The Tambora volcano eruption of 1815 is in many respects an extraordinary event in human history. On a small island in Southeast Asia, a volcanic eruption occurred on a scale unrivaled in recent history. It wiped out entire populations for miles around and spewed unimaginable amounts of ash into the atmosphere. This resulted in what Europeans came to call the “year without a Summer,” and caused a three-year cooling period across the globe in which crop yields declined, famine and strife became widespread, and humans the world over struggled to deal with the crisis that fell upon them.
While reflecting on the Tambora eruption and the events in Europe that overlapped with it, the early 19th century takes on an almost apocalyptic tone, with all four mythical Horsemen of the Apocalypse represented in some sort of historical parallel over the course of just a few years. Just after the Tambora eruption, Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo, finally bringing an end to years of Warfare and Conquest at the hands of Napoleon and the French military. Just as these two horsemen of the apocalypse faded from Europe, Famine and Death came in the form of the Tambora eruption and the subsequent crop failures over the next few years. It is almost surprising that we do not see more of this theme take hold of accounts coming from Christian Europe at this time. Instead of biblical horrors, we see the first inklings of science fiction in the form of Frankenstein’s monster, a macabre parallel for the despised refugees seeking food at the time.
One thing that I found very interesting about the Tambora eruption was the far-reaching impacts on governmental policy in Europe. While it seems like a world away from the volcano, Europe was devastated by the crop failures caused by the volcanic ash in the atmosphere, forcing governments to respond to the starving masses begging for food. Would these relief measures have occurred without a Tambora-like event? If not, what would Europe have looked like today without Tambora and the subsequent social reforms?
In summary, I think the Tambora eruption is an extremely important reminder of our connection with the natural world around us. We may think ourselves safe from the forces of nature inside our climate-controlled rooms and built-up urban areas, but this is nothing if not a false sense of security. If anything, Tambora should teach us to take better care of the environment. Who is to say what kind of devastation would occur if Tambora were to happen today? I would dare say it would probably be even worse than in 1815. We are more reliant on a globalized network of human industry for our daily needs than ever before, and the planet is under an unprecedented amount of environmental stress due to human activity. Perhaps a Tambora-like event will be what we need to finally open our eyes to this reality, and bring about revolutions in policy that will address the pressing realities of the human connection with our environment.