A Menacing Wind: a Glimpse of Climate Chaos

Giant tree uprooted by the menacing wind of climate chaos, January 22, 2022, Claremont, California. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos.

It was the beginning of Saturday, January 22, 2022. The angry and loud wind woke me up at about 1:00 AM. It was pitched dark. I looked outside in the darkness and saw nothing. The wind, its menacing sound and fury, overwhelmed my immediate environment and the natural world.

Menacing wind

The fierce wind whistled its warning for several hours. It kept me alert and very concerned about the safety of my family, house, and community.

When the Sun sent its rays of light in the morning over Claremont, California, the reality was not pretty. As a neighbor said to me, Claremont was “a war zone.” Dozens of old giant trees stood uprooted and sprawled in the streets, with a few touching the walls or roofs of homes.

The rumors I heard about the wind suggested the wind attacked a large swath of southern California at speeds close to 80 miles an hour.

Seeing my favorable trees down on cement streets  pained me, another sign of exploding natural forces fueled by ceaseless amounts of greenhouse gases reaching the atmosphere every day of the year, year after year, decade after decade.

Poles of danger

In Claremont, our anger about the loss of our trees intensified by another reality. This beautiful city, with some fortunate exceptions, is marred by black tall tree-like wooden poles carrying electricity and phone wires, including metal boxes, probably full of polychlorinated biphenyls, extremely toxic chemicals that the US Environmental Protection Agency banned in 1979.

Some of the trees smashed onto those wires, thus leaving the city in the dark for two days. No refrigerators, no cooking, no phones, no computers – and dark houses.

I walked all over the ruined city and noticed several other Claremont residents. They related their anger and described the fallen trees they had seen. In that silent moment, each of us, prayed for the innocent tree friends we had lost.

A couple of times I mentioned that the electricity company was largely responsible that thousands of residents were left in the dark. A couple of young people in my neighborhood said, “We work from home, but we are without internet.”

Why does the government of Claremont tolerate such Third World behavior, I asked? No one had an answer, but they agreed things must change. The company must put all electricity and phone lines underground, as it has done in the land occupied by the Claremont Colleges, and the land developed in the hills of northern Claremont with its multi-million dollar homes.

So, for me, the menacing wind of the early hours of Saturday , January 22, 2022, was telling of the prevailing undemocratic division of power in America. The black wooden poles are everywhere. I remember them in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, DC, Louisiana; I see them all over California. Their electricity wires are often responsible for setting forests on fire, and, still, their corporate owners refuse to bury them.

Stop blah-blah and do something about the climate monster

The menacing wind was also an additional voice of nature telling us to make a U-turn from our blah-blah talk and act to prevent catastrophe. If the wind can uproot tree giants, what can stand on its way?

Consider that the speed of the wind could be much higher, accompanied by rain or  lightening and fire. Who or what could have survived a sustained storm?

No more war games: wake up to the climate war

But instead of humanity facing climate chaos on a united front, war is in the air in Europe. The US and its NATO allies are threatening Russia because Russia refuses to see Ukraine joining NATO.

Biden should stop this nonsense. Tell NATO to stay clear of Ukraine and Russia, home to Slavs  sharing similar culture and history. Their conflict is a form of civil war. I cannot imagine Biden would feel comfortable if President Vladimir Putin of Russia was getting cozy with Canada. Why then is he allowing his generals and his NATO allies to meddle in Russia’s affairs?

These exercises in Cold War thinking and practice are extremely dangerous. Both Russia and the United States are armed with thousands of nuclear weapons.

In addition, military confrontation between Russia and the United States fosters hostility at a time all humans should be very close to each other planning and executing painful policies for securing a livable future for our children.

Biden should invite President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to sign an Earth-preserving treaty in which they and Biden become responsible for cutting greenhouse gases by more than 50 percent within the next few years, before 2030.

Biden should realize that the Republicans in Congress and the Republican Party, not Putin, are his enemies. Their refusal to admit that climate change is a scientific fact and reality threatening the planet and civilization is unforgivable and unpatriotic. They are allies of the menacing wind of climate chaos.

If Biden had the courage to embrace Putin and the leaders of India, China, and EU for the love of our and their children and the preservation of Mother Earth, he would become the greatest President.

Actions like this, not rattling the weapons of war in the Ukraine, would earn immortality for these four leaders. I know that’s the case. The menacing wind told me so.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.