Boiling Frogs

by N.R. Baker

According to the well-known metaphor, if you were to put a live frog into boiling water, it would – very wisely – leap straight out again. However, if you put the frog into tepid water that was then brought slowly to the boil, the hapless creature would be cooked before it even realised it was in trouble.

We’re the frogs. We’ve been relaxing in the nice warm water for years, turning a blind eye to the danger signs that have been appearing all around us. The outspoken few who dared to voice their concerns in the past were branded alarmists, and brushed aside. Those in political and commercial power have assured us that constant building and development is a Good Thing, that covering the land in concrete and plastic is positive: it’s all evidence of growth and progress and prosperity.

But now things are really hotting up, literally as well as figuratively. More and more of us parboiled amphibians are noticing that our surroundings are simmering in a distinctly uncomfortable fashion. Those danger signs that we conveniently ignored suddenly seem to be everywhere, because they are. We recall seeing graphs depicting exponential growth and we try to convince ourselves that we haven’t reached the nearly vertical line where things are escalating towards imminent catastrophe.

Only a few years ago, headlines about the environment were few and far between. Today, we can’t avoid the stories pouring in from every continent, and it’s not as easy to believe that everything will somehow be okay. Devastating wildfires and floods, unprecedented melting of ice in the Arctic, ubiquitous deforestation and habitat destruction, species extinctions, plastics in the oceans, air pollution, coronavirus, oil spills… It’s a long list, occasionally supplemented by mentions of concerns over intensive farming of crops and livestock, increasing allergies and mental health problems, poverty and famine.

Photo by Marc Sardon

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to acknowledge the existence of all of these issues, and to accept that they all have a single common denominator: human overpopulation. It’s time to work together; in criticising and blaming each other, we are frittering away what may well be our last opportunity to solve the environmental crises that threaten the very existence of mankind. It’s time to recognise that the sheer mass and insatiable demands of the human race are throwing the planet’s entire ecosystem fatally out of balance and the only hope lies in reducing our numbers.

Yes, that sounds simplistic. Yes, overconsumption and emissions and pollution and poverty and education all need to be addressed. But every single one of the increasingly critical environmental issues that we face stems essentially from the scale of human activity on Earth; every single one is made easier to solve if there are fewer people. Our survival depends on not being afraid to talk about overpopulation.

That’s pretty scary stuff for frogs to face. Much nicer to close our eyes and lay back in the hot-tub, right? Trouble is, the really scary stuff is yet to come. Our pandemics, plagues and extreme weather are only just beginning to escalate and, unless we face facts and take action, the inconveniences and fears of 2020 are soon going to seem like a walk in the park. We can’t afford to wait until the human population reaches some predicted future plateau. We can’t afford to wait until 2100 or 2050 or 2030 or even 2021. We can’t afford to wait for politicians and corporations to save us; with a few exceptions, they are generally the ones with the most to gain by maintaining the status quo. Let’s not continue to be duped by those who preach the gospel of economic growth at any cost. Let’s implement humane, achievable solutions before it’s too late. Let’s measure success not in numbers on computer screens, but in the health of the natural world on which we truly depend.

If we turn the volume down on the vitriolic objections of the deniers and the smooth reassurances of those who are busy lining their pockets at the planet’s expense, if we think for ourselves and open our eyes to the true scale of our vandalism, then it quickly becomes obvious that the water we’re sitting in is extremely close to boiling point. Any frog with an instinct for self-preservation would have hopped out a long time ago.

Photo © 2010 J. Ronald Lee

So what can we do? We post and retweet and like and share and sign petitions and hold placards, and all of that might help to raise awareness. But does it actually change anything? How do we translate awareness into action that might make a meaningful difference? Above all, we stop assuming that it’s someone else’s problem. We stop waiting for our governments to save us. We stop being passive. We hop out of the almost-boiling water and each do what we can. We make the number of humans on the planet the solution instead of the problem.

7.8 billion humans are destroying the world. 7.8 billion humans are the biggest threat to climate, biodiversity and habitats. 7.8 billion humans are generating waste and pollution on a terrifying scale. 7.8 billion humans are obliterating nature and wiping out other species faster than ever before. But 7.8 billion humans having smaller families, consuming less, avoiding waste, protecting Earth’s remaining treasures, shunning single-use plastics, planting trees, educating themselves and others, standing up against corruption and destruction… 7.8 billion humans each in their own small way doing what they can to restore the balance… Well, then 7.8 billion humans just might be able to save the world.


Niki Baker is the author of the new eco-thriller 10:59, described as an inspiring ‘must-read’ by both adult and teenage reviewers. In the course of researching for her novel, she discovered how close we as a species have already brought the world to the brink of disaster. What began for Niki as a love of nature and concern about overpopulation has – as a result of what she’s learned – become an urgent passion to help raise awareness and encourage action. For more information, visit

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3 thoughts on “Boiling Frogs

  1. EXCELENT, EXCELENT article!!! Thank you so much for writing it! Thank you so much, TOP, for printing it! More, more, more. (More such articles, not more people.)

  2. Very important article. If we look back, it has always been the great writers of “fiction” that have described the human society they live in best – warts and all. Often it is so dangerous to describe it truthfully, that the truth has to be heavily disguised, as in Shakespeare’s later plays. Later on Trollope and Dickens and Steinbeck could be more direct without having to risk jail or worse. And in the 21st century, fiction can risk being even more direct than that, no doubt. But still – the stark ecological picture is missing, so far as I can see, from fictional books, plays, films, TV, etc. There are “dystopian” works, sure – but they lack a core of reality. And if some horror films are intended as an allegory – well, they are just too far removed from wider human society, unlike Macbeth or East of Eden. No-one sees them as actually reflecting “The Way We Live Now”.
    I am still baffled by the modern failure to understand “Frankenstein”, in spite of the quote at the beginning about Prometheus. Mary Shelley went on to write “The Last Human” – but no-one seems to have even noticed this much, let alone read it. It is obvious that she and her circle foresaw how the Industrial Revolution might end, 200 years ago. And I am convinced that is what “Wuthering Heights” is about – it is about the crushing of the wild, savage, and elemental force of Nature by Civilization. Many Victorians were a bit obsessed by this idea, as they saw the natural world disappearing very fast around them – they were frogs plunged straight into boiling water, unlike us, born into “Mean Streets” for the most part.
    I was particularly struck by Niki Baker’s passing mention of “mental health problems”. I have just seen, on al jazeera tv, a moving item about the scale of depression and mental illness in the Developing World. I think it said that 1 in 5 have a serious problem – and there are no facilities in place, so very often families are obliged to keep sufferers chained or locked up, as without help they do present a danger – or at least yet another intolerable burden – in overcrowded, struggling, communities. I suppose the First World was like this in Victorian times, as we industrialized and our cities started to fill with people under pressure – but we could relieve the pressure by emigrating to relatively empty continents. This is not possible now – the planet is full.

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