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In the eyes of the green lobby, we are all witches now

What is it about freakishly cold winters that so agitates intolerant moralists?

In Europe 500 years ago, any sign of a dip in the winter weather would be greeted by much gnashing of teeth from the morality police. Sometimes they’d even burn at the stake “witches” who were said to have caused the extreme cold through their wicked behaviour and sorcery.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and still there’s nothing like a bitingly cold winter to drive moralists mad with priestly fury. Only today, in a more PC, less pyromaniacal version of what their forebears did, they don’t burn people at the stake for causing cold winters – no, they prefer to hector us with op-eds and insults instead.

The last couple of winters in western Europe have been bitterly cold. Last year the British Isles were coated in thick snow, causing chaos. This winter is shaping up to be a bit warmer, though cold snaps are expected in the new year.

All this iciness has put green-leaning moralists in a tailspin. They scour the press and the blogs for any whiff of a hint of a suggestion that perhaps these cold winters disprove the global-warming thesis, and inform us that, actually, extreme coldness is yet another side-effect of man’s constant farting of CO2 into the environment.

This week, a top Welsh scientist highlighted one of the key problems associated with very cold winters – no, not the possibility of elderly people going hypothermia or an increased risk of car accidents on slushy roads, but the danger that the dumb public will think all this snow proves hot-headed environmentalists wrong.

Professor Michael Hambrey of the University of Aberystwyth said “the public must not be misled into believing that a series of cold winters are evidence that climate change is a myth”.

Echoing green activists, who get strangely defensive during very cold winters, Professor Hambrey reminded us that climate change is not only going to make the world hellishly hotter but will also lead to a situation where “more extreme winters become the norm”.

Last year, during Britain’s big freeze, greens incessantly lectured us about how cold winters are just as much the fault of greedy, hubristic, polluting man as recent heatwaves and droughts have been.

A writer for The Times said anyone who seizes the opportunity of a wicked winter to ask “what happened to global warming?” is an “idiot”, because nobody ever claimed that climate change would “make Britain hotter in the long run”. (Er, yes they did.)

A headline in the Guardian informed us that: “The snow outside is what global warming looks like”, and the reason the plebs and simpletons who make up modern Britain can’t understand this fact is because they are:

“simple, earthy creatures, governed by the senses… What [they] see and taste and feel overrides analysis. The cold has reason in a deathly grip.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps the reason the public’s cynicism towards environmentalism goes up a notch whenever it snows is because for the past 10 years, before the recent big freezes set in, environmentalists told us we’d never see snow again.

“Snow is starting to disappear from our lives”, declared the Independent in March 2000, quoting an expert from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia – a major producer of climate-change info – saying that “children just aren’t going to know what snow is”.

Mark Lynas, one of Britain’s chief climate-change alarmists, told us in 2004 to prepare for life on a “hotter planet” in which “the traditional British winter [is] probably gone for good”.

And yet today, any mortal who dares to wonder out loud why it’s snowing so much if the planet is supposed to be getting hotter is told to shut up, branded an “idiot”, pityingly looked upon as a “simple creature” lacking reason. Weird wintry weather is as manmade as hotness is, we’re told. In short, snow, like floods and droughts and plagues of locusts, is another by-product of our destructive behaviour.

These greens don’t seem to realise how much they sound like medieval witch-hunters. In the Dark Ages, before man enlightened himself, witches were frequently hunted and burned on the basis that they were causing climate change – specifically very cold winters.

One of the driving forces behind the witch-hunting mania in Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries was the idea that these peculiar creatures had warped the weather.

As the German historian Wolfgang Behringer argued in his 2004 book, Witches and Witch-Hunts, “large-scale persecutions were clearly linked to years of extreme hardship and in particular the type of misery related to extreme climatic events”.

So during the Little Ice Age, the period of unusual coldness that started around the mid-1500s, there was an upsurge in witch-hunting. There was another outburst in 1628, described by historians as “the year without a summer”, because once again people’s crops failed and they were desperate to find someone to blame. As Behringer puts it, when the “climate stayed unfavourable or ‘unnatural’ the demand for persecutions persisted”.

Johann Weyer, the 16th-century physicist who spoke out against witch-hunting, described how one woman was forced to confess to causing climate change:

“[A] poor old woman was driven by torture to confess – as she was about to be offered to Vulcan’s flames – that she had caused the incredible severity of the previous winter of 1565, and the extreme cold, and the lasting ice.”

Pointy-hatted Witchfinder Generals were convinced that foul, immoral people, through the magic of their thoughts and words, had conjured up climatic mayhem and icy conditions. Sound familiar? Yep – today, too, hectoring moralists hold wicked human beings responsible for causing unusual coldness.

In the old witch-hunting era, it was a powerful sense of social uncertainty and fear of the future which led the priestly class to view mysterious individuals as being culpable for climate change. Today, too, a similarly profound social and moral malaise has led elite greens to claim that the throng, with its reckless ways and insatiable material desires, is causing dangerously freezing/hot conditions.

Of course, in one important way today’s green moaners are more enlightened than the witch-hunters of old: they don’t hurl anyone on to “Vulcan’s flames”. But in another sense they’re more backward than the medieval moralists since they don’t only hold a few sad old women responsible for climatic disarray, but rather point the finger of blame at everyone – all the “idiots” and “simple creatures” whose desire for stuff and wealth and holidays is apparently causing both cruel summers and harsh winters. In the eyes of the green lobby, we are all witches now.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of Spiked in London.

ABC, 26 December 2011