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The Search For Scapegoats

February 13, 2016

By Paul Homewood 






As Geoffrey Parker reflects, farming, with its allied tasks, was the principal occupation and nearly the sole source of income for most families. Severe annual variations in the harvest reverberated through family life, determining whether the family ate well or meagrely, whether the old might live another winter, whether a daughter could marry.

As a result, people searched anxiously for explanations.


Many attributed natural disasters to divine displeasure, as the above Chinese folk song from the period reproached. This naturally quickly turned blaming human sins.The Protestant magistrates of Nuremberg commanded citizens to avert divine displeasure by showing moderation in food, drink and fashion, and by refraining from sensual pleasure. For the same reason, their catholic neighbour, Maximilian of Bavaria forbade dancing, gambling, drinking and extramarital sex.

In England, Parliament attempted to ban public plays and even maypoles, and prohibit the celebration of Christmas to avoid God’s wrath and displeasure.

The search for scapegoats targeted individuals as well as activities. In Europe, the climatic and economic disasters of the mid 17thC fed a witchcraze in which thousands of people were tried and executed. Thus in southern Germany, a hailstorm in May 1626 followed by Arctic temperatures led to the arrest, torture and execution of 900 men and women suspected of producing the calamity through witchcraft.

Witch panic even affected the Huron natives of North America.  

The most popular causes, however, were “natural” scapegoats, such as stars, eclipses, earthquakes, comets and sunspots.

It is interesting to note that astronomers were observing the number of sunspots as early as 1612, although they believed incorrectly that more sunspots would produce cooler temperatures on earth.

But that did not stop Robert Burton writing in his Anatomy of Melancholy in 1638:



  1. February 13, 2016 7:22 pm

    I watched a very interesting video: “Drain the Great Lakes” a program on National Geographic. Modern equipment was used to map the lake bottoms and then they were presented as dry land. Fascinating. They declare that the Great Lakes were some 50 meters lower ca. 7-8,000 years ago and that Paleo-Indians would have been living and moving there. Some underwater archaeologists are doing dives on an area with a line of stones which might have been placed to “move” caribou where they wanted them to move.

    Now, no one was mining/burning coal then; there were no evil automobiles or airplanes, etc. and George W. Bush had yet to be born. My question: “who caused the Great Lakes to be 50 m. lower than today and who is to blame for that 50 meter rise?” Someone must be held to account. Environmentalists whackos want to know.

    • February 13, 2016 7:24 pm

      Forgot to add, this is available on YouTube. As I no longer have TV, I watched it on my laptop.

  2. David Richardson permalink
    February 13, 2016 8:29 pm

    botanyjrg – That is interesting as the timing must have been close to the Holocene Thermal Optimum (HTO) when temperatures were a lot warmer than today!?

    An interesting post at WUWT just before Christmas on the HTO with thought provoking observations on the heat capacity of the oceans.

    I am looking forward to my copy arriving at the local Waterstones Paul, although it doesn’t appear to be an uplifting read!?

  3. John F. Hultquist permalink
    February 13, 2016 8:30 pm

    Did Nat. Geo. fail to mention isostatic rebound? In this case it is also called Post Glacial Rebound.

    • February 14, 2016 3:01 pm

      It has been mentioned, but don’t remember it was on that particular program. What fascinates me is the way they will actually report the truth of the situation by then by the end have a disclaimer that it is not the reason for today. Seriously? Climate changed in the past–and rapidly as with the sudden return to the ice age ca. 10,000 ya which was the end of the European “Clovis points” on the Chesapeake area and elsewhere. But, hold the phone, today any normal climate fluctuation or rainstorm is the result of my driving to the grocery store.

      Some years ago, National Geographic devoted a whole issue to The Sun. They concluded that the sun was hotter than it had been for some time, BUT that had nothing to do w/ the “warming climate” being experienced (not). Let’s see: I am standing next to a recently lighted roaring fire, but that cannot be why I am hot and sweating…….

      My late parents had given my brothers and myself lifetime subscriptions to National Geographic (I have the almost complete set from them + my late grandparents dating from 1915). They have lost their way and several years I wrote to them and said I no longer wanted their publication in my home.

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