In Assisi, Italy, the mountaintop town where St. Francis lived in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, a beautiful church from that era has its inside walls painted entirely white. Our guide pointed out that colorful murals originally covered the walls, until the Black Plague swept through in the 14th century. Town officials then became convinced that the sickness somehow came from the frescoes’ paint, so they ordered the walls whitewashed. Unfortunately, this destroyed most of the murals. Only fragments survive today. Of course, it did nothing about the plague. No one yet realized that the highly contagious plague was spread by rat-borne fleas and person-to-person contact. The rush to fight the sickness with every possible means not only achieved nothing positive, but caused irreversible damage.
The Black Death was a recurring feature of the cold period called the Little Ice Age (LIA), which spanned approximately AD 1300 to 1870. (Other LIA dates can be argued on the basis of temperature minima around 1650, 1770 and 1850 – each separated by slight warming intervals.) We now know that the highly contagious plague incubated in unhealthy, overcrowded living spaces – typically in large cities infested with flea-ridden vermin.1
In a less technological age, people were only vaguely aware that they were living in a colder time than the previous Medieval Warm Period (AD 900-1300) when food was plentiful and people led healthier, outdoor lives. There were some measurable indications of how cold the LIA was – such as glacier expansion. During the 15th and 16th centuries glaciers began to threaten Alpine villages built during the warm era. Alarmed residents asked the Church to intercede with God to arrest the grinding advance of the great rivers of ice. Priests prayed and incanted, and for a time the ice slowed or even stopped. Later, the ice again advanced until late in the 19th century.
Little Ice Age glaciers encroached on Greenland locales where Viking settlers had built villages and farmed during the warm era’s zenith. Cold weather brought poor harvests, starvation and eventual extinction of those settlements. Europe-Greenland communication finally ceased during the 15th century, after the Greenland settlements died out. Arctic explorers who “rediscovered” Greenland a century later found only unpopulated remnants of the former settlements. Until well within my lifetime, scientists had no explanation for what happened to Greenland. We now know that it simply froze over.
In the context of 14th century medical understanding – or lack thereof – stopping the Black Death was impossible. The legendary town of Hamelein came closest to a solution when it hired the Pied Piper2 to clean out the rats. But greed brought the town to grief. The town-fathers cheated the Piper after he did the job, so he lured the town’s children away in retaliation.
Pied Piper of Hamelein
In Assisi, where rats were not yet suspected of complicity in the plague, officials did only harm in their haste to “do something.” (Only the Whitewashers’ Union came out ahead.) Alpine church officials’ prayers might (or might not) have stopped the glaciers’ advance, but at least they did no harm.
These are cautionary tales for our time. Clearly, the climate has warmed before – most recently during 1870-1940, when industrialization was far below present levels – and actually cooled during the highly industrialized period, 1940-1980. Despite these facts, a great, crusading wave of environmental activism has now convinced much of the industrialized world (except for growing industrial powers India and China) that carbon dioxide emissions are making the climate change. Dissenting scientists – some of whom argue that higher sunspot activity produces warming, while lower sunspot activity produces cooling – are being vilified and shouted down. Their research funds, and in some cases their lives, are being threatened.
Politicians like Al Gore – he basking in a new career as a movie star and a “Doom is Nigh” huckster – want new taxes and draconian changes in Americans’ lifestyles (except their own). Newly-elected U. S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is the latest pol to sound the alarm on climate-change, warning us that the world will end in 12 years unless we trash our fossil-fuel based economy and change our way of living. Technical firms are being lured – Pied Piper-like – by the “dream scenario” of a problem that can never be solved, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Prospective billions in supranational carbon-taxes have visions of world-control – including deconstruction of the world’s industrial powerhouse (i.e., the USA) – dancing in the heads of United Nations officials.
A cadre of Christian ministers – originally led by mega-church guru Rick Warren – has joined Al Gore in claiming that the “science is settled” on greenhouse-gas warming. Preachers who wouldn’t know an atom from a perfume-atomizer insist that reducing our “carbon footprint” is a matter of morality and Christian stewardship. Christian debate has essentially shifted from WWJD (What Would Jesus Drive?) to a conviction that Jesus wouldn’t drive anything.
Pope Francis has blamed human selfishness for global warming in an encyclical which called for action on climate change. In his 2018 letter, His Holiness urged the rich to change their lifestyles to avert destruction of the ecosystem. A primitive lifestyle is being seriously pushed in some circles as the responsible solution to the climate-change “crisis,” but initiatives in that direction have been slowed by a serious shortage of dried buffalo dung for heating and cooking. (At this writing I have not learned whether Il Papa has realized that because the Catholic Church is worth billions he might have to travel by rickshaw when lifestyles of “the rich” get suitably changed.)
All but the truest of true-believers in the greenhouse-gas/global-warming/climate-change story will privately admit that the measures proposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will have no effect on the climate. This is OK because their aims go far beyond mere cooling (or warming). The climate story’s purpose is to convince a gullible public to pay higher taxes and relinquish more control over their lives to political experts who will “save” them from environmental catastrophe. The most radical environmentalists want the earth’s population reduced to about 300 million people. (Do all those nice, religious people know that?)
The rush to put draconian emissions-measures in place quickly has an obvious political motive: when the climate cycle again turns cool – as climate scientists like Dr. Tim Ball say is already happening – environmentalists can claim credit for averting disaster. High taxes, artificially costly fuel, irreparable damage to our industrial base, drastically reduced living standards, and ruinously retarded development in primitive parts of the world will be cited as the sure prescription for climate-stabilization. We shall hear that the greenhouse theory was correct and that humans were indeed warming the planet. Activists will ignore actual data showing that CO2 levels are still increasing as the climate cools. With the desired policies in place, the data won’t matter any more. This is the great thing about politicized science: data are only an ornament.
On the other hand, if the climate starts warming again, despite those draconian measures, our political “climate-experts” will claim that this shows a need for further measures. It’s a win-win situation for pols and scientists whose main objective is extracting more money from hapless citizens who are in thrall to governments which were elected to protect and help them.
Americans tend to yawn about these matters, having long felt secure in their political leaders’ resistance to radical environmental actions that might injure them. Even liberal Bill Clinton didn’t ask the Senate to ratify the Koyoto Treaty, recognizing that its protocols would harm the nation’s economy. Mr. Bush similarly resisted, for a time. But after Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, Mr. Bush signaled a willingness to support “climate control” initiatives.
Barack Obama blew the funding lid off during his terms by going whole-hog on climate research. According to Office of Management and Budget data, federal funding for climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation increased from $2.4 billion a year in 1993 to $11.6 billion in 2014, with an additional $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Mr. Obama also declared war on the coal industry, stopped oil-drilling wherever he could, blocked the Keystone Pipeline, and announced his intention to make electricity rates “skyrocket.” His efforts produced a stagnant economy and the lowest percentages of employed Americans since the 1970s.
President Trump has stopped the war on oil and coal, and produced the lowest unemployment rates in our history. His economy is booming, and incomes are rising. Minorities are working in numbers never seen before. But climate-funding is still growing. Some analysts say that climate-research has taken on a life of its own and is impervious to any efforts to decrease its funding.
If Americans give Democrats the presidency and the Congress in 2020, they could find that the stalking horse of radical environmentalism has become a ravening beast – poised to gobble up wealth, livelihoods, and comfortable lifestyles. The results will be a lot more serious than a few murals whitewashed away. If it happens, it will be because we were too ignorant to stop it.
Future primitive living
- An outbreak of plague in 1665-’66 killed some 200,000 people in London. This kept 19-year-old university student Isaac Newton out of school for a year, during which time he invented the calculus. The Great Fire of London (September 2-6, 1666) subsequently cleansed the city of disease by burning out ancient, over-crowded and disease-ridden streets. 1666 was the last outbreak of plague in London.
- Definition of “pied”: of two or more colors in blotches; also – wearing or having a parti-colored coat. (Now you know.)