[Heat waves are] the sort of thing [which] will get more common across a warming world. That should be more than enough to spur Americans to demand action from their leaders.
From 1300 to 1700, many people believed that witches control the weather. Perhaps politicians are the new witches, and The Washington Post editorial board are the new superstitious imbeciles?
Cold-Weather Theory of Witchcraft, The
If she floats she’s a witch; if she sinks she’s innocent — but now drowned, alas. The witch trials that swept through Europe from the 1300’s into the 1700’s baffle the rational modern mind. Why Europeans suddenly concluded that many of their neighbors were casting curses and smiting their crops remains a historical mystery.
That hardly implies a shortage of theories. Some have traced witch-related paranoia to the demonization of female folk healers and midwives by a nascent male medical establishment. Others have emphasized the theological anxieties of the Reformation or suggested an epidemic of syphilis (whose symptoms could resemble demonic possession). On this side of the Atlantic, fungus-infested rye, which can cause hallucinations, has been proposed as a factor in the Salem, Mass., witch scare of 1692.
In the Winter 2004 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Emily Oster, an economics graduate student at Harvard, suggests a more banal explanation of witch mania: the weather. From 1520 to 1770, according to Oster, spikes in witch trials coincided with sharp drops in temperature. Cold and harsh conditions may have devastated crops, she theorizes, leaving Europeans starving and looking for someone to blame.
Oster is not the first scholar to propose a connection between the advent of cold weather and the killing of witches. (The fact that a ”little ice age” settled over Europe in the era of the witch scare has attracted the attention of researchers.) But she is the first to map temperature against trial records, decade by decade. Among other things, she found that one of the steepest single temperature drops, around 1560, coincides with a mysterious resurgence in trials after a lull of 70 years.
The idea that witches lay waste to crops was once conventional wisdom. In a papal bull of 1484, Pope Innocent VIII wrote, ”It has indeed lately come to Our ears . . . many persons of both sexes . . . have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees.” According to Oster’s research, crops really were devastated when charges of necromancy flew. The witches themselves, however, were simply climate-change scapegoats.
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