The Famine: Politics and Ecology.  Ecology  Politics

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  • Slide 1
  • The Famine: Politics and Ecology
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  • Ecology Politics
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  • 1776: American Revolution 1789: French Revolution 1798: Wolfe Tone Rebellion 1800: Act of Union 1803: Robert Emmet Rebellion
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  • Ireland lost her political and legislative autonomy and her economic independence (186). Linen factories meant that people lost the work and income that allowed them to subsist on their tiny farm plotsand rely on the potato. Nowhere else in Europe did people rely so heavily on one crop for survival. And the structure of land ownership meant that this crop was grown on plots so small that almost no tenant could produce a food surplus (187).
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  • Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History (1300-1850) Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
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  • 1815: Eruption of Mt. Tambora 1816: The Year Without Summer More than 65,000 people died of hunger and related diseases in 1816 They died in part because the British authorities chose not to ban grain exports, an effect measure in earlier dearths. Chief Secretary Robert Peel justified this on the specious grounds that private charity would relax their efforts if the government assumed major responsibility for famine relief (187).
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  • Generally growing cereal crops (often failed), but the combination of potatoes and cereal crops was a safeguard against the failure of either crop (183). Danger of monoculture: Grain was no longer part of the diet in the south and west of the country and had become predominantly a cash crop in the north (185).
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  • Many varieties of potato: Black, Apple, Cup (187). Dwindled to just the Lumper, highly productive in poor soilbut Lumpers did not keep from one year to the next. Which meant no food reserves against famine.
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  • 1843: outbreak of phytophthora infestans in the eastern United states. 1845: summer was cold, sunless, and wetter than normal (189). October 1845: blight strikes Irelands crop.
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  • Sir Robert Peel responded: he ordered the immediate importation of 100,000- worth of maize from the United States (190).
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  • Eating seed potatoes. Spring cold, May and June excellent growing weather. August: the blight appeared a full two months earlier than the previous year (190). Poor cereal crop harvest across Europe; official indifference from the British government. North Atlantic Oscillation flipped into low mode, bringing the most severe winter in living memory (190).
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  • Work programs. The government in London argued that relief was the responsibility of local relief committees. None existed, and food was plentiful in Skibbereen market. But the poor had no money to buy it (192).
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  • The British government, believing firmly in the sanctity of the free market, pursued the ideology of minimal intervention that dominated many European governments of the day. Ministers believed that poverty was a self-imposed condition, so the poor should fend for themselves (193).
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  • Excellent weather, but there were no potatoes to plant. No employment to be had.
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  • Cold spring, complete failure of the crop. Evictions continued, landlords also in great debt. Emigration to survive, crime and transportation to survive.
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  • 1841 Census: 8,175,124 1851 Census: 6,552,385 Population decline did not reverse until the 1960s. The lasting physical effects among the survivors included a high incidence of mental illness (194). Not the last famine.
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