Column | Man adapts, in fits and starts

In almost all organisms, the response to change, for example to an increase in temperature, appears to be a function of the rate of change. The faster the conditions change, the greater the reaction. Consider the well-known example of the frog, whose tendency to escape from heating water in a pot increases the faster the temperature rises.

Do we humans, like animals, have a sense of the speed of change? So not just for the change itself? Take the moderate winters: People over 50 may say that ice skating was normal in their youth, but few know how often it was, let alone how the average daily temperature has risen in winter. We only see relatively slow changes if we take a benchmark in the past. Memory is often the enemy of statistics.

This summer, due to a combination of circumstances, we find ourselves in a situation where change suddenly seems to be accelerating. What years of climate information and doomsday scenarios have achieved is now: The recognition that change and therefore response is inevitable. The convergence of the war in Ukraine, the European boycott of Russia and its impact on energy supplies, combined with unusually high temperatures, has left minds ripe. Cynically, perhaps the West should be grateful to Putin for what he has indirectly brought about. Not only greater European unity and the strengthening of NATO, but above all that the war in Ukraine has made energy, raw materials and food urgent daily news.

This ‘Putin effect’ does not come out of the blue. Two years of pandemics have demonstrated the fragility of global supply chains and fueled a desire for geographic security. Europe must become more self-sufficient – ​​with parts, food and raw materials.

Weather clearly plays a role in the perception of the rate of change, thanks to more and more tropical temperatures being measured, and the past eight years have been the warmest years since measurements began. Images of forest fires and floods emphasize the sense of crisis even more.

Behavioral changes and rules are no longer something to laugh at. Suddenly you hear, just on the street, about bathing less, ironing less and traveling exclusively in your own country. Energy companies come up with tips and the government with strict recommendations about temperatures in offices and homes. The temperature is rising, literally and figuratively.

A comparison with the crises of 2008-2009 and the following years shows that, in our view, things are different now. Droughts, fires, rising food prices, the Arab Spring, wars in the Middle East with concerns over energy supplies then led to a global economic crisis. Even then, politicians were worried about the dependence on China and other questionable regimes. But little happened. The water became hot, but not yet hot enough to jump out of the pot.

UN Secretary-General Guterres raised the temperature further last week by talking about the choice between collective action and collective suicide. The latter is not a problem and the action is already well under way. Humanity is very adaptable, evolution is proof of that. Adjustment comes in fits and starts, sometimes nothing happens for a long time. Just as the frog jumps out of the pot in time, and faster, when the water heats up faster, we are already jumping out of the pot, to escape thanks to innovations and creativity.

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