Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Longer Term Perspectives

Great Famines, Black Deaths, and Other Catastrophes

Below is an interesting note in a volume entitled, The English and Their History.  
. . . in the second half of the thirteenth century a disastrous fall in global temperature began, whether due to a series of volcanic eruptions or changing solar activity.  It caused extreme weather fluctuations and poorer harvests round the globe.  There was a succession of storms, frosts, droughts, and floods.  In 1250 wine production in England almost ceased for over 700 years.  A "great storm" in 1289 ruined the harvest.  In 1309-10 the Thames froze.  Catastrophe came in 1315-1316 when two years of continual rain and low temperatures ravaged successive harvests.

This became the "Great European Famine": seven years of suffering during which virulent sheep and cattle disease also appeared, destroying food sources and decimating the draught animals that made cultivation and transport possible.  It took twenty-five years to rebuild the herds.  The plight of the north of England was seriously aggravated by several years of destructive Scottish raids following their victory at Bannockburn in 1314.  These years saw by far the worst economic disaster in England's history: some half a million people died of hunger and associated diseases.  Law and order temporarily collapsed as people struggled for food, and resisted the taxation to pay for war on three fronts.  Yet despite being ruled by one of its most inept kings, Edward II (finally deposed in 1327), England survived.

A generation later, in 1349 came an even worse disaster: the "great pestilence," which later generations called the "Black Death," humanities greatest recorded catastrophe.  In a few months almost half the people of England were dead.  The plague attacked four times in thirty years and then became endemic for over three centuries.  [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), p. 104.]
Some observations and questions:

It took 700 years for the climate to warm sufficiently for wine to be produced again in England.
 When temperatures finally got back to "normal", in the late twentieth century, governments, pseudo-scientists, and talking heads said the canary in the mine was dying and human activity was causing the planet to die by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

What anthropogenic (human) cause could be attributed to such suffering and decline in the early 14th Century?  None, really.  It would seem as if Europe and England were reacting, trying to cope with calamities far beyond anything caused by human activity.

Could similar calamities decimate the human race today?  The presumed answer is "of course" because man did not cause the drastic fall in global temperature in the thirteenth century.  There were apparently wider, deeper, more extensive cosmological causes--natural causes--at work.

How would our present global civilisation fare if it got so cold, the Thames froze over?

The Black Death--the equivalent of a virulent super bug--may visit us again.  The "greatest recorded human catastrophe" might be surpassed by an even greater one.  Might something like the Black Death II be used by the Judge of the Heavens and the earth to strike down our 21st century Babelism? No?  Really?  How can any of us be so sure, particularly when medical scientists are raising the spectre of treatment resistant infections, and visitors to hospitals now have to disinfect their hands when entering an "open" ward.

Does this mean that Christians, who believe in Divine chastisement and judgements for sin, are lost in a deep vale of pessimism?  Not at all.  If God delivered Europe and England from the Great Chill, and the Great Famine, and the Black Death, He can and will do so again.  The telos of mankind is to live in a world where every nation loves and fears, serves and honours the King of the world--the risen, ascended, crowned King Jesus.  Our hope is in Christ, the Lord of human history, not in man.

Would it not behove the West to lay aside its arrogance and ignorance and return to the Lord it once feared?  After all, a little bit of discombobulation from Islamic terrorists and jihadis has virtually brought an entire Continent to its knees in paralytic fear.  The braying and posturing by leaders about how Europe will survive is sounding more doubtful by the day--the more so with each triumphalist boast.  Hollow, empty words. Pride goes before the fall.

Those who lived through the Great Famine and the Black Death saw the worst of times.  We are fools indeed if we are sufficiently purblind to think it could never happen again.

No comments: