The Learned Pig

Art – Thinking – Nature – Writing

Ignaz Semmelweis and Anthropogenic Global Warming

Mortality rates in mothers from childbirth in Europe were shockingly high during the mid-19th century. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician working in the General Hospital of Vienna, was curious as to why the medical students’ obstetrician clinic had a mortality rate over five times higher than the trainee midwives’ clinic within the same hospital.

His first point of call was to enquire with the so-called experts, the doctors. The entirely male-dominated field offered explanations that, today, would seem beyond ludicrous. My personal favourites of these were that the mother died from the shame of being unmarried or being examined by a male doctor (e.g. another man seeing their vagina).

What should have been the turning point in birth related mortality rates across Europe plummeting was, in 1847, when a close friend and fellow physician to Semmelweis was accidently poked by a scalpel during a post-mortem. He died several days later. The post-mortem revealed similarities in the infected area to puerperal fever, a severe infection occurring inside the vagina following childbirth leading to death when left untreated. Semmelweis theorised that “cadaverous particles” were carried on the hands of the doctors performing post-mortems who then went on to carry out childbirth procedures without washing.

Despite all the evidence, the medical community refused to accept Semmelweis’ findings.

Semmelweis proposed that all doctors and midwives within the Vienna General Hospital wash their hands in chlorinated water before childbirth procedures. Chlorine was chosen because it seemed most effective for reducing strong smells from their hands. The impact this procedure had on mortality rates was enormous; they dropped from approximately 12% to approximately 2% in the medical students’ clinic.

In 1851, Semmelweis joined St. Rochus Hospital in Budapest and having implemented the same hand-washing procedures, found similar drops in mortality rates from puerperal fever. However, his work was largely rejected by the medical community, particularly because he could not offer a satisfactory scientific explanation as to how or why washing in chlorinated water made a difference. Despite all the repeated studies and evidence that hand-washing in chlorinated water prevented deaths, the vast majority of the medical community refused to accept it.

Ignaz Semmelweis_1860

The terribly sad epilogue to Semmelweis’ book, The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever, first published in 1859, summed up the disillusionment he felt by his treatment:

“When, with my current convictions, I look into the past, I can endure the miseries to which I have been subjected only by looking at the same time into the future… If I am not allowed to see this fortunate time with my own eyes, my death will nevertheless be brightened by the conviction that sooner or later this time will inevitably arrive.”

Semmelweis’ work eventually paved the way for seminal works on germ theory by the likes of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister. But not before millions of mothers had died unnecessarily from childbirth across the world. Joseph Lister furthered the development of Pasteur’s original theories, studying Semmelweis’ earlier work before being posthumously heralded in littered internet references, and a biography of the same name, as the father of antiseptics. If Lister was the father of antiseptics, that makes Semmelweis the grandfather.

Robert Koch (sadly sharing the surname of two extremely influential anthropogenic global warming deniers) and Alexander Fleming went on to make important additions to the theory later down the line to the point that, thankfully, there is no longer debate within the medical or scientific community that germs cause disease. In fact, it’s so accepted that it’s practically impossible to find any published scientific papers in the last decade which even question it. The only questions relating to germ theory within the scientific community today is, as with manmade climate change, in what way, how much, and what can we do.


The Learned Pig


Anthropogenic global warming is a scientific reality. The most consistent and accurate estimates suggest that this echoes the views of over 97% of climate scientists. What remains more open to debate is whether we are in imminent danger. This is a much harder question to answer, but a vastly researched best-case scenario, from Berkeley law Professor, Andrew T Guzman, author of Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change says if we’re able to halt the increase in warming to only two degrees from pre-industrial temperature (which is no mean feat) then:

“One out of every two people on the planet will be directly affected and many of them will suffer severe water crises. Count this in the billions.

India and Pakistan will face a crisis as the glaciers that feed the Indus River shrink and disappear. Without enough water from the Indus, which flows first through India, Pakistan may be unable to exist. Count this as a human cost in (at least) the many millions.

As salt water pushes in on fields, as rivers dry up in some places and floods ruin crops in others, the world will see a sharp reduction in agricultural production and a spike in food prices. Every one of us will have to pay more for food. The world’s poorest will simply not be able to afford food and will face widespread starvation and famine. Count this as tens or perhaps hundreds of millions killed and every human on the planet harmed.”

Despite the scientific consensus, there remains a lasting scepticism from certain sectors of the public.

Nevertheless, there has been a prevalent view from large parts of the first world public and industry that the potentially perilous situation is being over-stated by zealous environmentalists. Despite the scientific consensus, there remains a lasting scepticism from certain sectors of the public, and a wilful, active ignorance from corporations to address these serious issues. This has been the underlying (non)response to major polluting industries for over 40 years, despite increasing evidence of their contribution to and responsibility for global warming.

It’s not particularly surprising that we’re reluctant to accept the general scientific consensus. Firstly, if your main income comes from fossil fuels (or an industry releasing high levels of carbon), you’d probably be quite keen to ensure the lining in your pockets doesn’t become frayed. Secondly, human beings are notoriously lazy, and it feels like a lot of effort to make changes, either in our personal lives or in our work lives. It’s easier to lie on our couch with a laptop or iPad in front of a TV that we’re not even watching, with all the lights on in our home, littering the internet with accusations of irrational alarmism against those that worry about the potential damage of global warming.

Believing that global warming isn’t happening is as convenient as believing in heaven, at least on the surface: it’s easier if we don’t have to think about it, it’s convenient that we can carry on as we are, and it will all be okay in the end. It’s the equivalent to, as Australian’s showed in their protest in November last year just before the start of G20 Summit, putting your head in the sand and hoping for the best.

One key reason for the prevalent scepticism is the way in which the media have been able to completely distort the debate. As actor, comedian and writer, John Oliver, demonstrated both hilariously and brilliantly in May last year, on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, they have been able to regularly debate the matters on television as if the real debate in science was 50/50.

With a media coverage largely dictated by vested political and corporate interest, an unhealthy relationship between the corporations and government of first world and developing nations, along with the cognitive flaws that come with being human, it’s no surprise that that climate change deniers have carried such a dangerous historical leverage to environmental policy.

Despite public polls throughout most of the developed world revealing an acceptance of man’s responsibility for global warming and the need to do something about it, they don’t paint an altogether encouraging picture. The evidence suggests many people are still far from vociferous in their support or even in their acceptance that climate change or global warming exists or is even manmade. In fact, since a peak in 2007/2008, most recent polls in the US and UK show this majority belief to be only around 40% to 60% of those polled, with the UK historically showing less notional support for anthropogenic global warming until recently. Although the figures have steadied out quite quickly from their peak, the figures are still miles away from that of the scientific consensus.

If it’s a hot and sunny day, we’ll be far more likely to agree that manmade global warming is both real and a problem.

One reason for the drop in US opinion may have been the overstated controversy over hacked emails from within the climate science community leaked in 2009. A more overlooked factor could be the world financial crisis in 2008. Priorities usually change to what is of most immediate concern, namely not having any money. To put it another way: to the people being asked, global warming is less likely to be perceived as manmade because they haven’t had the time to really think about it. They’ve been busy trying to make ends meet, and bombarded with news and print media ignoring the issue and focusing on the economy instead.

Nonetheless, we should be wary of the reliability of these particular polls. Open to flaws as we are, even the results are subject to the question of how seriously we can take them when you consider that the answers given will change significantly depending on the current weather at the time of being asked. For example, if it’s a hot and sunny day, we’ll be far more likely to agree that manmade global warming is both real and a problem.


The Learned Pig


Thankfully, on a world political level, the tide appears to be turning. This momentum is due in no small part to the fact that President Barack Obama is in his second and final term of his presidency, and keen to leave behind a legacy.

Obama’s ability to pass laws through congress has been notoriously difficult, so a clever use of the existing legislation has allowed him to make great environmental reforms. Using the 1970’s Clean Air Act, he has been able to use the Environmental Protection Agency to, fundamentally, create new laws within the existing legislation, importantly avoiding the stubborn Republican encumbrance that he’s suffered throughout his presidential reign (including the failure to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act in his first term, which was defeated at the Senate in 2009). It has allowed him to put in place, according to The New York Times, what could be considered “the most aggressive, far-reaching environmental legacy” of any US President.

He vowed in his first press conference after re-election in November 2012 to look for bi-partisan support and to have “wide-ranging conversations with scientists, engineers, and elected officials… about what realistically we [can] do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with”.

Those few months of conversations led to an inauguration speech on 21st January 2013 which was far more vociferous in pledging his commitment to fighting climate change. His State of Union Address of February 2013 went even further in suggesting that he was even ready to pass laws unilaterally if Congress could not come to an agreement. In June 2013, he unveiled his administration’s climate change agenda in Georgetown University with proposals for the Environmental Protection Agency to impose cuts to maximum emission levels of new or significantly modified power plants by September 2013, set caps to existing power-plants by June 2014 and finalise the rules later this year.

President Barack Obama offers a toast to President Xi Jinping of China
In Beijing, on 12th November 2014 a few days before the G20 Summit, Obama jointly announced with Chinese President Xi Jinping a target for US reduction in carbon emissions of 26%-28% below its 2005 level by 2025, and a Chinese target for CO2 emissions to peak by 2030 (at the latest) and for primary energy to be supplied by 20% non-fossil fuels. They also affirmed to undertake, “a joint peer review of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” whilst at the G20 Summit.

Although it was accepted by Secretary of State, John Kerry, that US and other world leaders will need to do more to reduce carbon emissions, it was, nevertheless, an unprecedented stride towards serious recognition of their respective countries’ contributions to global warming, and their responsibilities, as the biggest polluters, to take action to reduce the impact.

That said, November 2014 was also a disappointing month in the battle against climate change and global warming. The G20 Summit was hosted by Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who stubbornly and controversially left climate change out of the agenda. In the face of increasing pressure, he made a reluctant last minute concession to add it as a communique paragraph, reiterating a generic UN commitment to fighting climate change, but importantly, with no specific promises in order to hold anyone to account.

Abbott has a well-documented history of climate change scepticism and denial, famously calling the science “absolute crap” in 2009. This was not much of a change from seven years prior, when he was “hugely unconvinced” by the science. More recently, Abbott, in the face of overwhelming evidence and public support against him has made something of a U-turn, saying in 2011, “I never said it was a myth” and saying in June last year that he takes it “very seriously”. Despite the change in rhetoric, his policy is conservative with a target to cut carbon emissions in coal-fired power-plants by just 5% by 2020. Compare that to the US target of a 17% reduction by the same period and 30% by 2030.

At the G20 summit, world leaders, spearheaded by Obama, forced the issue, embarrassing Abbott by mentioning climate change at every opportune moment, both formally and behind closed doors with other leaders.

The Republican Party has become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise.

The opportunity for Obama to maintain this momentum took a slight stumble not long after poor results for the Democrats in the mid-term elections resulted in an increased Republican majority in the Senate. Consequently, Republican Senator, James Inhofe, returned as Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee in January 2015. He had previously chaired the committee from 2003-2007 where he largely expounded climate change and global warming denial at every opportunity.

Bringing Inhofe back as chair was a clear attempt from Republicans to derail Obama’s environmental policy and legacy. In keeping with an increasing trend of the last seven years, it is becoming close to impossible to understand whether the Republicans have any actual policies that are not formed on the basis of attacking whatever Obama and Democrats stand for, or as Mann and Ornstein (of Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, respectively) put it in 2013:

“The Republican Party has become a radical insurgency – ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Inhofe’s vested interests and evangelical beliefs would be laughable if he weren’t an elected Senator holding a dangerous influence to how the US reduces the impact of global warming and climate change. Inhofe has gone so far as to suggest those who argue we should do something about climate change may be insulting god.

Many people laughed at Inhofe’s stunt in March of this year when he removed, from a plastic folder, a snowball he had collected from outside the Senate, bizarrely presenting it as evidence that global warming isn’t happening. Personally, my immediate response was not to find it funny as many others have; it was to find it petrifying.

Nevertheless, Obama is still continuing to navigate Republican obstacles as best he can. The Keystone XL pipeline project, seeking to transfer crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is seen as a big test by environmentalists. Obama rejected the initial application in 2012, claiming an arbitrary 60 day deadline set by Republicans meant that they could not produce a proper assessment of the merits of the scheme in time to make a decision. He delayed in April 2014 for a state-led consultation to be completed. In November, it lost a closely fought vote in the Senate. But it was successfully voted in at the Senate in January of this year, and in the House or Representatives, the following month, leading to the already anticipated measure of Obama vetoing the Keystone motion later that same month, strenuously arguing that the review and consultation still needed to be completed.

Environmentalists argue that converting the tar sand is an extremely inefficient process.

Environmentalists argue that converting the tar sand, which would be transported through the proposed pipeline, into usable oil is an extremely inefficient process, leading to unnecessarily high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters of the bill argue that the project would guarantee at least tens of thousands of jobs, some going so far as to say that Obama’s veto was a “national embarrassment”.

The background behind Obama’s blockages to the bill is fairly obvious: to preserve his continuing support of green energy alternatives and a move away from reliance on fossil fuels, especially at a time when the US is already the biggest producer of oil worldwide. How long he can continue to block it will depend on the outcome of the assessment, but one positive factor for Obama is the fact that the bill requires Presidential Permit because the pipeline would cross borders with Canada.

The only way to override this process would be to seek two thirds majority vote at Congress, which looks, from the evidence of another vote put to the Senate on Wednesday March 4th 2015, unlikely to be passed, despite the current republican majority.

Meanwhile, as Rebecca Leber points out in the New Republic:

“Every delay…makes it more expensive for TransCanada, which claims the pipeline’s cost has doubled in the last six years. If environmentalists can’t get an outright rejection from Nebraska courts or Obama’s State Department, a delay might be enough to doom the project.”


The Learned Pig


Environmentalists, who advocate large scale (and often necessary) changes to reduce our carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuel, often accuse global warming deniers and sceptics of being dogmatic to the point of religious fundamentalism. There is certainly evidence suggesting that global warming sceptics are far more likely to be religious. Despite this, global warming deniers and sceptics frequently argue that environmentalists are the real fundamentalists. The point that is often overlooked from the liberal agenda is that some environmentalists are irrationally alarmist and can be just as dogmatic, sometimes more so (it just seems to happen less frequently).

Regardless of the reality, while each party calls the other out for dogmatism, the genuine debate gets lost in a fog of ad hominem and tit for tat nonsense, muddying the waters to the point of being a bog of uncertainty – when one overall position might be correct, but the people presenting it demonstrate such terribly flawed logic in support of it.

Accusing another party of fundamentalism is fast becoming the latest internet currency in attempts to debunk and belittle an opponent. It’s true in the case of political debate between Democrats and Republicans, and it’s especially true in the case of the debate from and against New Atheism.

The God Delusion
New Atheists, particularly the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, are often slated for being as fundamentalist as the religious followers they criticise, usually because of their literal reading of religious texts and a perversely distorted scientific approach to attacking belief and religious observation. Critics often go so far as to accuse them of belonging to a structure of belief as close to religion as you can get.

The truth is that New Atheism’s roots take their nutrients from the same soil as atheism’s. Both grow from non-belief, rather than the other way round, based on a combination of critical thinking and analysis of the evidence that is available to them. The greatest difference lies in the bloom of the actual beliefs between atheists and New Atheist’s.

Both would argue that these flowers also come from rational and scientific examination. However, some commentators argue that the bloomed beliefs of New Atheists are more akin to weeds, and, in order to stop the permanent damage they can cause, they work tirelessly on our behalf to try to keep our lawns in order. Hence, the attacks on Sam Harris and company from commentators such as Glen Greenwald and Reza Aslan come to be written (or at least give the impression of being written) from a pious, moral duty. Ironically, this is, in essence, the same view New Atheists take about their religious, and to a lesser extent, their non-religious critics.

When people are told how stupid they are, it’s a good bet that they’ve already stopped listening.

For me, the most valid criticism of the New Atheist movement is not that they are fundamentalist per se, but that in their aggressive attempts to deride and attack fundamentalism, they may accidentally push people further into it, or at least push them away from considering a rational and scientific understanding. Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at North Eastern University, Matthew C. Nisbet, has argued this several times, including the citing of prominent social psychologist and co-author of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, and Hurtful Actions, Carol Tavris, who put it this way when she was asked about the impact that this can have:

“When they go around saying ‘Oh look how foolish it is to believe such and such a thing.’ What they are doing is putting people into a state of dissonance. “I am a smart capable, wise, kind person and you are telling me I believe something that is stupid and wrong, to the hell with you!”

It’s not difficult to extrapolate similar conclusions about the consequence of such cognitive dissonance to the global warming debate. When global warming sceptics are told how stupid they are by environmentalists (and vice-versa), it’s a good bet that they’ve already stopped listening or it pushes them further away from where they started.


The Learned Pig


In a spurious attempt to muddy the global warming debate in May last year, The Wall Street Journal (owned by climate change denier, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) published an editorial strongly refuting the 97% consensus. On the surface, it was quite compelling. It appealed to the natural hope we hold out, that maybe things aren’t as bad as we thought – perhaps everything will be alright – but, let’s be honest, that seldom proves to be the case. If we delve a little deeper into the arguments (and we remove ourselves of our irrational biases as best we can), like Dana Nuccetelli did in a brilliant rebuttal published in The Guardian a few days later, we can see minimal value in climate change denialism, as he reframed it, putting it back on the wall for all to see.

Around this same time, five months prior to the US agreement with China and the disappointing events of the G20 Summit, during a June 2014 University of California commencement speech, Obama likened the denial of manmade climate change to that of asserting that the moon is “made of cheese”. He pointed to the 97% consensus, illustrating his point with a savvy example.

“The writer, Thomas Friedman, recently put it to me this way. He were talking, and he says, “Your kid is sick, you consult 100 doctors; 97 of them tell you to do this, three tell [you] to do that, and you want to go with the three?”

There is a problem that comes with this example, however. As we’ve seen, sometimes the majority of the scientific or expert community can get it very wrong.

Denialists feel that they are ignored for having the temerity to go against the grain, like Galileo.

On the same Wall Street Journal editorial, this argument was used by one reader to argue that, even if 97% of climate scientists accept or believe in manmade global warming, the point is irrelevant because: “once upon a time, 97% of scientists believed that the Earth was flat!”

Current Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, took this argument up another few notches (demonstrating a ludicrous understanding of Galileo in the process) during an interview with Texas Tribune on 24th March 2015. “Today,” he said, “the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be…scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier”.

This type of reasoning attempts to frame the arguments of being from a position of persecution and victimisation, simply for being correct. Denialists feel that they are ignored, not because they are ignorant or dogmatically incorrect, but for having the temerity to go against the grain, like Galileo. There is an underlying assumption with these strands of thoughts, that they are the victims to a great injustice, that they are, for example, the next Ignaz Semmelweis.


The Learned Pig


There are similar examples to Ignaz Semmelweis throughout history. Giordano Bruno was killed for his scientific views, which included speculative theories which don’t seem quite so speculative today, such as stars being distant suns surrounded by planets.

For continuing to support Nicolas Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest from 1633 until his death nine years later. His offending work was banned and was forbidden from publishing any future work, at least in Italy. As Plato told us almost two thousand years earlier, on behalf of Socrates, challenging the status quo can get you killed.

Charles Darwin’s theories published in On the Origin of Species were respected in many scientific quarters but still fiercely debated in his lifetime particularly by large sections of society who viewed them as blasphemous.

No one was opposed to Gregor Mendel’s observations, focussing on recessive and dominant traits on heredity, because no one gave them any attention during his lifetime. It was only eighteen years later that his work was rediscovered, leading to our modern understanding of genetics.

As fascinating as stories like these are, the side-effect may be to encourage the misguided and ignorant to think that despite the scientific consensus against them, they’re right. Worse still, it could be used in the propaganda campaigns of certain powers at great potential expense to future generations.

Hugely important and relevant as they are, these kinds of examples – of an individual being ignored, ridiculed or persecuted by the scientific community despite being correct – fall well within the vast minority of cases. As a rule of thumb: when most of the scientific community disagree with you, it’s because you are wrong. That’s not to say that if your research backs up your argument that you should simply fall on your sword – far from it; but the vast majority of those that question or go against the scientific consensus rarely have the evidence to back themselves up. They rely on flawed methodologies, spurious research and cherry picked studies to support their argument.


The Learned Pig


Those who deny anthropogenic global warming do it from a varying degree of these main factors: they have a vested financial interest to deny it, the zealous following of their religion has distorted their ability to analyse or understand the argument, they genuinely do not believe in the science, they’re intimidated by the science, they have been influenced by an un-objective news and media portrayal of the issues, they absorb and echo the beliefs of the community that surrounds them, and/or they suffer from an unshakeable form of confirmation bias and other cognitive biases.

Studies demonstrate most people prefer Coke to Pepsi, but can’t actually tell the difference between them. In fact, many reading this will immediately assert to being special enough to tell the difference. Try it sometime, blind, and have someone randomise the order you try. Do it about ten times and see how badly you fare.

It’s not much of a shock that we over-estimate our abilities in differentiating Coke from Pepsi. We often believe we’re far more intelligent and capable than we are. Repeat studies reveal the vast majority of us think we’re in the top 50% of drivers. You don’t have to be a mathematics buff to know that those numbers can’t possibly represent reality. We can’t all be better than most.

Confirmation bias is one of the most problematic fallacies we face: once we believe something, it’s incredibly difficult to change that belief.

Confirmation bias is one of the most problematic fallacies we face when it comes to debating any proposition, because once we believe something, it’s incredibly difficult to change that belief; even if it’s wrong. We look for evidence that supports our existing ideas, and deny, ignore, or ask for more of the evidence which goes against them. Confirmation bias can take hold of any of us and once it does, it is often impossible to shake away from its grasp, even for those that highlight it to the rest of the world, like the Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman.

Cognitive biases are a problem in everything we do. It’s a problem for this essay. It’s a problem in everything I’ve ever written. Just by writing this, I am guilty of attributing it an unwarranted level of importance. As Kahneman says, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it.”

While we should try to forgive global warming deniers for their misplaced beliefs, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rectify or knock down their arguments politely and resolutely wherever we can (it also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t point out the inaccuracies in the dogmatic environmentalist too). The potentially devastating impact that global warming denial can have on an already apathetic public has to come as a call to action to dispel the myth peddling.


The Learned Pig


Fortunately for the world, the majority of climate change deniers will have never heard of Ignaz Semmelweis (and if they’re reading this, I’m hardly doing them a service). If they had, they’d only attempt to use his example as gunpowder in the cannon of distorted truth.

Climate change deniers are not David versus Goliath. They are not heroes fighting against left-leaning, liberal, do-good alarmist propaganda. They are muddying water which the real experts have long moved away from, and they have dangerously distorted public perception.

The big difference between the situation Semmelweis found himself in and the situation global warming deniers find themselves in is that he had evidence at his disposal from the results of statistically significant repeated experiments that merited serious investigation from the wider medical community, but they, instead, chose to ignore him. Global warming deniers should be drowned out in the stats and numbers of the scientific community, but for some reason they see themselves as the modern day Semmelweis. I don’t think that could be further from the truth.


The Learned Pig


A capped increase in global warming of only two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 is, in the present view of climate scientists, an achievable scenario. But they are also quick to point out that this does not mean it will actually be achieved, especially if we do not take drastic measures to reduce our greenhouse emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

The far more frightening truth is that we may not be able to halt the increase to that number. Scientists admit that it is very plausible that the halted increases may be closer to three or four degrees Celsius, the result of which, as documented in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report of 2007, could mean “widespread coral mortality” and “significant extinctions (40 to 70% of species assessed) around the globe”.

I hope that there is already enough impetus to stop that from happening, otherwise climate change deniers may turn out to be more of an insult to history than the medical community was to Ignaz Semmelweis.



Part of The Learned Pig’s Clean Unclean editorial season, March-May 2015.

Image credits (top to bottom):
1. Patient ward, Yale-New Haven Hospital
2. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, aged 42 in 1860, copperplate engraving by Jenő Doby
3. Billy Wilson, Pollution
4. Rodrifo Lloro, The God Delusion
5. The White House, President Obama and President Xi Jinping
6. 1716 illustration of Brahe’s geocentric-heliocentric system from Andreas Cellarius’s “Harmonia macrocosmica (Cosmic Harmony)” (courtesy the University of Michigan Library)


The Learned Pig