The Boiling Frog of Climate Change

November 14, 2021

If you put a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump straight out. Whereas if you put it into tepid water and heat it up, the frog will not notice, and passively be boiled to death. Firstly, don’t try this at home. Secondly, it’s not true.

It comes from an 1869 experiment by Friedrich Goltz. He discovered that a frog will jump out of water once it is heated to 25 degrees C. But a frog with its brain removed will do nothing, and be boiled to death. This leads to two thoughts. Firstly, did it really take an experiment to discover that removing a frog’s brain impairs its survival instincts? Secondly, why is humanity behaving like a brainless frog?

I refer, of course, to COP26 and the impending climate catastrophe. “Keep 1.5 alive” has as much meaning as “levelling up” or “make America great again”. Optimism is not a policy. If we look at the actual real-world policies, Climate Action Tracker says we’ll see a global temperature increase of between 2 degrees and 3.5 degrees, with a 50% chance of 2.7 degrees.

What do those numbers mean? Well, in the depths of the last ice age, global temperatures were 5 degrees lower. Newcastle was under an ice sheet 300 metres thick.

We’re already 1.2 degrees warmer, and it’s causing floods, droughts, forest fires, sea ice to melt and sea levels to start rising.

The North China Plain is twice the size of Britain. It’s home to 400 million people, and the source of much of China’s food. If global temperatures increase by 2.9 degrees, they will experience extreme heatwaves by 2070. Heatwaves so hot that a healthy adult, sitting still in the shade, will die within six hours. Children and the elderly much sooner. Similar effects will be seen across India, Africa, coastal cities in the Middle East, and Central America. What do we think will happen when food production collapses? States will fail, civil wars will run rampant, and people will flee. The world economy as we know it will collapse. Their problems are our problems. Yet this is the policy path our planet is currently on.

Despite the spin, it’s not simply the fault of other countries. How many of the clothes on sale here were made in Britain? Or the electronics? Or even our food. 50% of the UK’s food comes from abroad. Covid showed us the vulnerability of our food supply chain. If we’re offshoring our emissions, we share responsibility.

And we have to cancel the Cambo oilfield off Shetland, the coal mine in Cumbria, and drilling for oil in Surrey. In the North of Tyne we’re creating thousands of well-paid, economically-viable, low-carbon jobs. Government can create hundreds of thousands more if they want to.

Two things have come out of the Glasgow climate summit. A failure to meet the promise of $100bn a year to help decarbonise developing economies. And a failure to even agree we should stop burning coal at some point.

What COP26 needed to do was agree a plan to phase-out all fossil fuel production, starting immediately. Replacing it with energy efficiency and renewables. Instead we got “efforts towards the phase down of unabated coal power and a phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. There are more qualifiers in that sentence than Andorra’s route to the World Cup.

In 2009, at COP15, rich nations promised developing nations $100bn a year to decarbonise their economies. Much of that would be spent, of course, buying technology from Western owned corporations. Glasgow’s COP26 failed to deliver that. The IMF reported that last year, fossil fuel subsidies were $5.9 trillion. We can’t even find $100bn to save our own planet, when it’s only 6 days worth of fossil fuel subsidies.

Why did COP26 fail? Because like the brainless frog, our Prime Minister and other world leaders are seduced by creeping normality. The idea of tackling the vested interests of billionaires seems more shocking to them than our civilisation collapsing. So they bathe in the warming waters of kick-backs, paid consultancies, and a revolving door of corporate directorships once they’ve served their time in office. We’d be safer with a frog in charge.

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 15 Nov 2021