Dear Medieval Doctor,

We’ve got a plague-like apocalypse just starting here and we’re trying to figure out what to do to minimize its nightmare effects. Our “Nobles” (Congress) just voted 240 to 184 to defeat a royal decree (Waxman Amendment) that our plague (global warming) is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare. The 240 nobles say that our plague isn’t occurring and that if anything, we should increase the very activities that our best natural philosophers (scientists) say are causing the plague. They’re nobles, so what they say goes. And a lot of the peasants support them. Still, I’m worried that they’re making the plague worse.


Plagued by doubt

Dear Plagued,

Thank you for writing and let me say how grateful I am to you of the 21st century for finding a way to communicate back through time to us as we may be able to provide wisdom that can help you through your difficulties.

We dealt with something similar at the beginning of our plague. The majority of our nobles said that the Black Death was caused by cats.

They didn’t have evidence to support their theory. It was mostly a feeling. Oh, and a pronouncement by Pope Gregory in 1232 that cats were diabolical. Whenever things got shaky our nobles and kings killed cats. And killed their owners too, who they said were witches.

By 1347 or so, my fellow doctors and I had noticed that cat-free homes were more likely to get hit by the plague. Only later did we understand why. The plague was caused by rats so killing cats was like pouring paraffin on a burning witch. You couldn’t do anything worse than killing the cats. Without the cats, the rats ran wild carrying plague everywhere.

As soon as we realized the cats were the solution, not the problem we provided evidence to the nobles. But they weren’t buying it. By this time they were making good money in the cat-killing business. They said if we were such cat-lovers we probably were witches too.

So we backed down.

Look, these theories have to run their course. You can’t change public opinion and you really can’t persuade a proud noble. Sure, by the time they admitted the cats were the solution, there weren’t many cats left. It was too late and the plague hit hard. In five years a third of all Europeans died. The nobles never admitted that they were wrong, either. And we didn’t have the heart to say, “I told you so,” since that’s very impolite.

Anyway I’d say go easy on your nobles. Patience–that’s what I’d council, and maybe you’ll be one of the survivors!

Good luck,

The Medieval Doctor