A panoramic overview of the wide-ranging social and political effects of a climatic catastrophe.
Historian William Klingaman (Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, 2001, etc.) and meteorologist Nicholas P. Klingaman join forces to document the atmospheric pollution from the massive eruption of an Indonesian volcano, Mount Tambora, in 1815. Black ash spread over nearby villages, and a cloud of sulfuric acid first moved over the Indian subcontinent and China and then spread to North America and Europe the following year, with disastrous consequences. Abnormally cold temperatures, respiratory problems, disease and crop failure followed in its wake. The authors begin their detailed account of the volcano in the winter of 1815–1816 as the aerosol cloud cooled temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere. The consequences were devastating because of crop damage and ensuing famine, most notably in Ireland but also in France and England and, to a lesser degree, on the Eastern Seaboard in America. Heavy snows in winter were followed by unusually volatile weather that affected crops adversely; a cold summer with barely any sunlight was worse. European grain stores were already depleted as a result of the Napoleonic wars, and commerce was disrupted by the transition from a war economy to peacetime. The Klingamans document the famine and social unrest that followed over the following year. At the same time, many lives were relatively untouched by the calamity—not only monarchs and the politicians who wrestled with problems of poor relief, but also Jane Austen and poets such as Byron and Shelley. One long-term result of the volcanic eruption was the increase in emigration to the U.S. and of more marginal American farmers westward.
An intriguing sidelight on the effects of climate change.