Learn from Dystopia: 536 AD, The Year of the Apocalypse

We live good lives. We hope for the best. That is the greatness of humanity. However, we recognize the struggles we face and they become uneasy bedfellows.

Today, we are more advanced and have pathways to solutions that can help create resiliency against the struggling industrial complex.

 Constantly transforming water-energy-food ecosystems, waste as a cultural artifact, disease (new and old), multi-generational trauma and mental health declines, and the acceleration of climate change and the effects of global warming are all narratives that we revile or explore to understand more.

One thing is sure. Difficult and dark days will come, and the most difficult will be wrought upon us by natural catastrophes that we will likely have little or no control over.

We have to explore the positive futures that lay ahead and we – most uncomfortably – also look at dystopian trajectories and what will most likely go wrong if we follow principles of greed, control and growth at any cost.

To do so we must, as humanity, consider history as that provides clues of what  happened and what we did to survive the difficult times.

In my constant research I look back and forth through history at the strange and the mundane. I sometimes stumble across historical events that we often choose to hide because of the challenges it presents us. Let’s travel back to 536 AD and the volcanic winter that was the most severe and protracted episode of climatic cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years.

The Volcanic winter of 536 AD

In 536 AD, the world saw two years of darkness, famine, drought and disease. Apocalypse.

Written records and scholars from China, Italy, Palestine and many other countries suggest a huge catastrophe blighted the world in 536 AD however the cause of it has been uncertain. It is thought that a volcano is to blame for the dark ages of famine and plague that shaped the world order of today.

This volcanic winter was caused by an eruption, with several possible locations proposed in various continents. Most contemporary accounts of the volcanic winter are from authors in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, although the impact of the cooler temperatures extended beyond Europe. 

It has been determined that in early 536 AD, a volcanic eruption ejected massive amounts of sulphurous aerosols into the atmosphere, which reduced the solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and cooled the atmosphere for several years. 

In March of that year, Constantinople began experiencing darkened skies and cooler temperatures, Summer temperatures plummeted between 1.5-2.5°C causing crops to fail and millions to starve to death. In Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia were plunged into 24-hour darkness for 18 months. 

“The beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.”Michael McCormick – medieval historian 

The cause? A volcanic eruption in Iceland (sound familiar?) spread ash across the Northern Hemisphere, blocking out the sunlight for over a year. The event kick-started a decade of misery and struggle for humanity.

Summer temperatures in 536 fell by as much as 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit degrees) below normal in Europe. The lingering impact of the volcanic winter of 536 was augmented in 539–540, when another volcanic eruption caused summer temperatures to decline as much as 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 Fahrenheit degrees) below normal in Europe. There is evidence of still another volcanic eruption in 547 which would have extended the cooler period. 

These times created a perfect climate for the ‘Justinian’ bubonic plague – the first plague pandemic that began in 541 AD. This spread across the Mediterranean leading to an estimated 25-50 million deaths, between 35-55% of the population, which also aided the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire. Add to that crop failures, famine, and millions of deaths and initiated the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which lasted from 536 to 560.

With catastrophe comes change. We’ve seen this with hurricanes and floods, drought and famine, social uprising, and apathy. There’s little we can do to prepare but prepare for the events that may be. This is not a hardcore call for us all to become preppers but maybe there is something in that philosophy of anticipating something will come.

In fact, apathy is exactly one of the reasons I wrote Facing Our Futures. Short-term thinking and a fear of looking at what might go wrong is our achilles heel. Strength and preparedness comes from holistic exploration of our futures – positive possibilities and dystopian trajectories of what may be….



F. Kaskais Web Guru

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