Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here? I think I might be one of those boiling frogs I’ve heard about.
In case you’re not already familiar with it, the Boiling Frog Story is a metaphor for how people are usually slow to react to changes that occur gradually, or to significant events which have become commonplace. Here’s how it goes: If you throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right back out. But frogs are cold-blooded creatures and naturally adjust to gradual changes in the temperature of their environment. So if you place that same frog into a pan of cold water, light the burner on your stove and slowly bring the water up to a boil, the frog will be content to stay in the water until it slowly boils to death. Whether this account is scientifically accurate or just an urban myth, it’s still useful for trying to understand human behavior.
When it comes to climate change, we are the frog in the story–at least so far. The problem is that we don’t recognize climate change, as profound as it is, as an immediate threat. Our survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes, not gradual developments. So while most of us would agree that we’ve got a problem on our hands, we don’t perceive it as something we need to deal with today, or even next week or next month. So maybe the most important question here is not really “Is this something we need to take action on?” Maybe a better question is, “Do we need to do it right now?” Our perception of time–not just the facts or the stories we tell–is often the driving force when trying to change minds and move people to take action.
On the other hand, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly gotten our attention. The pandemic easily fits the definition of an “event for change”–it’s a shared experience that has moved millions of people to make significant changes in the way they live their lives. The fear of immediate danger is the most powerful motivating force in human behavior. Not so much with climate change, though. We may be concerned, but so far we’re not alarmed enough to take bold action.
I know, I know…many of us have already taken at least a few small steps in the right direction. As comedian/podcaster Marc Maron points out in his recent Netflix comedy special, maybe the reason we’re not more upset about the collapse of the environment is that, deep in our hearts, we know we’ve done everything we can. After all, we started bringing our own bags to the supermarket! And now there’s a movement to do without plastic straws in our take-out beverages. But the truth is that for most of us, just like that frog in the pot of water, we make a few minor adjustments but otherwise just sit around while things get hotter and hotter. And I know this to be true because I see myself doing it, too. When it comes to climate change, what will need to happen to get most of us to jump out of the water, with as much force as our response to COVID-19?
The coronavirus pandemic can act as a wake-up call, an event that inspires change. When the pandemic begins to recede, do you see your life going back to pretty much the way it has been in the past? Will you slip right back into that same pot of rapidly heating water we’ve all been soaking in? Or is there a different way of being, changes you can make that will aid in remedying the healing of our environment as well as our community of humans?
I’ve been struggling with the answer to these questions myself and I know that many others are, as well. So far I’m still just getting started. My partner and I bought into a community solar array a couple of years ago that now produces most of the electricity for our home. We’ve been composting for years. The next time I buy a car, I’m committed to making it an electric vehicle. And I’m writing this blog post, in the hopes that it will get a few more people to think more about how they can start making the jump in their own lives. But none of this comes close to the lifestyle changes I have made due to the coronavirus, and I did all of that in a couple of weeks.
I’ve been looking for advice on what other actions I can take that will make more of a difference. There are plenty of constructive ideas on the Internet, but here’s a great article from the David Suzuki Foundation that I found helpful and concise:
Beyond making changes in our own lives, it’s really important to talk to lots of other “frogs” about this. In the next week, you can email or call your city, state and US representatives to ask them what specific actions they are taking to address climate change. They are the ones who can make a huge impact on the system level, and you’re the one who can make sure they know this is a high priority, right now. Start conversations with your friends and participate on social media. Share ideas and spread the word about what you’re doing and what you see others doing. Just like in the Starfish Story, we can all make a big impact. But we need to start right away.
Whew–in the time it just took you to read this article, I could swear it got just a little bit warmer in here. What ideas do you have about how to help get us all out of hot water? Feel free to add your thoughts below.