The Year Without a Summer: Climate Change Past and Future

A Clare Brandabur

    Fatih University

                                                                        If the destruction of nature is not stopped,

                                         we shall first witness  the end of nature, then the end of man.

                                                                                                                  – Yaşar Kemal

                                                       in Living Through the Words of Yaşar Kemal by Feridun Andiç (123)


         A house party on Lake Geneva in 1816 inspired works by Lord Byron, Mary Godwin Shelley and others, giving rise to famously Gothic works. However, two recent ecocritical studies show that the apocalyptic images of Byron’s “Darkness” and the frozen wastes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein reflect the dread occasioned, not by the smokestacks of the industrial revolution, but by the 1815 eruption of Tambora, an Indonesian volcano. For the  next three years the consequent darkening of northern hemisphere skies caused tempests, crops failures, and food riots as well as the unseasonal downpours and cold at Lake Geneva..       This is the thesis of Bill Philips in “Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s ‘Wet Ungenial Summer’” (Atlantis 2006).. Phillips credits Jonathan Bate whose book, The Song of the Earth (2000) traces the response of Byron and Shelley to the drastic climate change caused by “the worst volcanic eruption since 1500.”

My paper compares the role of literature, especially Byron’s “Darkness,” as an early warning system of climate change in the early nineteenth century with its role now as scientists and ecologists document ever more urgently symptoms of global warming.  Byron’s forebodings may have been dismissed as symbols or metaphors, but they were not subjected to the same pressures as today’s environmentalists whose work is belittled, suppressed, and distorted if it seems to run counter to the agenda of the military-industrial complex.

The conclusion discusses the future challenges of ecocriticism, its role in public education, and its connection with political and economic crises as population pressures give rise to wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. One bright note comes from the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, a possible catalyst to motivate a trend toward “species consolidation,” another bright note offered by Walter L. Wallace – a trend that needs to be encouraged if the planet is to survive.

Key words/ phrases:  Lord Byron      James Lovelock   Gaia    George Monbiot       Bill Philips     Jonathan Bate   Walter L. Wallace   global warming      climate change   permafrost melting  glaciers melting


From a brief three-year period of diminished sunlight in the northern hemisphere, Byron distilled in his poem “Darkness” a world in which human civilization had ended amidst cannibalism and the loss of every vestige of social contract (except for one faithful dog still guarding his master even after death by starvation). This paper explores parallels with the present ecological crisis to see what lessons we may glean about the future of ecocriticism from this prophetic poet. .

Of the many apocalyptic visions in modern English literature, the cluster produced around 1816 by a group of Romantic authors is probably the most clearly a response to sudden climate change. Those of Mark Twain in his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 1889 and George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four grew out of each authors’ extreme pessimism concerning contemporary political, rather than ecological, events. However, recent ecocritical studies reveal that the work of writers who were present at a gathering at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva in June 1816 reflect a sense of doom occasioned by unseasonable darkness and stormy weather which kept them indoors, huddled around a fireplace.

In his essay, “Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s ‘Wet Ungenial Summer,’” Bill Philips argues that the stormy weather arose, not, as has been generally assumed, from the “dark satanic mills” of the industrial revolution, but from an abrupt and profound period of climate change. In his abstract Philips summarizes as follows:

It is well known that the idea for [Frankenstein] emerged at the Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva, during the stormy month of June 1816. So much is explained by Mary Shelley herself. It is not well known, however, that the stormy weather was the result of an Indonesian volcano, which affected the atmosphere of the northern hemisphere for three years, leading to crop failure, riots and starvation. (59)

Though less famous than Mary Shelley’s novel, Byron’s poem “Darkness”  expresses in even more vivid images the sense of impending doom, the imminent collapse of social order, and even of the end of the world that pervades Frankenstein. Byron was also present at the house party and it was he who proposed that each of the assembled authors write a ghost story resembling the German texts with which they had been amusing themselves when the weather precluded outdoor activities.

In her Introduction to the 1831 edition of the novel, Mary Shelley recounts the atmosphere of its genesis:

In the summer of 1816, we visited Switzerland and became the neighbours of Lord Byron . .  . . But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house. Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German to the French, fell into our hands. . . .  “We will each write a ghost story,” said Lord Byron, and his proposition was accepted. (Shelley 226-27)

In this Introduction, Shelley also says that she consciously modelled the form of her novel on the “Ancient Mariner” which so impressed her when as a child she heard Coleridge read it aloud. For her plot — the project of assembling pieces of dead bodies and trying to animate them with electricity– she credits the long discussions among the men present at the by now famous house party in Villa Diodati – Byron, Percy Shelley, and Byron’s doctor John Polidori – of Darwin’s attempts to create life with chemicals or by the galvanic stimulation of matter. In this context, though Mary Shelley records that Byron was working on Childe Harold, she does not mention his composition of “Darkness,” which was published in the same year 1816 (Shelley 227). And though there is no indication that Coleridge was among the party at the Villa Diodati, it may be more than coincidence that his apocalyptic “Kubla Khan,” composed in 1798, was not published until 1816. (See E.S. Shaffer 312-27 on the probable date of composition).

In a chapter of The Song of the Earth entitled “Major Weather,” Jonathan Bate (whom Philips credits with his understanding of the climate change of 1815) presents a long section from Byron’s poem “Darkness” and recalls hearing it quoted by Sir Michael Foot in 1986 when in the British Parliament the campaign for nuclear disarmament was at its height. Foot praised Byron as a prophet of nuclear winter since he foresaw that war would ultimately lead to the destruction of life on earth. The poem opens thus:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream,

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air . . .

When we read this poem today, we speculate about whether the little shivering party at the Villa Deodati realized the cause of the darkening of their world. The darkening of the sky had moderated by the summer of 1818, but 1816, the year immediately after the explosion of Mount Tambora, must have felt the most extreme of its climatic effects. As Bate observes, it seems an unintended irony that in the poem Byron speaks of the good fortune of those within the volcano’s cone who at least had light (Bate 97). If he had realized that an enormous volcanic eruption in the previous year had led to the general darkening of the skies in Switzerland, it seems unlikely that he would have said such a thing. Perhaps no one realized then what noxious gases would have filled the brightly lighted crater.

        Bate claims that it was only with the publication of Volume Four of the Oxford edition of Byron’s Complete Poetical Works that it was possible to explicate the poem correctly (Bate 95) because several lines from Byron’s correspondence published for the first time in this edition reveal Byron’s reports in letters to friends that the weather in1816 was extraordinarily foggy, rainy, and dark. Among these letters is one dated July 29, 1816: “We have had lately such stupid mists – fogs – rains – and perpetual density – that one would think Castlereagh had the foreign affairs of the kingdom of Heaven also — upon his hands” (Bate 96). This allusion to Lord Castlereagh is significant: it suggests the extreme cruelty and violence of the British official of whom Shelley remarks in “The Mask of Anarchy,” “I saw Murder on the way/ He wore the mask of Castlereagh.”  Both Byron and Shelley despised this man as much for his opposition to the anti-slavery movement as for his brutal suppression of the Irish insurgency of 1798. Bate remarks on the similarity of Byron’s words, “perpetual density” in his description of the 1816 phenomenon to the words used to describe the “dense haze” permanently on the horizon some thirty years earlier which had been called by Benjamin Franklin “volcanic vapour” and by Dr. Thomas D. Mitchell “smoking vapour” at the time of the explosion of the Laki Volcano in Iceland in 1784 (Bate 97).

Though Byron’s poem has been available to readers for almost two hundred years, it has been read as a dream-vision with references to the Apocalypse and the De rerum natura of Lucretius and other scholarly texts (Bate 97). Only now at a time of acute ecological anxiety can we read the poem as the response of a perceptive observer to the dire catastrophic possibilities represented by an alteration in weather which, no matter how disastrous Byron saw it at the time, turned out to be temporary. But what is important for us, reading the poem now, is the fact that the poet envisioned the complete break-down of the human community – cannibalism, ecocide and extinction of all forms of life – resulting from climate change that turned out to have lasted only three years but which the poet must have regarded as at least potentially permanent. Now it is clear that we are facing a far more radical climate change which may well be irreversible, the consequences of which may be as drastic as those envisioned by Byron for all life on earth.

In addition to the size of the human population, several other things have also changed since Byron’s time. One is the growth of scientific means of monitoring natural disasters – like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Another is the growth of industry which throws millions of tons of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere on a daily basis. We can measure the shrinking of the protective ozone layer, the rate of die-back of the coral reefs which supply habitat for thousands of marine creatures. We can estimate the numbers of birds and fish likely to be killed by the present disastrous oil-spill in the sea off the north coast of Australia. Yet, faced with alarming reports of the melting of glaciers and the permafrost, of rapidly expanding lakes of methane in the arctic, and faced with a world population soaring to over six billion, public discourse on the subject seems frozen by controversy – not about the fact of global warming, evidence for which has become overwhelming, but about whether or not human activity is a significant factor in causing global warming.

A major reason for this impasse is articulated in a new book by George Monbiot entitled Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning (2006-2007). Monbiot exposes the shocking fact that what seems to be a division of scientific opinion is really a deliberate deception.  In his crisp summary of Monbiot’s findings, John Lanchester (“Warmer, Warmer” London Review of Books, March 2007) says:

Since the climate debate has been polarised on left-right lines in the US, it has seemed appropriate to the media to treat it as a polarised issue, one on which there are two schools of thought, which, in respect of the science, it isn’t: there is one school of thought, and a few nutters. (Lanchester 5)

With the extreme stage of monopoly capitalism has come a corporate and political network– at bottom identical with the military-industrial complex– which has a vested interest in keeping the true state of eco-catastrophe secret from the people at large. Byron may not have realized that the eruption of Mount Tambora caused the darkness that so alarmed him because the early nineteenth century had no sophisticated devices for monitoring such a distant natural disaster. But neither did he suffer censorship and spin like that faced by today’s ecologists: censorship by a monopoly that owns the newspapers, radio stations, and television channels, and that is in league with the multi-national corporations. Such a powerful network makes it extremely difficult to learn the truth about ecocatastrophe.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his book Heat, Monbiot says of our generation, “We inhabit the brief historical interlude between ecological constraint and ecological catastrophe” (xxi). In the first edition of Heat, Monbiot had opined that we could save the planet with an 80 per cent cut in emissions from fossil fuels. But, he explains, he heard from Colin Forrest that he had failed to take into account the latest projections:

If in the year 2030, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere remain as high as they are today, the likely result is two degrees centigrade of warming (above pre-industrial levels). Two degrees is the point beyond which certain major ecosystems begin collapsing. Having, until then, absorbed carbon dioxide, they begin to release it. Beyond this point, in other words, climate change is out of our hands: it will accelerate without our help. The only means, Forrest argues, by which we can ensure that there is a high chance that the temperature does not rise to this point is for the rich nations to cut their greenhouse emissions by 90 per cent by 2030. This is the task  whose feasibility Heat attempts to demonstrate. (Monbiot xxii)

So Monbiot decided that Forrest was right –the required cut in greenhouse emissions must be 90 per cent rather than a mere 80 per cent –and began to strategize to save the planet by proposing drastic but possible reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which is the purpose of his book. But he first asked the question why have we been so slow to act even though the evidence for climate change has been so alarming? And he finds that part of the reason is that people in rich countries just don’t want to know (Monbiot 22), and the other part is that the truth about climate change is being obstructed by an “active campaign of dissuasion.” Further investigation revealed the fact that “authorities” who argue that burning fossil fuels has no effect on climate change are individuals and think tanks who are paid by Big Oil and Big Tobacco!

For example, tracking down (false) claims that glaciers in many parts of the world are actually growing rather than shrinking, Monbiot ultimately traced the source to a journal called “21st Century Science and Technology,” a publication belonging to the American millionaire Lyndon Larouche who, in 1989, received a fifteen-year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax-code violation (Monbiot 25). Many of the misleading and inaccurate allegations, quoted liberally by David Bellamy, Peter Hitchens, Melanie Phillips, Michael Crichton and other repudiators of man-made climate change, were first published on-line, Monbiot learned, by the “Science and Environmental Policy Project” which is run by an environmental scientist called Dr. S. Fred Singer (Monbiot 25).  What these groups have in common, Monbiot learned, is that “they have all been funded by Exxon” (Monbiot 27):

Exxon-Mobil is the world’s most profitable corporation. In autumn 2005, it reported quarterly profits of almost $10 billion, the highest corporate earnings on record. It makes most of this money from oil, and has more to lose than any other company from efforts to tackle climate change. Its approach to the issue could be summed up thus:

‘Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certitude a primary issue in the debate.’ (Monbiot 27)

These words, Monbiot explains, are not his but words written for Republican Party activists by a political consultant named Frank Luntz during the first mid-term election campaign in George W. Bush’s presidency (Monbiot 27).  According to Monbiot, the website  lists 124 organizations which are funded by Exxon. Among them are “some well-known websites and lobby groups, such as TechCentralStation, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation” (Monbiot 28). Some of these organization have misleading names meant to suggest they are grass-roots organizations who are serious about climate change: like the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the National Wetlands Coalition, and the National Environmental Policy Institute (Monbiot 28).

One very odd discovery made by Monbiot in his research is that the tobacco company Philip Morris is a major player in the campaign to deny man-made climate change, after having launched a massive advertising campaign to discredit the 1992 US Environmental Protection Agency report warning of the dangers of passive smoking. Monbiot reveals that Philip Morris set up a “coalition” called TASSC designed to undermine the scientific evidence that passive smoking is hazardous to health and to deny that climate change is taking place. Among other contributors, TASSC received $30,000 from Exxon between 2000 and 2002, and it finances the website which popularized Fred Singer’s false claims refuting glacial melting (Monbiot 34). The oil company-subsidized deniers have made their way into BBC and into the White House, Monbiot shows in a fascinating chapter called “The Denial Industry.”  Many more of Monbiot’s disclosures are important but time does not allow their inclusion here, but for anyone who wants to be informed about global warming, this is required reading.

Another essential text is James Lovelock’s recent book, The Revenge of Gaia (February 2007 in which the author confides: “I am old enough to notice a marked similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating….. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time” (Lovelock12-13).

Like Michael Ruppert’s stunning opening chapter “Petroleum Man” in Crossing the Rubiicon, Lovelock’s book forces us to confront the possibility that next year, next month, or tomorrow, the lights won’t go on, the house will not get warm, the computer won’t work, there will be no fuel for the car, elevators in high-rise buildings won’t run, there will be no refrigeration – because we will have run out of hydrocarbon fuels and have failed to provide any practical alternative. Transport of food stuffs and other necessities will have stopped for lack of fuel. It requires only a little imagination to picture starving crowds fleeing big cities which will have filled with unburied corpses and crime. Ruppert makes us confront the reality of “peak oil,” demonstrating that fossil fuels are finite, and that we are rapidly exhausting the world’s supply. Among warning signs of feedback from a damaged ecosystem, Lovelock lists the following:

Large deposits of methane are held in ice crystals within molecular-sized voids, called clathrates. These are stable only in the cold or under high pressure. As the earth warms there is an increasing risk of these clathrates melting, with the escape of large volumes of methane, which is twenty-four times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.” (Lovelock 45)  (my emphasis)

That startling statistic explains the importance which must be given to reports of increasing amounts of methane release at Lake Kivu and other African lakes from whose smouldering volcanic depths methane continues to seep. In a Guardian/Observer article for 26 July, 2009, Science Editor Robin McKie warns that “More than two million people living on the banks of Lake Kivu in central Africa are at risk of being asphyxiated by gases building up beneath its surface.” McKie cites the findings of Professor George Kling of Michigan University who recounts an earlier event at Lake Nyos in Cameroon on 21 August, 1986, when similarly carbon-dioxide saturated water was disturbed – possibly by a landslide – causing a huge cloud of carbon-dioxide to bubble up from the depths and pour down the valleys, smothering everything in its path, killing some 1,700 people. Lake Kivu is over 3,000 times the size of Lake Nyos and contains over 350 times as much gas. In addition, McKie records, far more people would be affected including the approximately 250,000 residents of the city of Goma, (

Another source of methane is the permafrost where it has been safely locked away since the last ice-age. The polar ice-caps are melting at rates undreamed of even ten years ago. And as the ice melts, the permafrost beneath the glaciers is also melting, releasing huge amounts of methane into the air. The following entries turned up on Google when I typed in “Melting of the Permafrost”: New Scientist for 25 March 2009, (Magazine issue 2701) features an article by Fred Pearce called “Arctic Meltdown is a threat to Humanity.” Pearce quotes scientist Kathy Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, as follows: “I am shocked, truly shocked! I was in Siberia a few weeks ago and I am now just back from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them. Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”

Another Google entry on “Melting of the permafrost” reads Terra Natura, which contains an article entitled ” Global Warming: Melting Permafrost. Methane Emissions. Another Threat to Climate Change.”  The opening paragraph reads as follows: “A frozen peat bog covering the entire sub-Arctic area of West Siberia, the size of France and Germany, contains billions of tons of greenhouse gas that is melting for the first time since it was sequestered more than 11,000 years ago before the end of the last ice age.” This report quotes the same source as the New Scientist above: “Kathy Walter and Jeff Chatton report that the greenhouse gas is escaping into the atmosphere at a frightening rate . . . at five times the rate previously thought.” . . . “The vicious cycle of methane release and warming . . . taking climate change toward the tipping point.” Next the report quotes Sergei Kipotin who says that “Permaforst melting is an ecological landslide that is probably irreversible.” The best website seems to be that of Common Dreams News . .permafrost_melting. In which Scott Borenstein  in an article of September 7, 2006, quotes Professor Kathy Walter of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Though ecocritics cannot be expected to acquire the scientific expertise to create a comprehensive over-view of ecological danger without recourse to the scientists, we can bring our professional skills to sorting out the cacophony in public discourse in the face of escalating damage to the earth. Perhaps the most important task for literary scholars who wish to engage seriously in this urgent discussion is to use skills like research tools, discourse analysis, and deconstruction to dissect the many-voiced chorus of conflicting opinion. George Monbiot offers a salutary example when, finding it hard to know who to trust, he decided to trace the sources of dissenting opinion thereby establishing a principle worthy of emulation: follow the money. If a significant number of deniers of man-made global warming turn out to be in the pay of Big Oil and Big Tobacco, that might be sufficient reason to question their pronouncements. Books like Monbiot’s Heat and James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia examine the credentials of contemporary ecological authorities, and provide extensive bibliographies with cogent evaluations of their sometimes opposing views.


As members of the teaching professions, we should not shirk our responsibility for helping to make known the magnitude and urgency of the looming possibility of ecocide. We are the gatekeepers of such visionary texts as Byron’s “Darkness,” Louis MacNiece’s “Our Sister Water” (in which the poet accuses James Watt of murdering his sister water and then stealing her ghost in the form of steam); the pioneering work of Aldo Leopold whose A Sand Country Almanac models the restoration of depleted top soil and traces ecological history back through the centuries by following the rings in an ancient oak tree that had been killed by lightning); and the warnings about the damage to bird reproduction from the excessive use of pesticides in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring  We need to reach outside the limits of our own field to draw on the work of anthropologists like Marvin Harris who, in Cows, Pigs, War and Witches and Cannibals and Kings, presses home the principle that intensification of production to feed larger and larger populations is always counter-productive since it leads inevitably to the collapse of the ecosystem. (See for example Cannibals and Kings, page 5). A salutary study of past societies that have undergone such collapse and disappeared from history is provided by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) and Collapse (2005). Just as we had to learn to decolonize our classrooms to become literate concerning post-colonialism, so we must become literate about the ecosystem, to bring carbon foot-printing into our own classrooms and living rooms, incorporating a continuing education about planetary crisis into our teaching and writing.


If scholars are to emerge from academic seclusion and take an active role in actual conflicts and actual controversies, perhaps most important of all is the need to borrow insights from sociology to learn how to approach the huge difficulty involved in motivating all countries and all organizations and all individuals to work together to cut greenhouse emissions willingly and drastically—instead of the pusillanimous and grudging goals set in meetings like Kyoto. In The Future of Ethnicity, Race and Nationality (1997), the distinguished Princeton sociologist Walter L. Wallace argues that the human race is moving at an accelerating rate toward “species consolidation,” a development that Wallace fully approves since he believes this will enhance chances for human survival. Though his book does not set out to address directly the question of eco-catastrophe which has assumed greater urgency in the thirteen years since it was published, ecological issues are implicit in Wallace’s discussion of violent conflict resulting from competition between tribal and national groups over scarce resources, especially land.


Calling genocide “the most prominent and the most ancient of all exclusion strategies,” Wallace recounts the attenuated version of Raphael Lemkin’s definition of genocide included in the UN Convention on Genocide, drawing attention to the more inclusive definition which he prefers. He then reviews various well-attested genocides, ancient and modern. The ancient example he cites is from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 3:1-7: “Og the King of Bashan came against us, he and all his people . . . and we smote him until none was left to him remaining. And we took all his cities at that time  . . .  and we utterly destroyed them . . . with the women and the little ones. But all the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took for a prey unto ourselves” (Wallace 102). Among the modern genocides Wallace cites are the British elimination of the native population of Tasmania, and the Dutch settling the Cape of Good Hope bent on exterminating the native Blacks. For the Dutch, Wallace notes, the Bushmen and wild animals were considered “dangerous vermin” to be shot on sight, and the Portuguese in Brazil who were determined to exterminate those Indians who resisted Portuguese settlement, “frequently planting clothes taken from people who had recently died from smallpox in Indian villages.” In North America, Wallace recounts, “the Trail of Tears depicts the ravaging effects of [deportation as a] method of extermination upon the Cherokees, Choctaw, Seminoles, and others” (Wallace 102).


Wallace offers an elegant articulation of the issues at stake in the struggle, not just for bare survival, but for those factors needed for a decent quality of life, especially the sharing of a complex of human rights which he summarizes as “the global equalization of power, knowledge, and honor (and the likely future trend toward globally equalizing wealth) (Wallace 140). Wallace bases his optimism about replacing coercion and conflict with voluntary cooperation and affiliation on what he sees as “the convincing demonstration of global consolidation’s benefits and of the forbiddingly escalating costs of ethnocentrism, racism, and nationalism” (Wallace 141). Wallace’s admirable inclusion of the term “honor” among the human rights needed for conflict resolution has an equivalent in the term “parity of esteem” cited as “a core concept in the Good Friday Agreement used to mediate in the Northern Ireland negotiations.” This “parity of esteem,” is credited by Meron Benvenisti, former mayor of Jerusalem, with having facilitated a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, and, he argues, could be used to ameliorate the intractable problem in the Middle East as well. In “United We St Stand,” Benvenisti makes a compelling case for a one democratic state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. www.odsg/index.php/…/27…/1651-united-we-stand.html. 2010, and…united-we-stand-by-Meron-Benvenisti, 2010).  This parity of esteem (or honor,) Benvenisti says, “reflects the principle of respect for the identity and the ethos of both communities . . . and underlines the effort to achieve co-existence in a common physical space, despite the cultural differences.”

Failure so far to bring about “species consolidation” in actuality is evidenced by the recently ended tragic genocidal war against the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In Gaza a whole culture is being subjected to genocide before our eyes because, as Wallace points out, a Jewish colony feels threatened by the increasing assimilation into the mainstream of the Jewish community back in the US metropolis, and wrongly believes that its own grasp on wealth, power, knowledge, and honor requires the extermination of the indigenous people of Palestine. The growing movement among both Palestinians (like Haidar Eid, Ali Abunimah, and Omar Barguthi) and Israelis (like Meron Benvenisti, Shlomo Sand and Ilan Pappé) favouring a one democratic state solution shows the beginnings of willingness to accept what Wallace calls a “species consciousness” and to forego the tribalism which struggles to exterminate the “other.”  It is amazing to see a former nationalist like Meron Benvenisti arguing in “United We Stand” for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a democratic one-state solution from someone who was formerly devoted to the maintenance of a purely Jewish state. This transformation may yet prove as significant as that of F. W. De Klerk, once a staunch defender of Apartheid, who in 1993 shared the Nobel Prize with Nelson Mandela for his role in ending Apartheid in South Africa.

The Gaia concept with its message of “No man is an island” should allow exclusivist isolation to give way to wider affiliations, as Wallace points out. This is what Yeats meant when he declared “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone; it’s with O’Leary in the grave,” and I  think it is what Edward Said is talking about in Orientalism when he speaks of the importance for Auerbach of “the humanistic tradition of involvement in a national culture or literature not one’s own” (Orientalism 259). By way of elaboration Said reflects on a passage used by Auerbach from Hugo of St. Victor

Not for nothing, then, did Auerbach end his autumnal reflections with a significant quotation from Hugo of St. Victor’s Didascalicon: ‘The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.’ (Said 259)

Said explains: ”The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision” (Said 259). This is a daunting challenge, but nothing else seems adequate to meet the threat of ecocide which faces us all.


Works Consulted:


Bate, Jonathan. The Song of the Earth. London: Picador Macmillian, 2006.

Benvenisti, Meron.…united-we-stand-by-Meron-Benvenisti 2010.

Byron, Lord, George Gordon. “Darkness.” 1816. Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol.2. Eighth Edition. 614-15.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. (1962). London: Penguin Books, 2000.

Leopold, Aldo. (1943)  A Sand Country Almanac. London: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Harris, Marvin. Cannibals and Kings.  New York: Vintage Random House, 1991.

Lanchester, John. “Warmer, Warmer.” London Review of Books, 22 March 2007. 3-9.

Lovelock, James. The Revenge of Gaia. London: Penguin Books, 2007.

Monbiot, George. Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. London: Allen Lane, 2006.

Philips, Bill. “Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s ‘Wet Ungenial Summer.’” ATLANTIS. 28.2 (December 2006): 59-68.

Said, Edward W.  Orientalism.(1978)  London: Penguin, 2003.

Shaffer, E.S.  ‘Kubla Khan’ and The Fall of Jerusalem: The Mytholgical School in Biblical Criticism and Secular Literature – 1770-1880. London: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). “Appendix I: Introduction to the Edition of 1831.” Köln: Könemann, 1995.

Wallace, Walter L. The Future of Ethnicity, Race, and Nationality. Westport, Connecticut, and London: Praeger, 1997.

Walter, Kathy. Permafrost Melting. Common Dreams.…permafrost_melting 2006.






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