Skip to main content

1816: The year with no summer - David Biello


3,713 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted and its emissions spread across the globe, blotting out the sun for almost an entire year. This wreaked havoc on agriculture, leading to famines all across the Northern hemisphere. It was the year without summer— one of the darkest periods in human history. So why are some modern researchers considering repeating it? David Biello digs into geoengineering.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

A Devil’s Bargain: Inevitable or Not? 

Scientists have been talking about geoengineering for about as long as they’ve been talking about climate change. Many scientists and activists alike describe geoengineering as a devil’s bargain.  Some climate scientists believe that geoengineering is necessary, if not inevitable if we are to stay below the 1.5 C degrees of warming established by the Paris Climate Agreement. Especially if world leaders are unable to reach emissions reductions through decarbonization and investment in natural carbon sinks, the effects of climate change might make future generations desperate enough to attempt large-scale interventions. Head here to explore what geoengineering is, whether it’s an actual option, and what happens if it goes wrong.  In her book, Under a White Sky, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a hard look at the new world we are creating, how we've remade nature, often with good intentions and always with unintended consequences.

A Taboo Topic and Missed Opportunities

For some, even discussing, much less researching geoengineering is taboo. And yet, some argue that avoiding the topic altogether limits our options for solutions, decreases our preparedness if we do indeed resort to geoengineering, and is even, at times, a question of justice: because climate change most affects the poor and most vulnerable, geoengineering has the potential to most benefit these same populations. Still, the geoengineering studies that demonstrate limited downsides are highly idealized and nowhere near certain enough to merit policy decisions. Erica Thomson studies climate models and, in an interview with David Roberts, makes the point that if emissions reductions continue to be the sole focus of climate change policy and research, geoengineering will be seen politically as more and more legitimate, as the immediate effects of global warming are felt more and more acutely, especially by richer countries.

Next Section »

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator David Biello
  • Director Léon Moh-Cah, Andi Concha, Na Na Na Studio
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Music Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Senior Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler

More from How Things Work