If I asked you what the most devastating natural disaster in human history was, what would you say?
Presumably a volcanic eruption due to the gif above, but which?
Would you say, “Surely Mount Vesuvias burning Pompeii, with all those ashen bodies”?
Krakatoa, maybe? That one killed 32,000 people.
NOPE. Neither. The Haiti earthquake in 2010 alone killed 160,000 people and the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of 2004 almost a quarter million.
Enter the calamity that was the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora.
The Horror Story:
Imagine. You live in the volcanoes shadow. Above, the mountain leaps into the sky. The plume of smoke rips up, the belching forth of sundered Earth causes sonic-quakes and your ear-drums explode. The world turns to night and plasmic rock rains over you. A wind picks up and then your house gets torn upward and flung into the sky.
Imagine. You live 200 miles away from the volcano. The house ceases. From the sky and then all around the air bursts with incredible noise. Your hands shoot to your ears but still the noise gets through. You can feel the house shake.
Imagine. You live 800 miles away from the volcano. In the distance you hear the cracking of a coming storm.
Imagine. You live 1600 miles away from the volcano. In the distance you hear the gentle echo of thunder.
Directly, the volcano killed 92,000 people. Tragic and already too-high yes, but this does not yet convey the real toll.
The year Mount Tambora erupted was 1815, nicknamed “the Year Without a Summer”. For a period, the seasons acted like they do in Westeros and Winter had come.
Tsunamis were raised by the eruption. They swept away entire coastlines.
The ashes that flew into the sky from the eruption reached all the way up to the stratosphere.
Unlike the eruption of Krakatoa, Tambora predated the telegraph. News didn’t really reach Europe or America of Tambora’s eruption. No one really knew what was coming.
Above the weather systems, sitting in the stratosphere still was dust from the smoke. Sunlight hardly got through at all and the result was global cooling. Crops started failing.
Since the entire world was made up of agricultural economies, they all collapsed. Conditions to grow food were the worst worldwide in over a thousand years.
In Europe, there were food riots. Famine-friendly diseases such as typhus reigned supreme. Gillen D’Arcy Wood suggested that during this time it was easy for Mary Shelley to conjure the image of Frankenstein’s monster wandering the highways of Europe. The sight of a misshapen, shambling figure haunting the highways would’ve been common.
In order to survive, the villages near Tambora escaped the ensuing madness by selling themselves into slavery. They had no other way of getting off the island.
The climate, for three years after the eruption was radically altered.
The Indian monsoons were greatly weakened by the new climate and this resulted in the reemergence of one of mankind’s ancient enemies: cholera. From India it spread through the globe. Tens of millions died of cholera in the nineteenth century.
Without Tambora, cholera wouldn’t have spread like it did. The impact doesn’t end there though.
Crops in Asia became difficult to grow. Farmers couldn’t subsist off of growing rice, so they started growing opium to sell. Today these parts of Asia are known as the Golden Triangle, and remain a primary source of opium production in the world.
The eruption of Mount Tambora is a climate change story.
It’s easy for us to become prideful and let our guard down. We are, after all, the only animal to have developed intellect. We create robots. We travel space. We fly.
Our lives rely deeply on the continuing generosity of Earth giving us a Goldilocks-like place to live. Resources come easy (for now). These things could change in a second.
Climate change is a risky thing. Its effects are unpredictable. We learned this for the first time in 1815, the Year Without a Summer. Lets not forget.