Nothing about Las Vegas is measured in moderation. The fluorescent buildings are towering and intentionally bright. Around casino floors, at pool parties and on the Vegas Strip, throngs of tourists daily play chicken with their alcohol tolerance levels and credit card limits.
With the Super Bowl, the country’s biggest annual sporting event, happening in the desert city on Sunday, the crowds (an estimated 450,000 visitors) and parties are expected to get even bigger and livelier.
But it’s not just the hotels and casinos that’ll be bustling in the days leading up to the big game, between the San Francisco 49ers and the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs: Around 1,000 private planes are expected at Las Vegas area airports.
And that’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The emissions levels of a mega-event like this from air traffic, and the energy use is at least double in a day than it would be on average,” said Benjamin Leffel, an assistant professor of public policy sustainability at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The Super Bowl is one of the largest annual attractions for private planes in the United States. For last year’s game in Glendale, Ariz., there were 562 business plane arrivals at area airports. For the 2022 event in Los Angeles, there were 752 arrivals, according to the business aviation tracker WingX.
This year, officials say the Super Bowl could match the Las Vegas Grand Prix in November, for which WingX reported 927 business jet arrivals at the city’s three area airports.
“The expectation is that the Super Bowl will see a similar level,” said Joe Rajchel, a spokesman for the Clark County Department of Aviation, which covers Las Vegas, in an email.
One of those flights might be bringing Taylor Swift from a concert gig in Tokyo to cheer for her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, who plays for the Chiefs. She has at least one private jet at her disposal that could make the 5,548-mile trip. The problem for her is, Las Vegas airports will be so busy there might not be a landing slot available.
(But maybe a spot could miraculously open up. When Ms. Swift flew from Morristown Airport in New Jersey to Baltimore for the AFC championship game on Jan. 28, in which the Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl, Fox News estimated that the flight resulted in three tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That prompted Liz Plank, who writes a newsletter called Airplane Mode, to remark that Swifties could do anything because they made Fox cover climate change.)
Quantifying the exact carbon dioxide emissions from a cluster of private planes is challenging. Most municipal authorities in the United States, including in Clark County, do not track emissions. A 2023 report by Greenpeace estimated that private plane travel worldwide emitted 573,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022.
According to Klara Maria Schenk, a transport campaigner for Greenpeace who is based in Vienna, the estimate used a measuring system that draws on data from WingX and the Small Emitters Tool, a calculator developed by Eurocontrol, the agency that manages air traffic in Europe. But setting the correct parameters and ensuring consistency around colossal amounts of aviation data is tricky.
“There can be small mistakes,” Ms. Schenk said. “But in general, if you have all this data, then you can calculate to the best scientific standards the emissions of the machines.”
For comparison, Ms. Schenk’s team calculated that the 1,040 private jet flights that landed in Davos for last year’s World Economic Forum produced carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 350,000 cars in a week.
Las Vegas already faces energy, heat and drought challenges. Those issues, and the emissions and pollution from private planes, are raising concerns with some locals.
Jaime Brousse takes her two children, who are in elementary school, to watch sleek executive jets take off and land at Henderson Executive Airport, about 13 miles south of Las Vegas. She noticed a spike in private planes, and pollution, during the recent Formula One event.
“It’s easy to see the layer of smog sitting over the city,” Ms. Brousse, 42, said. “I know most of that is from cars, but you can’t help but think that all those private jets probably aren’t helping.”
Dr. Leffel said he was concerned about the consequences beyond Nevada.
“When consumers, when high rollers are flying in, that is a planetary problem that’s putting, for a time, nominally more emissions into the atmosphere,” he said. “That small margin accelerates climate change.”
What could the solutions be? There is regulation, which could include higher taxes or bans on private plane flights. On a local level, the Brightline West, a high-speed electric rail line connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas in just over two hours is expected to be an environmental game changer. It is scheduled to open in 2028.
But even with that alternative, Dr. Leffel posed a question.
“Will the top 1 percent use it?” he asked.