Comfort and Virtue

Organic oranges from the farmers’ market of Claremont. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos

A beautiful winter day

Sunday, November 27, 2022, was a beautiful day. The Sun bathed the golden trees with slight warm light and a breeze. Leaves had fallen to the ground. I had the impression I was in Alexandria, Virginia in September.

My wife and were walking to the farmers’ market, downtown Claremont. The road (Harvard) facing the public library and City Hall were empty of traffic and barriers protected the gathering crowd from cars. Merchants included farmers / farm workers selling fruits and vegetables, mostly conventional food.

Farmers’ markets

This has been my greatest complain. Why would the City of Claremont, or any other town in this country, not encourage all food sellers to sell only organic food? This reality keeps normalizing the abnormal to the point Americans will one day forget completely. That, in fact, eating conventional / non-organic food is bad for them and our planet. The bad thing comes from the carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals farmers spray their fruits, vegetables, and crops.

Cancer and neurological disease are deadly. Neurotoxic chemicals like the dope pesticide drugs of the farmers harm the brain. With the gun mayhem and other behavioral pathologies, you would think our federal and state regulators and countless medical doctors would wake up and stop this “legal” food poisoning. At the same time, where are the environmentalists?

In the Claremont farmers’ market, there’s nearly always one or two farmers certified to sell good food. A young woman was selling organic apples. My wife and I purchased five large organic apples from her for $ 15. We then slowly walked home.

The message of the Sun

The Sun, the colorful trees and falling leaves, and people walking to and from the farmers’ market, gave us hope that we can solve problems that divide us. The warm Sun in late November had an invisible but unambiguous warning: act now, don’t allow the beauty of nature to deceive you.

I have been reading the Sun all my life. I admire such a great star giving us and the natural world light and life – forever. What kindness and love behind the bright rays travelling to us with super speed from just the right distance. No wonder my Greek ancestors worshipped the Sun god Helios. The natural philosopher Aristarchos of Samos in the third century BCE discovered that Helios was at the center of the Cosmos. His Heliocentric Theory is ours cosmology today.

The Sun god Helios and his sister, Selene, the Moon, were so important that the Greeks built an astronomical computer to predict their eclipses. We call this computer Antikythera Mechanism, though its real name must have been Meteoroskopeion, a device for star gazing. I found this computer so exciting that I wrote a book about it, a second century BCE computer of genius that brought the heavens down to Earth.

Yet “modern” people take the Sun for granted. Some of the scientists are foolish enough to assume that with our trivial technologies we can travel to numerous other plants with their own Suns, at distances and destinations humans will never be able to reach.

Other scientists, however, keep reminding us we are adding temperature to the temperature of the Sun, thus undermining our millennia relations with the immortal Sun and life on the immortal Earth, our home.

Burning fossil fuels

Humans have been upsetting our Heliocentric civilization because we have been burning petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which trap solar energy trying to escape to space. So, the solution to raising temperature is to stop burning fossil fuel. Get out of the nasty habit and turn to the Sun, which has infinite energy.

Yet the problem is not that easy to solve because those who have enriched themselves from fossil fuels are billionaires with enormous political power. Add to them the kingdom of Saudi Arabia milking the world for its sole asset, petroleum, and you have a complex geostrategic nexus defending fossil fuels. These forces have built economies and societies glued together by fossil fuels. Vast armies and even food production rely on petroleum.

Claremont – like California

But to get back to my small townhome, Claremont. Can it divorce itself from fossil fuels? At its present state of being, no. Like the rest of California and the Unites States, Claremont is thoroughly addicted to thousands of gas-guzzlers prowling the streets most of the days, petroleum leaf blowers emitting excruciating sounds and amounts of pollutants, and people hiding in large homes.

I have been in Claremont since 2008. I do love the place for its beautiful homes and large number of trees. I have met very few people, usually in my neighborhood. I probably convinced my immediate neighbors to stop using the deafening leaf blowers. But, overall, discussions don’t go very far.


Once, in 2009, I put solar panels on the roof of my house, I started looking at the acres of roof space all over the town. Not many homes or buildings have solar panels. This is puzzling and disturbing. Most homes in Claremont sell for about a million or more. Putting solar panels on roof tops is nor necessarily a decision dependent on money. The same thing is true for the roofs of the large buildings of the five colleges and one university in Claremont. These are private rich schools. So, why don’t they become a paradigm for doing good? Some of their professors must have heard of climate change. Indeed, some of the colleges teach a class they call environmental analysis.

Why do these schools, large churches, parking lots, shopping malls, and the largely affluent citizens of Claremont avoid solar panels? Asking this question triggers thoughts similar to thoughts about the 70 million Americans who voted for former President Donald Trump, a dangerous man who tried to overthrow the government. Having wealth and even knowledge do not necessarily equal to virtue. Aristotle, in fact, argued that a man without virtue is the most savage of animals.

Perhaps, something like that explains those who, despite their wealth, education, and position, refuse to accept there’s global warming. They reject science. They are, in addition, so enamored with their daily trivia of ordering a foreign worker to thin or cut down their “private” tree or employ their leaf blowers to move tree leaves from one place to another, without any concern whatsoever about the extreme noise and dust storms of the leaf blowers. It’s also possible that these citizens / businesses / administrators / regulators are benefiting from fossil fuels, in which case they may have no virtue.

The metaphysical delusions affecting climate deniers is a national security danger hardening the polarization of America, making bipartisanship in state legislatures and Congress nearly impossible. I see that sterility in thought even in Claremont.

Trump polarized the country even more than his predecessors. He appointed polluters and billionaires in his administration. He made environmental crimes look attractive. And the fact he branded climate change a hoax, probably convinced millions of Americans business as usual was the only business of America.

Universities have the experts; yet they remain largely quiet. That’s a shame. Students will never forgive them. The churches and the denominations they represent keep their theology business as usual.

The endless bad news about storms, forest fires, hurricanes, intense heat waves on land and seas falls largely on deaf ears. The death in the forests, wetlands, mountains, rivers, seas, and oceans remains invisible. The death and destruction on land strikes largely very poor people. They don’t have politicians, lobbyists and media that care for them.

The only positive event I can report from Claremont is that a few more houses have solar panels on their roofs. Otherwise, the car Cyclopes are everywhere, hundreds of them.

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.