Could the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park lead to another “Year Without a Summer” like the one produced by Mount Tambora in 1816?  Or is it just Mother Nature’s way of reminding us the planet has its own mechanisms for restoring natures balance?  Kilauea’s recent eruptions are a perfect example of the unpredictability of Earth’s environment and the dynamics of our natural ecosystems.  As scientific experts and the world looks on at the eerily magnificent eruptions of Kilauea one is filled with a sense of awe and wonderment.  The scene, almost dreamlike, must have been much the same when Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia in the early 1800’s with such devasting force that it caused tragedy on a worldwide scale.  The thermal energy created by volcanoes such as these builds and builds until finally exploding with a hurricane of liquid fire and gigantic plumes of toxic gas.  As the magma bubbles to the surface with an eerie orange iridescence one can only imagine what “The Year Without a Summer” must have been like for the inhabitants of the Earth during that time-period.

Now a historical footnote of the past no one is alive to remember the significance of the volcanoes aftermath.  Mount Tambora’s eruptions spewed millions of tons of volcanic ash and sulfur dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere which was carried by the natural wind cycle around the globe for the next year.  Darkness spread over North America and Europe causing a global drop in temperatures and limiting the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface.  Mount Tambora’s eruption resulted in a worldwide decline in the climate becoming so inhospitable that along with major crop failures parts of the world experienced significant food shortages.

“The Year Without A Summer” was so gloomy it cast a dark shadow of foreboding even providing the inspiration and backdrop for one of the most well-known and read horror stories of all-time, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”  Many written accounts of that time period spoke of widespread hunger, an epidemic of disease, and death.   No one was immune to this devastation or untouched by its dark hand.  Of course, no one can thoroughly plan for or prevent such natural disasters.  Kilauea is a perfect example of man’s inability to control his natural environment.

Spontaneous disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, and the like can have devasting consequences for life and property that are in the path of these calamities.  Although man cannot stop natural disasters from happening we can indeed have a bearing on man-made tragedies that are of our own making.  The most recent incident to come to mind that could have been prevented was the contamination of the drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan.  By letting our guard down a few government decision makers were able to allow entire neighborhoods and their drinking water supply to become contaminated negatively impacting the health and welfare of these communities residents.  Criminal charges have been brought against three men perhaps with more indictments to follow, but the damage is already done.  Ultimately the responsibility falls upon each of us as part of a free democratic society to vote individuals into the office that will make thoughtful and informed decisions based on science and reason.

The eruption of Kilauea is a compelling reminder that we inhabit a dynamic living planet that can change at a moments notice having long-term impacts on all of us.  “The Year Without A Summer” and eruption of Mount Tambora is a forgotten memory now, but the communities that existed in 1816 across the globe were distraught with the unknown caused by its eruption.  Today we are faced with many challenges some of which we have control over and some of which we do not. How we handle issues such as global warming, disposal of nuclear wastes, exploitation of mineral resources, and the many other manmade environmental issues may determine if our generation was the flashpoint for global warming and overall environmental decline of the planet.  The real question is, “What impact will today’s environmental issues have on future generations”?

Natural events like Mount Tambora and Kilauea can change the climatology on a worldwide scale.  As mankind’s population continues to grow and place more and more pressure on the natural ecosystem, we will eventually hit an environmental tipping point.  The Year of 1816 brought previously unseen ecological devastation causing a mass migration of people trying to escape the bitter cold and looking for food.  The populace of 1816 was desperately seeking answers to the sudden shift in climate and the unknown future they were facing. Today we are fortunate to live in an era where science has advanced to the point where we have a fuller understanding of climatology, meteorology, and other scientific pursuits that assist us to understand our natural world.  Examining Earth’s environmental history also provides us a window on what future populations may undergo as significant shifts in the climate occur, whether by natural, or man-made causes.

As you reflect on what it might be like to live thru such a time-period also consider what is, and is not, within mankind’s control.  As citizens of the Earth, we all must do our best to protect and preserve our environment and natural resources for future generations.  Maybe we cannot prevent natural disasters, but we certainly can prevent many manmade ones.  As a modern global society, it is inexcusable not to practice our best stewardship of the planets natural resources.   Whether you chose to believe it or not such events manmade or natural have a profound effect on the Earth, and the planet’s natural process has a profound effect on us.  The real question is will humans be here to enjoy the natural wonder of all the living plants and animals that inhabit our world, or will we too just become a postscript banished into the obscurity of the universe?  Kilauea and the ongoing environmental events in Hawaii provide a valuable lesson and reminder to all of us just how tied mankind is to the natural cycles of our planet.

Author: Steve Bartos

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