Killer Climate

The April 1815 eruption of  the Tambora volcano left a crater 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide and half a mile (1 kilometer) deep, spewing an estimated 400 million tons of sulfuric gases into the atmosphere and leading to “the year without summer” in the U.S. and Europe.

Can you even imagine that?  A year with no summer. Farmers reporting snow along the Eastern coast through July. Farmers who had never even heard of the  volcano that was responsible for the rapid and ruinous change in climate. No tomatoes, peppers or squash, probably not much fruit, grain crops would have been sparse.

What if this were to happen today?  The child of that volcano is rumbling.

Villagers like Hasanuddin Sanusi have heard since they were young how the mountain they call home once blew apart in the largest eruption ever recorded — an 1815 event widely forgotten outside their region — killing 90,000 people and blackening skies on the other side of the globe.

So, the 45-year-old farmer didn’t wait to hear what experts had to say when Mount Tambora started being rocked by a steady stream of quakes. He grabbed his wife and four young children, packed his belongings and raced down its quivering slopes.   …

People here are jittery because of the mountain’s history — and they’re not used to feeling the earth move so violently beneath their feet. Aside from a few minor bursts in steam in the 1960s, the mountain has been quiet for much of the last 200 years.

Gede Suantika of the government’s Center for Volcanology said activity first picked up in April, with the volcanic quakes jumping from less than five a month to more than 200.

“It also started spewing ash and smoke into the air, sometimes as high as 1,400 meters (4,600 feet),” he said. “That’s something I’ve never seen it do before.”

Authorities raised the alert to the second-highest level two weeks ago, but said only villagers within 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the crater needed to evacuate.

That didn’t stop hundreds of men, women and children living well outside the danger zone from packing their clothes, jewelry and important documents and heading to the homes of family and friends elsewhere on Sumbawa island. source

200 odd years probably isn’t enough time to build up that kind of pressure, realistically.  It does make for an interesting thought experiment though. (And, there are always other volcanoes) What if it does erupt again, with equally damaging consequences? What does that leave people to eat on?  Grain stockpiles?  What are we down to right now for those? 20 days? 30 days? I wonder if that’s people and livestock or just people. (Do ethanol plants get a piece of the stockpile in such a scenario? I hope not.) Crops we buy from some place less effected? The US is large, maybe there would be somewhere with enough sun to grow something to sell to the rest of us.  Other countries too might have some kind of food to sell.  It might be unfamiliar to us, and expensive, but available perhaps.  Speaking of unfamiliar, I wonder what the fast food restaurants will do with no grain crops, especially if most of the livestock gets slaughtered too. (I read somewhere that Americans eat a quarter of their meals out, so it pops into my doom thoughts.)

As a gardener, my first thoughts are, “ok, what can I grow?” Who cares what I’d prefer to eat, let’s break it down to what can I fill my belly with until the sun returns. I’d break out every cold frame I had and beg borrow or steal some manure to turn them into hot beds.  I’d grow things like kale, beets, cabbages, turnips, peas and possibly try for something like rye. Rye is a hardy grain, old Soviet Union republics have long histories with Rye. It’s more tolerant of frost and drought than is wheat. It is the most winter hardy of all cereals, and is frequently grown under conditions where other cereals fail.  Since I have a half a year of grain in my storage, I can judiciously use that to break the monotony of kale and turnip soup with roasted beets.

As a hunter, I can’t help but think that the deer population isn’t going to do so great with grass and greenery that’s stubby and frozen. I’d try to hunt some as early as I could, while there’s still meat on them, and preserve the meat, either smoked or jerky, to make it last.

It’s crazy to think about, I think it would be a really challenging time for everyone.  What do you think? Do you have the stores to see you through the year or 2 of cold and gray? The fortitude?

Tens of thousands of people, animals and rice fields disappeared, a veil of ash blocked out the sun for years. There was no life here…

– Calamity Jane