Friday, June 13, 2008

The Year Without Summer?

Very very unhappy beans. The few that sprouted are bug-bit and dying. Most of them are still half-sprouted in the ground. We'll be replanting all our beans this weekend, and crossing fingers for enough sun to get a crop in before frost.
Sad little corn sprouts. They might make it if we get the forecasted sun this weekend. Hopefully the dose of nettle water they got today will give them enough boost to grab the sunlight and go for it.

With the headlines full of bad news about weather-caused crop failures in the midwest, rising food prices, and contaminated tomatoes, having a large productive garden is even more important than ever. But according to the weather wizards at the UW's Climate Impacts Group, the PNW is in the clutches of a La Nina event. Once this cycle runs its course, we'll be at the mercy of the larger effects of global climate change again.

(A side note here - It's unfortunate that media outlets are perpetrating misinformation about the nitty gritty of global warming. The current trend is to point out the colder, wetter extreme weather events as evidence that our planet's overall temperature is not rising, with the added propaganda spin that global warming warnings are part of a hype of carbon credit investing/trading programs. The fact of the matter is that the earth, on average, is getting warmer. But not in a linear, predictable, all-encompassing way. The climate has become unstable as it warms, causing extreme weather of all kinds - drought, floods, cyclones - in places and intensities we haven't experienced before.
A report titled I
mpacts of Climate Change on Washington’s Economy says: "...while the central trends of concern in global climate change (the emissions of greenhouse gases, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and rising average global temperatures) increase in a linear fashion, societies experience climate as weather, a distinctly non-linear
phenomenon...". Let's not permit the profit-seeking agendas of the corporations vested in status quo keep us from looking at the facts and planning as best we can for the climate challenges we face.)

In any case, as disheartening as this year's growing season has been, it pales in comparison to "the year without summer", also known as "Eighteen-hundred and froze to death" - 1816.
In April 1815, Mt. Tambora in Indonesia erputed, killing over 10,000 people in pyroclastic flows, blanketing land and sea for miles around with ash, lava and pumice, and it continued erupting through July of that year. As bad as that was, people didn't have an understanding about global weather patterns, so the following year when the catastrophe continued to unfold in NE America, Canada, Europe, and parts of China and Japan, no one made the connection to a volcano on the other side of the world.
"Although daytime highs remained relatively normal, extreme drops in nighttime temperatures led to frosts in April and May that killed or damaged corn and fruit crops. The surprising snowfall on June 5 and 6 that blanketed New England was an indication of what would follow that summer.
Further frosts through the usually temperate months killed corn, fruit and vegetable crops from Maine to North Carolina. Animals, particularly birds and newly shorn sheep, died of exposure in Vermont. The poor weather conditions had a notable result: food shortages drove many New England farmers westward.
Conditions in Europe were worse. The altered weather had adverse effects on French crops, greatly reduced the food supply. Wholesale failure or late harvesting of grapes due to frosts resulted in a practically nonexistent grape harvest. Food riots broke out in Britain, Switzerland and France triggering the looting of grain warehouses. Widespread famine in Switzerland caused the government to declare a national emergency and release instructions for distinguishing edible plans from poisonous ones. That year, the British government abolished income tax because of severe food shortages.
Perhaps Ireland endured the most dismal consequences of the changing climate. An exceptionally wet summer, with rain falling 142 out of 153 days, led to a wholesale destruction of wheat, oat and potato crops. An estimated 60,000 people died of famine or famine related diseases in this, Ireland's first major potato failure. A wave of emigration followed.
The lowered temperatures and particularly moist conditions also played a pivotal role in the rampant spread of disease in 1816. Scientists frequently blame Ireland's rainy summer for the typhus epidemic of 1816 to 1819. The epidemic later spread to Europe and ultimately claimed the lives of 200,000.
Tambora's sulfurous cloud also draped its destructive veil over China and India. As it did in North America, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops and water buffalo herds in Northern China. The explosion disrupted the monsoon season, causing floods to engulf the Yangtze Valley and kill any remaining crops.
The cooler climate also delayed India's monsoon season. Famine reduced immunity throughout Asia, weakening resistance to the spread of cholera, aggravated by the torrential rain when it finally fell. The cholera epidemic eventually spread to Europe.
Contemporary art and literature also reflect the dismal weather of 1816. While vacationing in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, a young author felt inspired by the unusually abysmal weather and penned a novel reflecting the morose tone that overcame most of Europe that year. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein remains a Gothic classic.
Vivid streaks of green and red filled sunsets for several years, caused by the sulfur aerosols lingering in the stratosphere following Tambora's eruption. It is believed that noted British artist J. M. W. Turner used the spectacular sunsets as inspiration for his paintings.
While researchers have documented the environmental aftermath of Tambora's eruption, the human cost that followed is difficult to assess. Historical and cultural damage amount to much more than just the number of lives lost.
The explosion obliterated one civilization in particular. The Tamboran kingdom of Sumbawa disappeared in 1815. Not much is known about the civilization, which was unknown to the Western world before the early 1800s. The first Dutch and British researchers to visit the island were surprised to find the inhabitants speaking a language unlike any other in Indonesia. Some believe the 10,000 Tamborans spoke a language in the Mon-Khmer family, resembling those spoken in Indochina. Most evidence of the civilization was lost to the ash and stone of Tambora's pyroclastic flows. "

So while I'm replanting my veggies this weekend, I'll keep in mind that things could be a whole lot worse! Reading about events like this is sure good incentive to find ways to cope with extreme weather in terms of food security. Luckily I can just go to the store or online and order more seeds and buy more plant starts. But that may not always be the case, so it's prudent to experiment with gardening under all kinds of conditions.
If you want to read more about Tambora and the non-summer of 1816, try these links:


Mr. Green Genes said...

Hear! hear!
Great post~ long live the humans at Seven Trees!!!
Unfortunately there still seems to be a great "ostrich with its head in the sand" mentality about global warming and no clear cut strategy about how to educate the world populations about how to combat it.
Is it too late? No.. it is definately overdue and a great deal of the (irrepairable)damage has been done, but we owe it to future generations to try and slow down the process~

Mr. Green Genes said...

Plea to the humans at Seven Trees~

I find it slightly ominous that the last post was entered on Black Friday (Friday 13th)...

Jannette said...

Did the corn like the nettle brew and better weather to change to a darker color?