Brace Yourself for Weird Weather: On Reading "The Year Without Summer" in the Year Without a Spring

So one of the reasons books like William and Nicholas Klingaman’s The Year Without Summer: 1816 have much resonance at the moment is that scientists are warning we’re at the cusp of a period of chaotic and unpredictable weather, due to climate change, and (for worse) we probably have to get used to it. It’s actually a fascinating book, with juicy cultural tidbits spicing up the stew of just how bad the weather in North America and Europe was after the eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815. Here’s an observation about Ireland in that time period:
“The great majority of Ireland’s rural population—probably between 75 and 80 percent—resided in the poorer classes of small tenant farmers, cottiers, and laborers. They typically lived in mud cabins, the meanest of which consisted of ‘a single room, a hole for a window with a board in it, the door generally off the hinges, a wicker-basket with a hole in the bottom or an old butter-tub stuck at one corner of the thatch for a chimney, the pig, as a matter of course, inside the cottage, and an extensive manufacture of manure . . . [taking place] on the floor.’ Straw often sufficed for beds; the only cooking utensil a large iron pot; and stumps of fir trees for chairs” (123).
But mainly what it describes is a litany of misery caused by the quickly changing climate. Fortunately for the people of the 19th century, this was a relatively short-lived shift, limited to the few years when the volcanic ash greatly affected the climate. What we’re now doing will likely affect the climate for centuries. In today’s New York Times there’s a good article about changes in a South America glacier, noting that 1,600 years of ice melted in a mere 25 years, here. Brace yourselves, citizens. The weather is going to get freaky. This spring is awfully late in arriving. Not that this is “caused” by climate change, but still. I’m ready for some green.

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