FIRE AND FLOOD MADE US
This evening I will be on RTE radio 1’s Arena Arts Show discussing the art, literature & music of climate change.
I will be talking about how major climate change/disruption events impacted on human culture in the past. For example, the universality of Flood (and to a lesser extent Fire) myths are likely a collective memory of rapid & catastrophic climate change following an asteroid impact around 12000 years ago – when the earth suddenly cooled & then suddenly warmed again over a period of about a millenium – thats rapid in geological terms, but extreme slowmotion relative to what we are going through. Eerily enough, in his Critias, Plato dates the submergence of Atlantis to this period – 9600 BC to be precise.
Again the collapse of Late Bronze Age society in about 1200BC, out of which emerges the epic poem The Illiad – in many ways the foundational document of ‘western culture’ – may have been at least partly due to a period of sudden warming which caused large-scale migrations and a century of resource wars – many large cities in the med region were burned to the ground in rapid succession – possibly due to intense heatwaves. Volcanic eruptions also destroyed the long-dominant minoan civilisation about 1600bc – another possible source of the Atlantis Myth.
Closer to our own time was the infamous summer without a sun of 1816, a sudden & disastrous global cooling resulting from the gargantuan explosion of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora Volcano and caused crop failure & mass starvation across Europe. Out of this came Byron’s vividly apocalyptic Darkness, but also Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an allegory of man’s ultimately self-destructive harnessing of nature’s power &, by common critical consensus, one of the greatest & most influential novels of all time.
Any examination of the literary record – history filtered through the human imagination – shows that we are much more creatures of Fire & Flood than many of us realise – that catastrophe makes and remakes us time & time again on our cosmic journey.
It also shows us that, though art and literature can do nothing to prevent catastrophe, they can remind us what it was like & serve as a warning for the inevitable – & perhaps final – climate disaster of our own time.