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Boiling Frog

boiling frog

A story going around is called the Boiling Frog. A biology experiment demonstrates the principle quite clearly. The idea is to drop a frog into boiling water. Sensing the burning heat, the frog immediately jumps out of the pot. The second part of the experiment is to put the same frog into a pot of cold water which has a slow flame burning underneath. Initially, the frog likes the warmth, and soon it gets comfy and sleepy. Eventually, the frog gets cooked, only realizing too late that it is in danger. The frog is cooked alive.

The point of the story, as I’ve heard it, is that our people, human society, will simply drift off into oblivion, never having felt a thing other than comfort, as the Earth’s ecosystems and its social and political systems fall apart. As the water heats up, we the frogs do not notice. It happens so slowly that by the time the human frog realizes it is way too warm for comfort, realizes it is in danger, it has already become too injured to jump out. It is cooked. It is painful, and it is horrifying.

The caution to us is not to let the comfort of our North American lives lull us into ignoring the rising heat - climate change, toxification, soil depletion and so on - of which we are "aware" but complacent, until we suddenly realize that everything is coming to pieces around us, and it is too late to reverse direction, to restore or correct the damage.

I don’t think it will be an easy, or a very pleasant end, for by the time the destruction is irreversible, tremendous suffering will already be underway, among humans, among animals and plants, everywhere. It already is under way, with hundreds of species going extinct every week, a holocaust of species for sure, and with 40,000 children dying of starvation and disease daily, for just two examples of the suffering caused by the rising heat.

The frog story is a cautionary tale, and one that modern people should pay heed to.

We are, figuratively, in water that is rapidly getting hotter, and we are in danger. The difference between us and the frog is that we ourselves, our own society and culture, the capitalist industrial growth economy in all its manifestations around the world, are the ones turning up the heat, and we are the only ones who can turn it down. The other difference is that we can’t just jump out of the hot water. Our only option is to turn down the heat. In fact, in one sense, it is not "us" but the Earth that is in the hot water, and we who are conducting the “experiment", a kind of “chicken” game. How high can we turn it up, without destroying Earth’s life-support systems?

I heard Chris Maser speak - an engineer who has done a lot of conflict-resolution work in the logging struggles in the Pacific Northwest. He reminded us that there is often an invisible line at the “point of no return.” Do the captains of industry, the politicians whose goal is for the world to be safe for corporations, the economists who measure only money, the scientists devoting themselves to arms development or to biotechnology - do they think they know where the line is?

Maser gave the example of an experiment he conducted once, to find the line between soberness and drunkenness. He drank measured amounts of red wine, stopping after each to see if he was there yet. After a while, he suddenly realized he had reached the line - and it was already way behind him. He crossed it without being aware. He could only see it "after" he was over it. I guess this is rather depressing stuff for a lovely spring morning.

Our situation is very serious, it’s important to be aware of that. Having said that, however, I also think there’s a tremendous upsurge in energy to change the direction of modern economy and society - a growing effort to turn down the heat and eventually turn it off. To let the frogs live, to let them go free.

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