We all know the boiling frog story, which suggests that if you put a frog into boiling water it will struggle to get out, however, if you put a frog into cold water and heat it gradually the frog will remain there and eventually be boiled. This is probably a fallacy, but the story is frequently used to highlight how small incremental changes can overtake us without us noticing them.
I think it was Al Gore who first used the analogy in the context of global warming in his famous but terrifying movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Indeed, it is a very apt metaphor for global warming, since it represents what is happening to us at this very moment. I am amazed at how few people understand the dangers that global warming poses for humankind. It is almost as if the majority is in a state of denial.
I don’t like to be an alarmist on the topic. Indeed, there is nothing worse than a self-righteous evangelist. But I have found that, if you don’t bring some element of sensation into the debate, people just ignore it or pretend it isn’t happening. I used to think this was a South African failing, because things take a little longer to happen here. However, I was very disillusioned when recently I attended a conference in London, and found that many British people are equally blasé about the issue.
There is more than ample scientific evidence to show that global warming is caused by human induced greenhouse gases. Global warming results in a myriad of environmental impacts, including climate change, melting ice, rising seas, changing disease patterns and a host of other reasons. Whilst we are experiencing the impacts now, they will become increasingly severe over time. The problem is that when the impacts are really serious, it will be too late to do anything about them. What is even more frightening is that each time scientists re-examine the situation, the timelines are shortened. Many scientists believe that humankind has a maximum of ten years to begin reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
Pessimists argue that, given the likely rate of economic growth, the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, the burgeoning global population, as well as the extreme global poverty that exists, it is highly unlikely that humankind will be able to curtail emissions sufficiently. Optimists point to the resourcefulness of humankind to find solutions to problems and, once there is a concerted effort from all concerned, humankind will solve the problem. I certainly hope so, but knowing human nature, it is surely more likely that countries will fight wars over diminishing resources.
A colleague of mine likes to approach the issue by asking audiences he addresses whether any of them have young children or grandchildren. He then sketches a social and environmental scenario for 2060, and he asks whether or not they are prepared to gamble with their childrens’ and grandchildrens’ future and still look them in the eye.
What are your thoughts, fellow frogs? Please, how do we get people to recognise the threat?
Graham Terry CA(SA) is Head of the Executive President’s Office, SAICA.