Climate Change Causes Witch Hunting

When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, the weather was unusually hot. People in the streets of Philadelphia beat a woman to death for being a witch and causing the heat in an attempt to kill them.

I’m reminded of the popular claim that climate change causes war. This is generally taken to (somehow) be an antiwar claim, even when the Pentagon makes it, and certainly when environmental groups that wouldn’t touch peace activism with a ten-foot pole make it.

But what about “Climate change causes witch hunting.” When we phrase it that way, does it become possible to recognize the existence of human agency, the fact that it is a belief in the acceptability of witch hunting, and a decision to engage in witch hunting, that cause witch hunting?

Now it’s true that the heat was a factor in Philadelphia, and it’s true that the drought was a factor in Syria. But when we say that war causes climate change, rather than climate change causes war, we make much more sense. War (as currently fought) is a huge producer of the pollution that causes climate change, in the strict sense of the term “causes.” We’re talking here about a non-human physical process.

Claiming that climate change causes war or witch hunting is a stretch of the idea of causation, for the simple reason that in a society that rejects witch hunting or in a society that rejects war, climate change is utterly powerless to cause any such thing.

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