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1815: An Indonesian volcano causes a famine in Europe...
... makes J.M.W. Turner famous and creates Mormonism
For Americans, 2020 was the worst year ever. Or more precisely, the worst year in the history of the Economist/YouGov poll, which started in 2009.
I thought that 2020 was exceptional because it was bad all around the world. Indeed, most catastrophic events don’t have a global impact. For instance, the Black Death killed up to 200 million people but was mostly limited to Europe. Even during World Wars, life was close to normal in neutral countries.
However, I was wrong, and it’s not the first time humanity is experiencing hardship worldwide.
In 1815, the most powerful volcanic eruption ever recorded in human history started in present-day Indonesia. The Mount Tambora’s eruption was equivalent to 10,000 times the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. About 100,000 people died around the volcano.
This was only the beginning. The ash from the eruption dispersed around the world and caused a volcanic winter, which lowered global temperatures. 1816 was called the “Year Without a Summer.” That year in Europe, temperatures were up to 3 degrees lower than today’s average. It was snowing every week in Switzerland in summer!
Low temperatures resulted in failed harvests. It was the worst famine of the 19th-century in mainland Europe. However, we don’t know the excess mortality in 1816.
Another unexpected consequence of the eruption: the crop failures in the US forced some people to move. Among them, Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. This move precipitated the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
Are there other examples of global catastrophic events?