Professor Wood’s eco-centric perspective allows a narrative to be created from the different isolated events that occurred in the early 1800’s. Because he applied a global, anthropological, ecological, geological, environmental lens, he was able to understand the extent to which human interaction with the environment was affected by the volcano’s eruption. Tambora erupted in 1816 beginning extreme climate changes and harsh environmental patterns that affected the world. Famine due to shortened growing seasons, forest fires in Russia, the exodus of people from New England have been looked at as isolated events, but when looked at together we see a system of vulnerability. At the end of his lecture, Wood said that looking at history with an ecological perspective must be practiced because our relationship with the environment is only getting worse. Due to our industrial and technological dependencies, we have been impacting the natural environment in ways that will cause repercussions. Therefore, we must use the Tambora eruption as a model of how vulnerable we are to changing weather systems because our weather patterns will become more extreme as we continue to disrupt the environment.
Wood believes that the impacts that occurred because of the Tambora eruption are comparable to the climate changes we are witnessing today because of our industrial impacts on the environment, which is evident if we look at the cause and effects of Hurricane Katrina. Wood argues that there are three stages of climate shock response that people experience after they go through a traumatic event: proto-revolutionary violence, flight into hell, and creative sympathy. In the wake of the hurricane, violence broke out in New Orleans. People were terrified because there was no law enforcement, so many looted to feed themselves and other people tried to fight the looters. And even now, there are many parts of New Orleans, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, that are still considered dangerous because they have not been reconstructed since the hurricane hit. This mirrors the rioting, and violence done to themselves or others of the 1800’s.
Wood also spoke of the flight into hell or the way the poorest were treated in Switzerland. Due to the intersection of race and class, many poor black people in New Orleans were left to die because of a lack of government support during the event and afterwards. Wood talked of the beginning of government assisting in humanitarian efforts, but the work done by FEMA and federal government was delayed and lacking. And as a result, the poorest people were not givens safety, were turned away by their neighbors, and largely ignored by their country. Although efforts were made by certain charitable groups, the reaction to one of the most devastating events in recent US history was severely underwhelming.
Creative sympathy was what Wood defined as humanitarian compositions in response to the devastation. The bicycle was invented because horses were being killed and eaten, or Frankenstein was written because Mary Shelley was trapped inside due to the bad weather and the character Frankenstein was a symbol of the starving, half-dead Swiss population. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina yielded similar results. Books were written detailing the destruction by authors like Dave Eggers. But perhaps the greatest change was the completely new school system that was put in place. Every school in New Orleans was shut down, all teachers rehired, and the schools themselves were turned into charter schools. New Orleans was a national experiment to see if charter schools could save the American public school system. Although some schools have done better than others, graduation rates have improved. Wood spoke about how we need to look at our history to prepare ourselves for extreme weather events to come, but I think we are already experiencing mass destruction and desolation because of already changing climatic systems, and we must look at how we respond and who we are helping and who we are ignoring.