Does Climate Change Mean More Witch Hunts?

Times columnist Nick Kristof recently highlighted economic research showing that climate change may be driving up the rate of executions of suspected witches in East Africa.

Tough times in the Congo may have been behind the recent witchcraft panic there, where police arrested 13 people accused of using black magic to shrink men’s penises.

University of Chicago economist Emily Oster also found a surge in witch hunts during Europe’s “little ice age,” from the 1500’s to late 1700’s.

Dubner and Levitt also wrote of some other surprising climate results over the ages, ranging from property crime, to life expectancy, to civil war.

What other unexpected consequences, whether economic, social, political, or otherwise, should we expect to see from climate change?


"Tough times in the Congo may have been behind the recent witchcraft panic there, where police arrested 13 people accused of using black magic to shrink men's penises"

The accused witches were led away screaming "He was in the pool! He was in the pool!" Seriously, doesn't this argue pretty strongly against the global warming thesis? I mean, this is a symptom of cold water, not warm. I don't think I want to live in a society where women don't know about shrinkage.

Don't miss this blend of witch hunting and advanced science: .


Well, the guy who used to run Greenpeace is now promoting nuclear energy. Maybe we'll see some more enlightenment among the Luddites.

Robert L.

The closer a society is to subsistence level, the more any kind of additional stress is going to impact it. What you will see in a poor society hit with problems is not a good indicator of what will happen in a rich society.


How about...

1) Opening of the Northwest Passage
2) Increased availablity of solar energy
3) Shorter shorts & more scantily clad women
4) Cheaper beach homes b/c there'll be more usable beach property.

Sounds like fun to me.

the Gooch

"Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!"
"Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes..."
"The dead rising from the grave!"
"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

C. Coop

In the US it will become relatively more efficient to build combined cycle and combustion turbine power plants, which typically run only in summer months, compared to coal plants which run all year long. It will effect wind turbines as well, though I'm not sure in whether it will help or hurt.


During the 1500s to 1700s, one of the main accusations leveled at Witches was crop blight, so such charges would seem especially relevant now that there is looking to be a world-wide grain shortage.

Jared Diamond's book Collapse has a lot of looks at how nations under climate pressure simple come undone, with Rwanda being a modern case study. I would expect more serious and more bizarre stuff to become common-place.


Seems like these sort of things might just be very loose correlations or even coincidences.

Marcus Lynn

Uh...climate change? It changes throughout the year. It's called winter, spring, summer, and fall. And I think it's been going on a lot longer than we've been alive.


What should we expect to see?

How about all sorts of ridiculous claims about things being caused by "Climate Change"? I'd anticipate a lot of that going around.

At the point where anything that goes wrong anywhere in the world can be blamed with a straight face by the media on "Climate Change", don't you think the excuse has jumped the shark?

Do you think that perhaps ongoing structural legal and instutitional problems in the Congo might be just a tad bit more responsible for their economic problems than minor weather changes?


This is stupidity the answer is no. It's sickening that people blame climate change for all sorts of things when the result has been neglible at best. Stupidddd.


Well, according to the NYTimes editorial board, climate change caused hurricane Katrina to flood New Orleans. This is actually a great excuse, as it absolves several governments (city, state, federal) from failing to serve their citizens by properly maintaining levees, pumps, and other critical infrastructure.

More and more failures of leaders will be attributed to climate change. Water shortages because of no dam buildings and diversion for fish will be blamed on climate change. Power plants won't be built because of climate change. Infrastructure won't be built because of fears of climate destruction.


Unexpected consequences that we expect?

Kenn Sebesta

In a similar vein, I wonder about the kinds of witch hunts that will go on in the western world. In the 1980s, anti-fur activists did everything they could to stop the fur industry. The most public examples that have stayed in my mind were when activists threw blood, paint, ketchup, oil, etc... on people wearing furs. And whether you agree with what they did or not, you have to admit this kind of activism did a danged good job of "convincing" people to stop wearing furs.

Now, moving on to the 21st century, we have another problem facing us, and that's climate change/ecological destruction. There is likely a tipping point somewhere were people will become so sensitive to energy waste that they again resort to this sort of vigilanteism. There are some obvious targets (Hummers, any SUV or pickup with a perfect paintjob, sports cars, etc...), but there are plenty of cases that are less clear, and that the overzealous, even by vigilanteism terms, will attack. And that's what becomes scary, because the rules are no longer so clear-cut as with furs.

Driving a full-size American passenger car: guilty/not-guilty? Lighting up a house at night: guilty/not-guilty? Using air-conditioning in a mansion house with only two people inside: guilty/not-guilty? Not recycling waste: guilty/not-guilty?

I guess it all depends on your local witch-hunters.


David Heigham

Not expected? I suppose that could be taken to mean not yet in the IPCC reports.

1. Top of the current list. More weather happening when farmers don't expect it is a trend that has started and which will get more severe for the foreseeable future. Crop yields will therefore be under increasing pressure (see witches and crop blight above). Probably manageable with a combination of letting the agricultural technologists get on with their job, and governments not panicing.

2. The first Mediterranean-born hurricane is due well before 2040.

3. Some of the proposals for the 2020 or 2024 Olympics will include putting a dome over the whole city and air-conditioning it.

4. A taste for cover-up dressing in the Arab or Nigerian tradition will spread North and South from the Equator, and towards the equator from the polar ozone holes.

Matthew R.

Isn't global climate change itself a witch hunt?


I'd be more interested in the correlation between climate change skeptics and economics blogs.


"More weather happening when farmers don't expect it is a trend that has started and which will get more severe for the foreseeable future."

I've heard it said that global warming/climate change is the new term for what used to be known as "weather." This is a perfect example.

Weather happens constantly. It has always happened constantly. The only exception is if you live inside a climate controlled home.

Weather is also unpredictable. As time has gone on, and we've begun to understand it better, we're actually better able to predict the weather. Since we're better able to predict the weather now, I have yet to see any evidence to support this idea that global warming leads to unpredictable weather.


@Marcus Lynne,

uh, ha ha, uh..., that's called 'weather', those are 'seasons' and together, averaged out over years and years and years, they are called 'climate'.

It is this 'climate' that is changing - almost certainyl due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases like CO2 and Methane caused by human industry, agriculture and other activities.

You're not bringing anything to the table...


this is irrational- burning a witch at the stake increases carbon emissions- dunking is more environmentally friendly (although the pesky real witches can survive the dunking)