Posted at Salon on Apr. 2, 2020
In the 4,000-year-old "Epic of Gilgamesh," the arrogant eponymous king killed Humbaba, the giant guardian of the forest so that he could cut down the cedar stands in what is now northern Iraq to build his great city of Uruk. Gilgamesh's people then diverted the Euphrates River to irrigate fields of barley. To avenge Humbaba's murder and the destruction of the forest, the gods cursed Gilgamesh and his people. One Sumerian writer mournedthat "the earth turned white. It was one of our first stories about environmental destruction — in this case, a salt buildup from irrigation that turned the fields to desert.