What “Storm Area 51” Can Teach Us About Climate Change

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It started out innocently enough. A college student was up late looking at absurd things on Facebook. After seeing a Facebook event planning the theft of “all of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes,” David Montero decided he wanted to make something even more ridiculous, just for fun. He quickly put together “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” and went to bed.

A screenshot from the “Storm Area 51” Facebook event.

For the first few days, things went as expected. People laughed and joked around, made some memes, but the absurd Facebook event didn’t spread very far. Certainly nobody planned on going to Area 51. A few days later, the post began to spread and “go viral.” First hundreds signed up to go, then thousands. As of this writing, over 2.1 million have signed up to “storm Area 51,” with almost as many signed up as “interested.”

While nobody expects nearly 4 million people to actually go to rural Nevada (I’m signed up for it and I’m not going), it’s estimated that a few tens of thousands of people will be going to the area on the 20th. This may seem like a minor thing, but the part of Nevada around Area 51 isn’t ready for that many people, and they’re anticipating big problems over the next few days.

This Weekend’s “Humanitarian Disaster”

Lincoln County, Nevada is huge. With almost 11,000 square miles, the county is larger than dozens of countries, including Israel, Kuwait, and Belize. Unlike those other countries, there’s lots of empty space. The population is just above 5,000, and there’s very little infrastructure in the area for the public to use. Roads are mostly 2-lane, with very few stores and gas stations.

Yes, the famous “Area 51” is in Lincoln County, and that should mean there’s infrastructure for visitors, right? The exact number of people working at the secretive facility isn’t known, but there may be thousands of people who go there every day for work. Based on that, one might think that the county is used to thousands of visitors coming, but they’re not. 

Most people who work at the base come and go on the mysterious “Janet” airline, a fleet of airplanes that take people to various military facilities from a private terminal at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The 120-mile trip is fast by plane, allowing employees to work in the middle of nowhere while still living in a city with their families, and usually making it home for dinner. The rural roads between Vegas and Area 51 might see the occasional freight truck or military convoy to and from the facility, but the rest of the county just doesn’t see a lot of traffic.

The county is so ill-equipped for a big number of visitors that the county doesn’t have facilities to house, feed, or bathe even the support personnel coming in from out of town to be prepared for the influx of visitors this weekend. The extra police officers, fire fighters, EMTs, and other emergency personnel alone would overwhelm the area all by themselves, so mobile bathrooms, kitchens, and shelters are being set up.

Even if every visitor coming to the area is peaceful, and doesn’t attempt to trespass on military facilities, the area is still going to need a great amount of outside help and resources from all over the state to make sure things go even remotely smoothly this weekend.

A Sign of Things to Come

While it’s fun to write about Area 51 and the absolute mess that’s coming this weekend for one rural county in Nevada, it’s less fun when you consider that we could all be in their shoes in the coming decades.

Even worse, this isn’t something that’s in our future. We’re already dealing with it every year in some areas. Looking back at Hurricane Katrina, for example, we can see how rural areas and other cities get stressed when people are displaced, sometimes permanently. Houston was still struggling to integrate evacuees 12 years later, only to have their own disaster hit and create evacuees out of the same people twice. 

As I pointed out in a previous article, we are also dealing with an influx of climate refugees. Helping only thousands of displaced people is straining the resources and political systems of a country of hundreds of millions. The result? Political upheaval, demagoguery, scapegoating, and even violence and terrorism.

In some ways, the United States is already far worse off than Lincoln County, Nevada will be this weekend, and it’s only going to get worse as the number of displaced people rises. If we don’t have the political will to do something about this issue before it completely boils over, we won’t get to decide whether to ignore it later.

Eventually, the snooze button may prove to be our most expensive option.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1949 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba