Gillen Wood’s take on the eruption of the Tambora volcano was one that I found deserves more appreciation and focus than it is currently given, not only because I knew so very little about the event prior to his lecture, but because what I think we as humans can and must learn from events such as that volcanic eruption if we are to continue to survive as a human species in a world increasingly threatened by the dangers of climate change.
As Wood discussed, the Tambora eruption sent the world into multiple years of increased heartache and difficulty of survival. The volcano sent massive amounts of particulates into the air, causing the average global temperature to drop by a whole degree, which led to the summer of 1816 being called “the year without a summer.” Massive crop failures ensued, people starved, disease was rampant, and many people resorted to things such as infanticide in order to keep themselves alive. The effects of the eruption could be felt around the world, but were particularly noticed in places such as central Europe, where those living at higher altitudes in particular suffered greatly.
But from this historic event arose humanity’s instinctive push for survival, which in turn caused a series of revolutions of their own, particularly in the realms of political, social, and technological advancements. If it weren’t for the fact that many horses died as a result of an inability of their owners to feed them during those years, the bicycle may not have been invented during this time to counteract the fact that people could not, for a period of time, get around as easily as they used to. Or if so many people hadn’t starved to death, the idea of a government actively working to protect the general health and welfare of its people may have not been born during this time. Or even if the high mountains in Switzerland were not plunged into months of cold and rain, would Mary Shelley have come up with the idea for her acclaimed horror story of Frankenstein, a book still read today. Without such a terrible event such as the Tambora eruption, these and many other developments may not have taken place when they ultimately did.
This brings me to final argument, which is this: if we as humans know our history and know of the power of nature and what it can do to human life, as it did to humans during the years following the Tambora eruption, then we must also recognize that we have an ability to counteract such events in order to move past them and continue our survival. But only this time, when it comes to climate change, we are in fact given a gift, which is that of time. Compared to the volcanic eruption, which altered the Earth’s climate in a matter of months, climate change (despite speeding up exponentially) is still moving a bit slower than that. However, we can still see its effects on us and our planet clearly, and can adequately predict where we might be heading should nothing be done. This is why I urge all of humanity to recognize our window of opportunity to at least try and prevent a catastrophic change in our climate from happening before it’s too late, because it’s hard to say whether this time it’ll be easily, or quickly reversible.