Tambora eruption of 1815? Hmm, maybe vaguely rings a bell. The “Year Without a Summer”? Yup, I definitely know about that! But not really – the bits and pieces I heard on NPR a few years ago barely touched on the deeper issues that Gillen Wood approached. Tales of Frankenstein, violence, eating horses, feeding the starving, and revolution! And when you think about it, why wouldn’t a global scale geological event disrupt society and spur a “revolution” of sorts? Using our word, “revolution,” as a metaphor, you could say that we are going through a climate change revolution right now.
Technology has allowed humans to adapt and live relatively comfortably in almost all regional climates across, the earth. Whether it is the bitter cold of Antarctica or the deserts of the southwestern United States, we have climate controlled our living environment and diverted water to where this is none. The potential irony is that cooling down your home in the hot weather is contributing to that warmer weather! Weather and climate drove the human race to innovate shelter, and mechanisms for storing and transporting food, yet can we rely on technology to dig us out of a changing climate, a warming planet? Yes, technology is an answer. But will we be proactive or reactive? At the time of the Tambora eruption, many countries did have fail safes in place for a couple years of food shortages, but not enough. However, they didn’t even know what happened, and obviously had no control over a volcanic eruption. Today we have clear links to earth’s climate change, and we have the time (barely) and the ability to make a change, prepare, and solve the problem of waste and pollution.
Unfortunately, there are already many people suffering from climate change and a shortage of food and water. Why must it be that events of extreme human suffering and war be the events that spur our large scale innovation? Gillen Wood noted how following the Tambora eruption, the food shortage was just enough to cause mass stress, political unrest, and violence, and that true famine and starvation occur in silence. One would hope that we have learned the lessons from the past and need not let our environment get to such a point where we are underprepared. When a major political party does not even include the issue of climate change in their platform then I get less optimistic. I embrace the technological advancements that come from our responsibility to reduce our impact on the climate and hope that we invest more in that innovation. I would rather have a methodical well planned and efficient introduction of green frustration, than be forced into unknown territory and a violent revolution.
While slow climate change is not directly comparable to a volcanic eruption, it is widespread and not going away. It is the problem that we face today. The “Year Without a Summer” lived well beyond its name, maybe we need something less mellow than “climate change” and “global warming.”