For years, humans have been influencing the natural world as one single species. With the creation of words such as “untouched nature,” we kind of distinguish ourselves from the environment that sustains us. Although we humans have been modifying the landscape intentionally selecting the species that is beneficial for us, we should not ignore the fact that a lot of non-anthropogenic power has also affected our well-being and social structure.
From the lecture given by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, the Langan Professor of Environmental Humanities in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I learned one great example to strengthen this argument that non-anthropogenic power is much stronger and more influential than we thought about. In 1815, the Mount Tambora located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia suddenly erupted and that eruption was one of the strongest eruptions in recorded history. Exactly two hundred years ago, in 1816, the human society experienced the global cooling, with a temperature drop of a few degrees Celsius. The year was known as “the Year Without Summer.”
This sudden tipping point led to various results. It inspired Mary Shelley to come up with the notable work of imagination, Frankenstein. But more importantly, a global famine happened because of the worldwide harvest failures. Countless thousands starved in China’s Yunnan province and typhus spread across Europe. People had to sell their children in order to buy food and raise their other children in Yunnan, China. No one knew that the common cause of all these things was a ruined mountain in a far-off sea.
After I learned about these shocking facts, the question is: why is this event so little known? Why is there so little coverage in media or books that teach people about this history? Back to middle school or high school, we spent days and night learned about achievements, technology, and innovations created by humans. However, no one talked about this historical event.
I believe the reason behind the lack of access was because we didn’t view the non-anthropogenic power as important enough as it should be. We’ve discussed about political revolutions in different cultures, industrial revolution in different time stages, or agricultural revolution. However, in term of natural power and how non-anthropogenic power affects our society, we didn’t cover enough, in my opinion.
It’s hard to imagine if Mount Tambora erupts or similar natural disasters happen in modern society. Will they wipe out the civilization we already built? If we don’t pay much attention to these natural changes that might influence our well-being, we might not be prepared enough when natural disasters actually happened. Today, earthquake, flood, typhoon or tsunami can pose serious threats for our society. And we are still polluting water bodies and emitting greenhouse gases. We might need to be more revere of the nature and its power.