Claim: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was a Climate Refugee

GW_frankenstein

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story was conceived in a washout of a Summer on Lake Geneva. Does this make Frankenstein a metaphor for a homeless climate refugee?

Seeing ‘Frankenstein’ through the lens of climate change

In France, they met up with Mary’s half-sister Claire, Lord Byron (Claire’s lover), and Byron’s personal physician. The group decided to spend the summer in a villa by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Sounds nice, but the vacation turned sour quickly.

The press called it “The Year Without a Summer.” An enormous volcanic eruption in Indonesia filled the Earth’s atmosphere with ash and caused a global cooling effect that lingered for years. On Lake Geneva, “it rained and rained, and rained,” according to Charlotte Gordon, author of “Romantic Outlaws” a biography of Mary Shelley. “You can’t keep people like Byron and Shelley cooped up all day long — they get impatient, restless, up to no good,” Gordon says.

“The numbers of peasants who abandoned their farms and took to roads were described as armies on the march, tens of thousands of people,” he says. “If we think about the Syrian refugee crisis today, that gives us some sort of image.” Wood views Frankenstein’s monster as an allegory for the displaced farmers.

“The monster is shunned, abandoned, and homeless. [He’s] a kind of refugee.”

Read more: http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-08-09/seeing-frankenstein-through-lens-climate-change

If the Tambora eruption did have a substantial effect on global climate, a claim Willis disputes, it would likely have been a cooling effect on climate rather than a warming effect.

Even if we accept the rather strained premise that Frankenstein was a “climate refugee”, it wasn’t the warmth the creature was trying to escape.

Advertisements

56 thoughts on “Claim: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was a Climate Refugee

      • Yes, conditions were already bad during the Dalton Minimum, but Tambora made it much worse, in part because in much of the world, agriculture was already on a thin edge. It didn’t take much of a push to wreak the havoc of starvation in areas as disparate as Switzerland and China, following Tambora.

      • Gabro
        Sorry for misspelling your name. It was my iPad wot did it…
        Here are the temperatures for Budapest
        http://climatereason.com/LittleIceAgeThermometers/Budapest_Hungary.html
        So neither England, Switzerland or Hungary show up the effects of the Tambora eruption. We see this all through history with claims of dramatic effects on temperaturrs by one volcano or another only for it to be found on closer examination, that a colder climate had already set in
        Tonyb

      • One shortcoming of your graphs are that they appear to show average temperature.
        In New England, we had several cold outbreaks, but we also had a heatwave in June, with some sites reporting 100°F temperatures that partially offset the June frost.
        Also, if you read various sources from Switzerland, the complaint was more about excessive rain, not cold. However, that leads to various reasons for great damage to crops, including the lack of bright, sunny, warm days. Their lack also doesn’t show up on graphs of average temperature as cloudy weather generally boosts the morning low temps and reduces the afternoon high temps.
        Caveat – I do not know how the average temperatures were calculated in Geneva. In New England they were a mix of morning, afternoon, and evening temperatures so they had a built in bias toward non-extremes. (In several records, the evening temperature is given twice the weight of the morning and afternoon temperatures.)

      • Tony,
        Average daily temperature isn’t the only climate parameter, or even necessarily the most important for agriculture, although of course it matters.

      • Gabro
        I agree that daily temperatures aren’t necessarily a good guide to the overall condition of the crop.
        here are CET by season. There have been cooler springs, summers autumn and winters and overall annual average temperature. !815 was wet but so have been many other periods. I do not wish to imply that Tambora had no effect whatsoever, but the effects of such eruptions tend to be short lived and very often the unsung years had worse weather.
        In the case of 1815 the climate had deteriorated very noticeably well prior to the eruption
        tonyb

  1. Frankenstein was the doctor/surgeon who creted the monster. Frankenstein’s monster is a perfect metaphor for Global Warming, since they were both made by scientists from lifeless parts crudely stiched together.

      • Robin, the link you provide takes you straight to boogeyman central. Once again, I must remind readers here that Common Core States Standards do not prescribe classroom practices. Curriculum choices and classroom pedagogy are locally controlled decisions.
        Brain science is providing new insight to where we store letter-sound associations, and how that area develops, or does not develop. Functional brain scans now prove that instead of whole word memory, letter sound association practices enriches the function of that area in those who have struggled to learn how to read.
        Instead of intuiting whether or not the leg is broken, we are now allowed to see that the leg is broken. That is good science is it not? How are similar strategies to determine whether or not the reading pathways in the brain are sufficient should be considered bad science?

      • Pamela: Curriculum choices and classroom pedagogy are locally controlled decisions.
        Would that it were true! People with agendas have a variety of ways of imposing their views of curriculum and pedagogy. State textbook adoption, for example. We (California) are now getting texts boasting of compliance with common core standards. Pearson (computer administered) standardized testing compels classroom strategies and more curriculum decisions.(Like, “Do we drop handwriting and just teach keyboarding?”)
        You are right in that the national standards do not preempt local control. But when each state re-creates those standards for its own use, local control can quickly fly out the window. Of course this situation can vary a great deal from state to state.

      • Interestingly, the themes of cold and ice abound in “Frankenstein,” from the opening where an adventurer is trying to sail to the North Pole, but his ship gets trapped by sea ice. While stuck, he meets Victor Frankenstein, near death, pursuing his monster across the pack ice via dog sled, in order to kill it. The monster roams across the Arctic ice on foot, impervious to cold. Also Victor’s first encounter with the monster is on a glacier in the Alps.
        Frankenstein works much better as an allegory against playing God than it does as a metaphor for refugees displaced by cold. If Mary Shelly were making an environmental metaphor, then she would have not made the monster so selective in who it killed. The monster killed only Victor’s loved ones, no one else. One of the victims was an innocent woman, wrongly convicted of a murder that was actually committed by the monster. She was subsequently executed by a human court, but Victor also blames this death on the monster. And once Victor dies, the monster voluntarily dies, too. This is far too personal to be a wider metaphor.
        As a cautionary tale about hubris and scientific malpractice, however, maybe the book could be applied to modern climate politics. The ones playing God in this case are those obsessed Doctors (Ph.Ds in this case) who seek to overturn modern economies, the energy markets, and people’s lives on a grand scale, completely oblivious to the pain and suffering they might be loosing on the world.

      • Pamela Gray says: August 10, 2016 at 8:13 am
        …. Common Core States Standards …

        Education seems to be a sitting duck for crackpot ideas.
        The results of Finland’s education are markedly better than what we get. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that Finland teaches the way our teachers were trained to do in the 1950s. Since the 1950s we have had a parade of educational reforms, none of which made things better. Our educational administrators should be looking at Finland and doing what the Finns do. That’s not going to happen because the administrators and politicians don’t actually care.

    • Come now, the monster takes the name “Adam” towards book’s end, and by standard sci-fi/fantasy convention (or more depressingly, the tradition of freedmen taking their former master’s name), he would take Victor’s name, making the monster’s name Adam Frankenstein.

  2. ha ha-
    and did you know prometheus was a guy who came from acidulous oceanids and taught people how to make carbon pollution, for which he was punished eternally?
    and oh- evil lucifer was named for hansen’s greenhouse poster-planet venus (the morning star)?
    and oh the story of jack and the beanstalk- climate
    and rumplestiltskin –
    heh- this is silly fun

  3. As I recall, the Monster ends up hiding out in the Arctic.
    So I’m not sure that the climate was the main theme of the book..

  4. “it wasn’t the warmth the creature was trying to escape…” It was beauty that killed the beast.
    Hmmm? Did I just mix up two monster movies? 😉
    The Little Ice Age was the setting of most Gothic horror movies… cloudy, cold, gloomy. Crimson Peak is a great recent example.
    Warmth is rarely a feature of Gothic horror… It’s just the standard Gorebot meme.

  5. The Frankenstein metaphor appeared much earlier in the debate and in a much more interesting way. This was in 1994 when the new head of the FCCC secretariat, Roul Estrada-Ouyela, was goading Bolin over the reticence of the scientists at IPCC and their reluctance to smooth the path to the treaty.
    Estrada was especially annoyed that Bolin could not give him an answer on exactly what would be a dangerous level of CO2 in the atmosphere. This was the link to the science in the FCCC and it would be the basis for the treaty protocol. Bolin realised that the scientists could not provide an answer to that question and told Estrada. Bolin also refused to circumvent peer review so as to have SAR ready in time for CoP1. In a speech to the Royal Society Estrada could not hide his frustration. He says that the scientists seemed to be suffering from a ‘Dr Frankenstein Syndrome’, that they had created something and were now afraid of what they had created. He reflected that, in the negations with the IPCC, he had…

    …the feeling that the IPCC was suffering some kind of “Dr Frankenstein Syndrome”. After all, the idea of a Convention was nourished by the IPCC, but now that Convention starts to walk and begins to demand additional food, the IPCC answered that it had its own program of work and could not deliver products by client’s request.

    There is lots of other evidence that Estrada was right on the money with this metaphor. When the treaty process began in 1991, there were many in the scientific leadership very concerned about what had been created (apparently) in the name of science.

  6. The Frankenstein Monster has become a paradigm for anything cadged together from unrelated parts. In the sense that the Global Warming / Climate Change meme combines unsupported suppositions, superficial speculations, context-free statements, and unreasonable extrapolations to produce an image intended to frighten the audience, the metaphor is excellent.

    • Dracula has a link to 1816 too! From Klingaman and Klingaman (see comment below):

      Shelley had elbowed Dr. Polidori out of Byron’s company; wounded, the aspiring novelist assuaged the snub by visiting Madame de Stael’s saolon at Coppet. He, too, spent much of August writing of fantastic characters, completing the story <iThe Vampyre, which subsequently served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

    • Maybe that’s why in the late 1800’s he liked caves and by the way if lead bullets don’t work just throw the empty gun at him; work’s every time…

  7. Much deeper coverage about the events in Europe and especially Switzerland are in the father/son historian/meteorologist book 1816 by William and Nicholas Klingaman. They don’t print that pretty a picture of the children of English aristocrats mostly insulated from the deprivations around them beyond seeing the peasantry on the move.
    I don’t see a reference to that in 1816, I may have have been thinking of how much worse it was in 1817 when they had nothing to plant in the spring:

    Thousands of Swiss peasants took to wandering and begging, sometimes in vast throngs that stretched out along the highways. One writer noticed “the paleness of death in their cheeks”; another noted “a wild, benumbed look of desperation in their eyes.” When Louis Simond reached the town of Herisau in Appenzell in June 1817, he discovered that the “number of beggars, mostly women and children, is perfectly shocking . . . Manufacturers are without work, and it is impossible for them to procure food: they are supported by private and public charities, and distributions of economical soup (made with oatmeal and a little meat) in quantities scarcely sufficient to sustain life. We see nothing but meadows and pastures, not a patch of potatoes or grain, not even a garden.”

    Whereas the impact of 1816 in New England was a pair of ill-timed frosts, in Europe, and especially Switzerland, the impact was from persistent rain and raw weather.

  8. If there is actually a Frankenstein monster involved as a metaphor for climate change, it would be the ridiculous mish-mash of science that has been sown together to get evidence for it.

    • But lasted only a few years at most.
      They were made worse by the already cold conditions of the Dalton Minimum, previous and later smaller eruptions.

    • While my focus has been New England, I don’t think the impact of the 1816 was dire in the southern US, though they were impacted by a couple Canadian air masses, or in the tropics which manage to shrug off a lot stressors thanks to the ITCZ.
      The Indian monsoon was affected, but that seems to be a rather delicate structure.

      • So was the Chinese monsoon, catastrophically, due to flooding. China had already suffered mass starvation.
        The tropics, as you note, were indeed sorely affected. James Jameson, a doctor in Calcutta, held the lack of fresh water following the failure of the 1816 monsoon responsible for the cholera epidemic which swept through Bengal the following year.
        I don’t know if there are relevant data from Africa for 1816, but in general, when the Northern Hemisphere cools, the ITCZ shifts south, causing drought in the Sahel. Of that region’s four worst years of drought during the 20th century, three happened after NH eruptions: the year after Katmai in Alaska (1913), and the years of and following El Chichón in Mexico (1982 and 1983).
        Antarctic ice cores show that particles and SO2 were at least distributed globally.

  9. They are at it again
    Apparently Pinatubo erruption in 1991 is still affecting global climate
    “Greenhouse gases are already having an accelerating effect on sea level rise, but the impact has so far been masked by the cataclysmic 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, according to a new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).”
    http://phys.org/news/2016-08-climate-sea.html

  10. Frankenstein’s monster is a Planned Parenthood refugee. The ad hoc appearance of recycled parts from diverse sources is a dead giveaway.
    The Tell-Tale Hearts beat ever louder.

  11. Frankenstein was a romantic science fiction about robotic, a concept already known with Heron of Alexandria. And an astounding image of coming implantation techniques at a time when prostheses were just cane and poker secured to the body by stripes of leather.

  12. No cause for concern but… If the de Vries cycle (~210 year solar cycle) or maybe a solar-lunar effect (11 x 19 ~ 209 years) was responsible for the Tambora global cooling eruption in 1815, then go back ~210 years to 1600 and we find the Huaynaputina global cooling eruption.
    Moving forward ~210 years from 1815 is 2025, so will there be a Tambora/Huayanaputina scale volcanic eruption causing natural rapid catastrophic global cooling around the mid 2020’s?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huaynaputina
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tambora

  13. This is off topic, but you (Mod) will see it which is good enough. Maybe I’ll post it again closer to topic. BTW Willis’ famous steel dome analogy needs to be a colander that’s 99.96% hole.
    Refer to Trenberth’s Figure 10 (Trenberth et al 2011jcli24).
    342 W/m^2 enters the ToA (100 km). About 100 W/m^2 are reflected by the albedo leaving about 242 to be absorbed by the atmosphere, 80, and surface, 160. Leaving the surface are 17 – convection, 80 – evapo, 63 LWIR.
    All of the numbers are now accounted for, there is no source for the net, circulating 333. The net 333 is the result of counting the same energy two different ways, a basic bookkeeping error. Entering 288 K in S-B to get 390 W/m^2 is double counting the same energy.
    Downwelling
    The bulk of the atmosphere’s mass is contained in the troposphere (topping out at 15 km). The lapse rate of 9.8 C/km means that the tropospheric temperature ranges from 288 K to 126 K. The temperature at 30,000 feet or 9 km is about -40 C or 233 K. Because of their low density the emissivity of gases is low, for CO2 0.1 at 1 atm to .01 at .001 atm ( Lallemant et.al. 1996, Fig 3), “back” radiating in ALL directions, say 25% back to surface.
    For example: -40 C / 233 K and average ε = .05 = S-B W/m^2 of 8.36 * .25 “back” wash = 2.09 W/m^2. NOT 333. Wow, same number that IPCC gets!
    So the upwelling/downwelling/”back” radiation numbers simply don’t work.
    If I get any recognition for this refutation it must be shared w/ Miatello, Nasif, Ward, Weart, Jo Nova, et. al. whose work also disputes the GHE theory and encourages me to stand my ground.

  14. Worrall notes that, due to long-standing crop failures, there probably were many migratory people.
    By the time of the authorship of Frankenstein, a major focus of intellectual history was: what is the nature of man? Is man inherently good, and misguided to perform badness only by ignorance, or societal, or natural forces such as famine, or is man inherently bad, and only coerced into behaving decently by societal forces?
    In my opinion, the challenge to the middle class and upper class of vagabond people, itinerant people, drifters, and such, was the driving force prompting the great philosophical efforts to define the nature of man. This is exemplified by the Rousseau/Hobbes dialectic, but predates these thinkers.
    The need to figure out the nature of man arose from the political pressure to figure out what to do with the meddlesome drifters and ne’er-do-wells. I don’t know where this begins, but in my opinion it can be seen pretty well in the 1500s, with the establishment of “poor law” efforts in England and other European countries.
    The Wikipedia entry on “Poor Relief” is a great presentation. Populations were growing, and beggars and thieves were increasingly bothersome to [what I call] the settled classes: those with stable predictable social circumstances, who know where they fit in the social structure – whether “lower class,” middle, or upper.
    The issue being highlighted at that time in politics was: how do we deal with these thieving, irresponsible vagrants? There are essentially two responses: provides services and supports, or provide punishment.
    England’s responses to these problems across centuries is well-documented – the history of poor homes, alms-houses, residency laws for eligibility of tax-based “charity” being doled out by ecumenical institutions at the behest of the government (no church-state seperation there). This may be seen to conclude at the dawn of the “welfare state,” but the central issue remains.
    So, to add yet another level, Frankenstein’s creation may force us to consider whether he should be seen as bad, deserving derision and punishment, or as misguided and ignorant, so as virtuous and in need of sympathy. This is the question we face in the present day when considering the plight of the poor, the homeless, those who have “too many” kids, prompting us to go educate them or sterilize them, and so on.

  15. Am I the only one who has read the original Frankenstein’s Monster? It is full of ice and cold imagry as that was the year without a summer in the Little Ice Age. A significant theme of the work is the decay and destruction of society due to the earth becoming colder (much of the intro chapter).
    So of course it is about cold and the destruction it brings.

Comments are closed.