Monday, April 20, 2020

Climate, politics and the boiling frog

After watching the videos of lectures by Raj Chetty on climate change and big data, I read the article by Moore et al. on climate change and the "boiling frog effect." As they explain,
"the remarkability of particular temperatures changes rapidly with repeated exposure. Using sentiment analysis tools, we provide evidence for a “boiling frog” effect: The declining noteworthiness of historically extreme temperatures is not accompanied by a decline in the negative sentiment that they induce, indicating that social normalization of extreme conditions rather than adaptation is driving these results. Using climate model projections we show that, despite large increases in absolute temperature, anomalies relative to our empirically estimated shifting baseline are small and not clearly distinguishable from zero throughout the 21st century."
The key concept here is the social normalization of extreme conditions. The phenomenon is a gradual one. Unfortunately, I am afraid that the "climate" boiling frog is accompanied by a "political" boiling frog, by which extreme political conditions are progressively normalized. One day a sexual predator with the mental age of a five-year old is elected to the presidency of the richest country in the world, and just a few years later the same individual promotes the "liberation" of states where scientists and governors recommend the lockdown of the population. Of course, the two boiling frogs complement each other. The political boiling frog makes slowly boiling the climate boiling frog easier. If both the climate and the political phenomena continue to happen slowly, it will be very difficult to stop them, because what would have been incredible 10 or 20 years ago, now has become normalized.
Does the possibility of a wake-up call exist? Perhaps one of the few pieces of good news these days is that the COVID-19 pandemic may provide such wake-up call. This sudden and global shock breaks the slow progress of the boiling process. Perhaps public opinions will realize that unless we introduce deep changes in our societies (reinforcing the public sector and cooperation at all levels), we will remain exposed to dramatic hazards for our health and welfare, like pandemics, climate change or poverty. But this will not happen automatically, it needs massive investment by leaders and decent governments on new narratives and social norms.

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