Column: Republican denial will add to the drought’s body count

A barrel in mud on the shore of a lake
A historic drought in the Southwest has lowered Lake Mead, exposing a barrel that contained human remains.
(Shawna Hollister / KLAS)

You know, in all the times I’ve seen “The Godfather” — and I’ve watched that 1972 classic quite a bit — it never occurred to me that one day the Luca Brasis of the world could no longer be sent to sleep with the fishes.

But it appears that is exactly what’s happening in the Southwest. Las Vegas police said that a body found in a barrel in Lake Mead on Sunday was most likely a homicide victim from the 1980s. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said the victim’s body was probably tossed hundreds of yards off the shore decades ago, but with the lake at its lowest level since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s, what was once deep water is now the shallows. Worse yet, Spencer said “it’s likely that we will find additional bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead.”

Good on you if had forecast “discovery of mass grave” as a byproduct of climate change, because I sure as hell didn’t see that coming.


Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

But what should be abundantly clear to everyone is that ever since Hurricane Katrina pummeled 90,000 square miles of the country — roughly equivalent to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, for those keeping score at home — when it comes to natural disasters, the “unprecedented” has become the “more frequent.”

When Katrina struck in 2005, I thought a productive conversation about climate change could be had. Clearly that was foolish. Each year since 2019, PBS has had to update its titleholder for “costliest year for weather and climate disasters since 1980.” Thanks in large part to Hurricane Ida’s $75-billion price tag, last year was the third costliest on the list.

Despite all of that, and the 99.9% consensus in the science community that the burning of fossil fuel is driving the rise in global temperatures, a 2021 analysis from the Center for American Progress identified “109 representatives and 30 senators who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change.”

These are the people we are depending on to steer the Southwest through its driest period since Vikings roamed the seas.

Anyone concerned?

Particularly among the 25 million people across three states and Mexico who rely on Lake Mead for water.

The levels have dropped so low that the lake’s original intake valve from 1971 is now visible. In some ways, it’s fitting for the largest man-made reservoir in the country to be the scene where some of our transgressions are being spat back out in our faces.


Not to be outdone by Mead, the water levels at Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, have dropped about 100 feet in three years. It is now just 32 feet away from not being able to produce electricity. New rules requiring many Californians to limit outdoor watering to one day a week may be just the opening act to this crisis.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, said the biggest contributor to water use in the region isn’t urban growth but farming. You can’t get more “blue vs. red” than that.

Considering how willing many politicians were to gaslight voters about a deadly pandemic, I fear the damage that will come from a political landscape in which wooing climate deniers is part of the election strategy. Nearly 50% of Republicans still believe human activity is not causing any changes in the climate.

Imagine being a candidate in Texas for the upcoming midterm, trying to make it through a Republican primary during a water crisis caused by a 22-year megadrought for which half your voters don’t think humans are responsible. And yet nearly 84% of Texans are affected, so you have to say something nuanced at a time when social media has rendered nuance a depreciating asset.

With last July being the planet’s hottest month in recorded history and the West being the driest in 1,200 years, you would think we would be more unified on the issue. You would be wrong.

In March, Pew reported that nearly 60% of conservative Republicans didn’t want the U.S. to join the international effort to fight climate change. Last year, current GOP darling Ron DeSantis loosely referred to efforts to address global warming as “left-wing stuff.”


These aren’t examples from decades ago. This is right now, as the rivers and lakes disappear. As talk of electricity loss and water restrictions become more real. As the phrase “go jump in the lake” takes on a whole new meaning.