Nothing in Las Vegas is used in moderation. Fluorescent buildings are tall and intentionally bright. In casinos, pool parties and on the Strip, throngs of tourists play daily with their alcohol tolerance levels and credit card limits.
With the Super Bowl, the country’s biggest annual sporting event, taking place in the city on Sunday (11), the crowds — around 450,000 visitors are expected — and the parties are expected to get even bigger and more lively.
But it’s not just hotels and casinos that will be busy in the days leading up to the big game, between the San Francisco 49ers and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. About 1,000 private planes are expected at Las Vegas-area airports.
And that means a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The emissions levels from a mega-event like this, from air traffic and energy consumption, are at least double in a day what they would be on average,” said Benjamin Leffel, assistant professor of sustainability in public policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The Super Bowl is one of the biggest annual attractions for airplanes in the United States. For last year’s game in Glendale, Arizona, there were 562 commercial plane arrivals at area airports.
For the 2022 event in Los Angeles, there were 752 arrivals, according to commercial aviation tracker WingX.
This year, officials say the Super Bowl could equal November’s Las Vegas Grand Prix, for which WingX reported 927 jet arrivals at the city’s three airports.
“The expectation is that the Super Bowl will be at a similar level,” Joe Rajchel, spokesman for the Clark County Aviation Department, which covers Las Vegas, said in an email.
One of those flights could bring Taylor Swift home from a concert in Tokyo to cheer on her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, who plays for the Chiefs. She has at least one jet at her disposal that could make the 9,000-kilometer journey.
The problem for her is that the Las Vegas airports will be so busy that there may not be landing space available.
Quantifying the exact carbon dioxide emissions of a group of private planes is challenging. Most municipal authorities in the United States, including in Clark County, do not track emissions.
A 2023 Greenpeace report estimated that private plane travel worldwide emitted 573,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022.
According to Vienna-based Greenpeace activist Klara Maria Schenk, the estimate used a measurement system that draws on data from WingX and the Small Emitter Tool, a calculator developed by Eurocontrol, the agency that manages air traffic in Europe. .
But establishing the right parameters and ensuring consistency around huge amounts of aviation data is tricky.
“There may be small errors,” Schenk said. “But in general, if you have all this data, you can calculate, based on the best scientific standards, the emissions from the machines.”
For comparison, Schenk’s team calculated that the 1,040 private jet flights that landed in Davos, Switzerland, for last year’s World Economic Forum produced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 350,000 cars in one week.
Las Vegas already faces energy, heat and drought challenges. These issues, along with emissions and pollution from private planes, are raising concerns among some local residents.
Jaime Brousse takes her two children, who are in elementary school, to watch sleek business jets take off and land at Henderson Executive Airport, about 20 miles south of Las Vegas. She noticed an increase in private planes and pollution during the recent Formula 1 event.
“It’s easy to see the layer of smog over the city,” said Brousse, 42. “I know most of it comes from cars, but you can’t help but think that all these private jets probably aren’t helping.”
Leffel, of the University of Nevada, said he was concerned about the consequences beyond Nevada. “That small margin accelerates climate change,” he said.
What could the solutions be? There are regulations, which may include higher taxes or bans on private plane flights.
On a local level, Brightline West, a high-speed electric rail line that connects Los Angeles to Las Vegas in just over two hours, is expected to make a significant environmental change. It is scheduled to open in 2028.
But even with this alternative, Leffel wonders: “Will the richest 1% use it?”