How does the climate effect human nature? When humanity is thrust into a period of poor the struggle leads to violence, but also a shared understanding of suffering. Climate crises have deep effects of the structure and production of the societies in which they occur. Only the eruption of Mount Tambora wreaked the havoc over the globe to the magnitude of the current universal climate crisis. The eruption caused a weather crisis that lead to six failed growing seasons in 1816–a time period in which the world heavily depended on agriculture for food. After the eruption, an ash cloud blocked out the sun for months, which resulted in a prolonged period of stormy cold weather during which crop production was nearly impossible. The prolonged effects on the climate lead to a disastrous famine, wild-spread disease, and a refugee crisis. Creative sympathy, proto-revolutionary violence, and “the flight into hell” serve as the stages of climate shock response to the eruption of Tambora and the ensuing climate crisis.
Violence and rioting increased throughout European society as a response to lack of food and resources. The social and physical effects of the revolution were especially prevalent in the land-locked, and agriculturally dependent, nation of Switzerland. Peasants were “driven to beasts” with hunger and disease, which lead to a stark division between the peasantry and middle class. Middle and upper class citizens grew to fear peasants as “a threat to civil society.” Inflation drove the price of grain out of reach of the peasants; people that could still afford to eat looked down upon the starving as beasts. In 1816 many Europeans, especially the British, vacationed to Geneva. Many of these tourists were authors. The literature produced during the post-Tambora era reflects the fear of loss of civil society. As a tourist in Geneva, Mary Shirley wrote Frankenstein, a story of a monster that causes chaos for society. One interpretation of this work is that the monster serves as a metaphor for the starving and sick, who rioted and disrupted “civil society.” Throughout Europe riots and mobs erupted in response to the economic inflation and lack of resources. Increasing chaos lead some governments to fear their citizens and respond in a harsh and militaristic style. The British army opened fire of a crown protesting the export of grain from Ireland. During this era people were often hanged for insurrection, and jails overflowed with convicts. Women, unable to feed their starving children, committed infanticide to avoid watching their children suffer.
In urban areas the lack of resources lead to loud and calamitous revolts; however, in the countryside the climate crisis silent, but disastrous effects. In the cities people had enough energy to raise riots, but in the country people truly starved and lacked to energy to do anything but die silently. The decimation of the countryside resulted in a mass exodus and a refugee crisis. People knew that they could not survive if they stayed so groups, thousands strong, walked to roads in search of anything that could support life.
The Baroness Juliana De Krudener became of savior for those on the “flight into hell.” She delivered apocalyptic sermons and gained a massive cult of followers. She also raised money to help feed the sick and starving, even using her personal fortune to ameliorate the suffering of many. In the process, she gained a great number of enemies who distained her for the political and cultural effects of the survival of the poor and starving. She serves as the figurehead for the creative sympathy that arose following the Tambora Eruption. Some nations, like Austria, developed early welfare programs to help their citizens. This was one of the first attempts for a government to assume the role of protecting its citizens. The concept of government-sponsored welfare did not arise in the United States until the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, over 100 years later. Other innovative ideas were also construed to ameliorate the disparity of Europe after the Tambora eruption. Many livestock and horses perished during the famine leaving many people without a mode of transportation. Early prototypes of the bicycle arose during this era to provide transportation in place of livestock.
While the climate crisis of 1815 and the following years lead to violence, starvation, and disease, it also gave rise to literary, humanitarian, and technological innovations that played key roles in the time period of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Today, the world suffers from another prolonged climate crisis; however, the end is nowhere in sight. Our generation has the unique opportunity and obligation to reform the way that people interact with their environment.