“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” This quote from Fredrick Douglas illustrates one of the most prominent points I took from the talk. In this talk, The Tambora Revolution: The 1815 Revolution that Changed the World, Professor Gilley D’Arcy Wood spoke about the eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1816, but also focused on the aftermath and what came from the conditions that this natural disaster created. The first stage of climate shock response, as described by Professor Wood, is creative sympathy. In the aftermath of such an enormous crisis, innovation was needed to cope with and overcome the challenges that citizens encountered. The innovative ideas that emerged as a result of this stress creative sympathy. This response manifested itself in many forms. It was present in the literary world, inspiring works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the poem “Darkness” by Lord Byron. In the world of meteorology, the first modern weather map created after the eruption. Political ideology in Europe was becoming more humanitarian as the safety of citizens became the priority. As for technology, the first bicycle prototype was created to replace the many horses that died as a result of the food shortage.
My goal here is not to downplay the violence and social unrest that came as a result of this natural disaster. Wood outlined these events in great detail. The Subsistence Crisis of 1816-17 resulted in social uprising throughout Europe, including a group of 10,000 citizens gathering in Manchester, England where rebels were hanged in town square. Infanticide was an imminent issue as mothers would much rather prevent their children from having to deal with starvation. Many suffered from starvation and many left their homes to find shelter and food anywhere they could. Some resorted to slavery, either selling themselves or their children. This was an awful time, but I am choosing to focus on the positive outcomes because this epitomizes a social phenomenon that is at the roots of human nature. After a disaster like this, humans come together. This situation is a bit different because many people were simply fighting for survival, no matter what that entailed. On the other hand, Professor Wood provided many examples of humanitarianism in the aftermath of the eruption. Among these acts were priests creating makeshift hospitals in Ireland, the Bourgeois of France creating helpful programs and legislatures passing helpful laws. After such a major event, people feel vulnerable. Social connection is an important component to human psychology. Most people, no matter if they realize it or not, are protective of fellow humans. This innate quality can be revealed after a major disaster.
1816, the year without a summer, had its fair share of tragedy, but there were also many positive consequences. After a disaster like this, a type of revolution can ensue where society feels broken and needs to be built back up. Specifically in Europe, following the Tambora Eruption and subsequent Subsistence Crisis, action was taken by many to help the common in this time of need. Struggle can bring out the worst, but often also brings out the best, the most humanitarian qualities, in people. Maybe every day should be treated as though we are recovering from a disaster.