Blowing in the Winds of the Wine-dark Sea

Wind farm. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In book 10 of the Odyssey, Homer tells the story of Odysseus coming to the floating island of Aiolia, home of Aiolos, god of the winds. Listening to the courageous  but unsuccessful efforts of Odysseus to return home to Ithaca, Aiolos says to Odysseus to relax. He would guide him to reach his desired destination.

Aiolos feasted and took care of Odysseus and his sailors for close to a month. When he saw the men had recovered, he gave Odysseus a gift that only a god could give: an ox-skin bag holding all the winds, save the westerly for blowing his ship straight to Ithaca. Aiolos warned Odysseus not to open the wind bag.

Odysseus thanked Aiolos and left full of hope for returning, finally, home. On his turn, he warned his companions not to touch the bag from Aiolos.

Sailing went smoothly for nine days and nights. Odysseus guided the ship, so eager he was to arrive to his beloved wife Penelope and his kingdom home of Ithaca. During the tenth day he could see Ithaca, but he was so exhausted he fell asleep. This gave a chance to some among his sailors to cause harm. They suspected he hoarded silver and gold in the bag Aiolos gave him. They opened the wind bag, triggering a storm that pushed their boat back to Aiolia.

Odysseus, angry but determined to return home, approached Aiolos pleading for help. But Aiolos ordered him off his island. He told Odysseus he was despised by the blessed gods. Odysseus was, once again, on his own.

Joe Biden is certainly not Odysseus, though he and Odysseus have this in common: untrustworthy assistants. Biden knows he wants to get off the clouds of industry and Republican petroleum deception. So he turns to the Democratic “greens.” They mean well, but have business as usual in mind. They hold a bag of winds, threatening to unleash them in order to enable the industry to sell electricity born of giant wind mills.

Wind farms on floating grounds

Biden, however, does not understand the implications of planting hundreds and thousands of the gigantic wind towers in the Pacific coast of California – and in the coasts of other states.

For the time being, his plan opens the way for commercial wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts and similar commercial wind farms covering 399-square miles off the Morro Bay in Central California and the Humboldt coast in Northern California. The estimated beneficiaries of Biden’s wind power in California will likely be 1.6 million homes.

The natural world, as usual, will pay the price for this rush to convert clean energy to business as usual. Each of the metal giants powered by wind has very large long blades, which strong sea winds forces to turn around and around fast enough to generate electricity. But birds fly   between those roving knives. Probably none survive. Is that worth it?

The Pacific, like the rest of the oceans and seas, is wine-dark but not healthy. Chemicals, unfathomable amounts of plastic, munitions, nuclear waste, overfishing, and the acidification and warming of the waters is changing the chemistry and biology of the oceans dramatically. Adding pollution and bird killings is folly.

Yet Biden made lots of election promises to fight climate danger and create high paying jobs at the same time. He longs to tell Americans everything is under control, not to panic. The rising temperatures and forest fires of climate change have been ominous.

And with the summer almost here, the dragon of an overheated planet is bound to come out of the winter shadows and lash violently the petrochemical addicted civilization of our age.

Biden suspects the roaring trouble of the coming heat waves. In desperation, he approved the monstrous mechanical towers of blades to fill hundreds of thousands of square miles of space in America’s coasts.

Time of reckoning

But like Odysseus, Biden’s wind bag has already been opened and the storms on land and sea cannot be silenced by factory wind farms. Their only advantage is the corporate control of their electricity.

There’s no doubt wind is important in generating electricity. But the designers and engineers need to stop creating monstrous machines that degrade human beings and the natural world.

This is not nineteenth century when nature and even human beings counted for practically nothing. This is twenty-first century with memories of the bloodbath of the two most destructive wars in history, both of them fought during the twentieth century primarily in Europe: WWI and WWII. That barbaric exuberance included the invention and use of the evil and genocidal weapon of the atomic and nuclear variety.

The other distinction that should weight heavily on our consciousness is that we have the results of more than seventy years of studies on the anthropogenic origins of climate change.

There’s no way we can hide behind the nonsense “we need more research.” We know we are the species that is unravelling ecosystems and societies. We know climate change is a human crime.

Plan of action, 2021

What we need now, in 2021, is a commitment to abandon fossil fuels at a date certain, not later than 2030. As soon as possible, Biden should declare national emergency and employ the armed forces and the industry in changing the infrastructure of America from fossil fuels to clean energy without greenhouse gas emissions. It would help embarking on a WWII-like plan of building an electric architecture for trains, trams, and railroads – for the entire country.

The Sun should become the focus for the decarbonization of everything we do. Put  solar panels over every roof of homes, apartments, stores, factories, garages, storage buildings, schools, colleges and universities, churches, and in the walls of skyscrapers.

Prohibit private airplanes and restrict airplane flights to those travelling for essential and emergency needs. Ban the large petroleum-fueled cruise ships.

The other threatening reality comes from the roads and highways of America, nearly flooded by hundreds of millions of polluting cars and trucks emitting ceaselessly greenhouse gases. I face these machines every day. If anything, they are becoming militarized, larger in size, and more dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Not all car drivers should keep driving, even electric cars. It’s simply stupid to allow everyone and all to drive a huge car for moving one person from place A to B. Public transport can do that, without costs to the passenger.

Millions of people, including me, love biking for fun, exercise, and going to work. Bikers, however, need protection from the wild west of car drivers. The Biden administration should fund safe bike lanes all over the country.

Just as fundamental in making the transition to a livable society and world and reducing substantially greenhouse gas emissions is the reinvention of industrialized farming into millions of small family farms producing food without pesticides, genetic engineering and sludge. Animal farms must be radically reformed or banned. They are filthy houses of slaughter, pollution, stench, greenhouse gas emissions, and disease.

Agroecological science and traditional knowledge will be the science of a new agriculture.

World cooperation or catastrophe

Assuming Biden adopted these or other complementary proposals for  fighting climate change, he needs to convince world leaders to be on the same page.

Climate change is a defining moment for humans. It does not matter if two or more countries hate each other. They must work together to give themselves more time to fight their real climate enemy. Pretending global warming is a hoax, or that the rich industrialized countries started climate revenge, or my country is in the north, will not help anybody.

Yes, Russia, Canada, the Scandinavian countries and Iceland will survive climate change longer. In fact,Russia is likely to become the dominant superpower in a collapsing warmer world. But how will Russia and those northern countries continue any “normal” life or survival while the planet is burning? Not only that, but millions of humans will be encircling and invading the colder countries and, in all likelihood, warfare will be just as deadly as starvation and drought and heat.

Time to stop playing petroleum games and rethink our  responsibilities towards each other and our Mother Earth.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.