Hurricane Lessons

Hurricane Ian over Florida, September 28, 2022. NASA.

The Claremont mirror

I have been living in Claremont for 14 years. Its thousands of trees, the Honnold-Mudd Library of Claremont Colleges, and attractive homes made the town appealing to me. I bought my home and immediately put solar panels on its roof. I started biking, walking, and making friends.

Then the 2020 pandemic shut down everything. I lost the few friends I used to meet every Saturday at a coffeeshop. Masked people walking the streets avoided each other like a plague.

The new black death

Climate change joined the pandemic causing more misery and death in Claremont, California, the United States, and the planet. In fact, these two anthropogenic phenomena have the same origins.

The ceaseless destruction of nature fueling development and factory farming have joined forces against humans. The colossal animal farms butchering some 9 billion animals per year (in America alone) have become factories of viruses with the potential for triggering pandemics.

So, together, the pandemic and climate chaos intensify the destructive effects humans cause to themselves and our planet Earth. Yet most humans, including those of Claremont, prefer to ignore they are causing the storms, hurricanes, draught, pollution, and the extreme heat of the ceaselessly growing climate change / chaos.

There are many reasons why humans remain so abysmally ignorant about the very climate bomb they have been constructing for more than a century. Just like religious beliefs, and complementary to them, our metaphysics include ideas and superstitions we learned at home, school, church, work, books, movies, radio, and the Internet.

The twentieth century was the dark ages of petroleum, plenty of petroleum wars, vast genocides in nature and among people. The two World Wars nearly annihilated nature and civilization, the embers of which barely survived. The invention and use of atomic weapons was the emblem of that dark age.

Under these conditions global warming went unnoticed. The fossil fuel companies knew that the burning of their products caused climate change, but did nothing, save for funding academics and corporate “scientists” to produce doubt and propaganda. They advertised that the burning of oil, natural gas, and coal had nothing to do with climate change.

The twenty-first century (its first 22 years) harvested the war seeds and almost total dependence on fossil fuels of the previous century.

Meanwhile, the machinery of adding more and more heat trapping gases to the atmosphere from the fossil fuels burning of the business as usual has been bringing the results climatologists have been monitoring and predicting for decades: violent forest fires, powerful hurricanes, sporadic but intense rains, droughts, and extreme heat.

What could Claremont do about this danger? The City Council could stop several local streets from being rivers of cars; provide electric buses to gather school children from their homes, while prohibiting cars bringing children to school and taking children home; create safe bike lanes and encourage most people to stop driving petroleum-powered cars. Bikes, free of the threat of cars, are ideal for pleasure, exercise, and local transport.

This is important because petroleum cars are a large factor in promoting global warming.

The second necessary step is solar panels over every house roof in Claremont. Residents can afford solar panels. Many of them live in homes selling for about a million dollars. In addition, the City should require solar panels over every parking lot and the roofs of churches, schools, colleges, shopping malls and buildings.

It’s a shame to watch the country go up in flames, tornadoes, floods, and extreme heat and continue to drive those countless large polluting cars as if everything is fine.

Alarm bells from Florida

Time to act is now. Hurricane Ian left an unforgettable footprint of destruction in Florida in late September 2022. It hit the state with a million tons of brick. Nothing stood on its devastating path. New York Times reporters said:

“The scale of the wreckage was staggering, even to Florida residents who had survived and rebuilt after other powerful hurricanes. The storm pulverized roads, toppled trees, gutted downtown storefronts and set cars afloat, leaving a soggy scar of ruined homes and businesses from the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers to inland communities around Orlando… homes crunched together in a chaotic jumble, or smashed into what looked like toothpicks. Fishing boats and pleasure cruisers had been hurled onto the ground as if they were bathtub toys. The streets were a perilous obstacle course of toppled trees and downed wires”

This and other countless wreckages, vast floods, hellish forest fires, and hunger-producing droughts have been telling humanity the planet and its people have been in a state of climate emergency.

Stop the Cold War – it could become hot

Our President Joe Biden and our California governor Gavin Newsom should be having nightmares over this national violent tragedy. They should be entirely absorbed by the great challenges and courage demanded for abandoning fossil fuels and adopting solar and wind energy. It has never been done before. It must be done now. The UN climatologists are telling us this third decade of the twenty-first century is the critical decade for abolishing the fossil fuels era.

Biden should stop his outrageous war in the Ukraine. Fighting an undercover war against nuclear-armed Russia is insanity. It resurrects the most dangerous experiences of the Cold War. Besides, this war is wrecking Ukraine, unsettles Europe, and unleashes the authoritarianism and aggression of the NATO “ally” Turkey.

California should fix its broken farming

Gavin Newsom must stop telling us to adjust to a “hotter and drier world.” Instead, he can do something just and democratic for the benefit of all citizens of the state. He can change the corrupt politics of the farmers of the Central Valley. They, like their British landlord models, want to maintain their feudal oligarchy, which gives them 80 percent of our drinking water, which we buy from northern California.

Newsom can reverse the water equation. Give the farmers 20 percent of the state’s water and 80 percent to the people and wildlife of California. Moreover, he should direct that no water can go to any farm larger than 160 acres. The number 160 is not magical. It was the acreage the federal government gave to homesteaders for decades. A hundred and sixty acre farms established family farmers in America, We must bring those farmers back. Democracy, nature, climate change, and wholesome food demand it.

Newsom can also prohibit water going to lawns and golf courses, useless playgrounds both. Cleaning up the filth of animal farms would save water and lessen pollution and dangers to wildlife. Newsom can order animal factories to do away with their waste lagoons and treat their wastes like cities do.

But does Newsom or other politicians in California and the United States have the courage and integrity to “reform” agriculture? They should know that without radical changes in how American farmers grow food, the struggle against climate chaos will be half-hearted and probably doomed to failure.

This is because corporations destroyed the democratic nature of farming, making it a machine. Such a mechanical construction is literally addicted to petroleum. Think of the giant tractors, other machinery, trucks, synthetic pesticides, and fertilizers. Machines are demanding petroleum, and the chemicals are made of petroleum. All of this makes an industrialized agriculture, which is responsible for a substantial slice of the amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere every day, something like 30 to 50 percent of the total.

This reality of factory farming in America is like the hurricane that destroyed Florida. It took decades of corporate lobbying and deep corruption at the highest levels of government and land-grant (agricultural) universities to undermine family farming for machine and chemicals agriculture practiced on large pieces of land producing one crop drenched in poisons.


With the exception of some dedicated climatologists and environmentalists, most people grew up in a Cold War culture and exaggerated views of science and business. Climate was too technical and, besides, the petroleum economy was indoctrinating Americans on its miracles. So, climate change / chaos was an alien concept and reality for decades. I know, of course, that my suggestions are not likely to reach Newsom or Biden. My hope is that readers will think about them — and act to fight the climate dragon and its supporters.

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.