting point in a lifetime – a temporal as much as spatial starting point – that from acquires enough significance to be poignant and accommodating and frustrating and misleading. If you identify with your hometown, if you love the way its cultures communicate through your gestures and clothes and habits, wonderful. Lucky you. If not, good luck.

I love Los Angeles, by the way. Many people do not. I met a few of those people one weekend when I traveled from L.A. to Reno.

 “Hi. I’m James.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.”

“Where are you from Ted?”

“I’m from Reno. You?”

“I’m from L.A.”

“I don’t like Los Angeles.”

Great. Did I give you the impression that I cared?

The father of my sister’s college roommate did something like that to my father. The exchange went like this:

“Hi. I’m Nick.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.” (It’s always a Ted.) “Where are you from Nick?”

“We’re from Las Vegas.”

“I am opposed to gambling. I don’t like Las Vegas. ”

Great. Thanks for letting us know. I am also not big on gambling, but casinos did give my father the chance to raise himself up out of poverty. (By the way, my father is technically not from Las Vegas, if that even matters.)

When people insult your city, it feels like they are insulting you, doesn’t it? Even though the relative beauty and interest of a place need not necessarily reflect onto the beauty and interest of its residents. One’s relationship to their hometown is as arbitrary as is the year of their birth. Imagine this scenario instead: 

“Hi. I’m James.”

“Hi James, I’m Ted. What year were you born James?”

“1980.”

“Ugh. I’m trying to forget that year. I don’t like 1980.”

No one has ever said this to me of course, but if they did it would not bother me in the least. When someone insults my hometown, though, that’s different. Because the same rules that apply to in-group humor apply here as well. If you’re not African American you do not get to use the N-word in a joke; if you’re not from Las Vegas, or have ever even lived there, you don’t have the right to talk shit about it.

Though to be honest, people don’t talk shit about my hometown as much as say stupid shit about it (“Sure it’s a 100 degrees outside, but it’s a dry heat”). Which is fine. We all do this kind of thing. I used to detest New York. Why? Had something horrible happened to me there? No. I never even stepped foot in Manhattan until I was in my twenties. But I did regularly watch the Late Show with David Letterman, which was filmed, as the opening credits say, in New York, “the greatest city in the world”. Seriously? Fuck you. Think you’re so much better than everyone.


I later moved to Queens and ended up staying in New York for nine years; I love New York.

But I will never be from New York, even if later I told people that I was. This was after I had moved abroad. It’s so much easier to tell people outside of America that you’re from New York than Las Vegas. They smile; they don’t ask questions; many foreigners automatically assume a traveling American must be from New York. Keep in mind that, after I moved to New York, I told people I was from Los Angeles.

Why did I pronounce such despicable lies? Was it because, at the time, it seemed more truthful to pinpoint a more recent starting point?

That was when I was in my twenties, and like most people in their twenties, I was an idiot – unsure but ambitious, all-the-while assuming that it matters to other people which clichés they associate with my un-clichéd individual identity.

I no longer live in either Los Angeles or New York, and I haven’t been back to Las Vegas in years. But now, whenever anybody asks, I am always from Las Vegas.

From really is a tricky bugger. No one should have to take it lying down when someone violates their identity by slipping some irrelevant metropolitan clichés into it. That’s what we do though, when we tell people we’re from somewhere. We give them a free pass to do what they were going to do anyway – take someone’s from and project it into the present so they can use the easy stereotypes of a place in order to place you within a category you were arbitrarily assigned to and which you may have spent your whole adult life attempting to flee.

Which is to say, what was to you only a from, to other people becomes an in. What you may have only considered a starting point you long left behind, others often take to be a space you forever reside in, no matter where you have ended up.

And, really, that’s just fine. As I have gleaned from age, in is much less tricky than from. We influence things much more from the inside than from otherwise. 

 
 
 
 

The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.