The Pot Is Boiling: Will Humanity Jump Out?

Alan S. Miller
4 min readMay 22, 2024


Frogs Will, Will We?

Frog in calm water. Photo credit: cocoparisienne

Most of us are very familiar with a metaphor based on the behavior of frogs placed in a pot of water. If the water was boiling, it was said, the frog would jump out. However, if instead the water is initially at some reasonable temperature and gradually heated to boiling, the frog would fail to jump out and die. (Al Gore was among those referring to the metaphor in his books and movie.) The obvious question for humanity was will we, too, fail to save ourselves while the planet gradually heats to dangerous levels?

I subsequently learned that the described frog behavior is not true, a conclusion based on multiple experiments (to the detriment of many frogs!). For starters, a frog dumped in boiling water will simply die, but more telling is that a frog placed in gradually heating water will jump out if it can.

So much for frogs; what about us?

Our pot, the planet, has been warming since the industrial revolution thanks to the burning of fossil fuels. And unlike frogs, scientists knew early in the 20th century that warming would happen due to the industrial revolution, the burning of fossil fuels, and the release of carbon dioxide (CO2). While initially gradual and inconsistent, the warming has been steadily accelerating since the 1980s.

Global mean temperature difference relative to a baseline from 1850–1900 showing the five major global climate datasets. Copyright: UK Met Office

April 2024 was the warmest April on record and the eleventh month in a row of record high temperatures. The summer of 2023 was more than 2C warmer than the average summer temperature between the years 1 and 1900 and the northern hemisphere’s hottest in 2,000 years. September 2023 was so anomalously hot that climate scientist Zeke Hausfather called the record “gobsmackingly bananas.” This year may be even hotter.

The challenge getting humans to jump out of the pot — to stop emitting greenhouse gases — has been to reach widespread agreement that we are approaching the boiling point. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is among those declaring a climate crisis. This year, upon reviewing an international report on the state of the global climate, he declared in no uncertain terms the time has come to jump. “Earth’s issuing a distress call. The latest State of the Global Climate report shows a planet on the brink. . .. .[L]eaders must step up and act now.” In addition to his success bringing about enormous fiscal incentives for climate measures, President Biden is reportedly debating whether to declare a national climate emergency as the basis for additional regulations to limit fossil fuels.

On the other hand, the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane, the two most significant sources of global warming, continue increasing. China and India are building many new coal plants to serve growing demand and utilize domestic resources. Many African countries, still with large populations without access to electricity and minimal foreign investment in renewable energy, plan to increase use of natural gas for power generation. Meanwhile, past and potentially future President Trump continues to declare climate change a “hoax”, summarizes his energy policy as “drill, baby drill”, and asks oil company executives for $1 billion for his campaign — a quid pro quo based on promises to eliminate environmental regulations that he presumes that the companies hate. Policies of a similar character have been adopted by numerous Republican states, including Texas and Florida, despite increasing experience with extreme temperatures, floods, windstorms, and other weather disasters.

It is also worth noting that a key difference between the risks of climate change and a pot of boiling water is that the dangers will take much longer to fully materialize — decades after we stop emitting GHGs — and last for centuries. If we wait until the worst occurs, it will be too late to stop.

One might think because we are a whole lot smarter than frogs that we should be able to do what’s necessary to jump out of the pot in time. We have the benefit of sophisticated scientist warnings. We can change behaviors, adapt in a relatively short time, and develop new technologies. But the greatest challenge may be the difficulty bringing about the political support necessary for collective action and the ability of small anti-environmental groups to promote delay in their short-term self-interest.

There are some positive developments, and there is still time to avoid the worst — to get out of the pot alive. Collectively, countries have made promises to reduce emissions that, if honored, will limit warming to about 2C. Warming of this amount will be very damaging, but not as bad as predicted even a few years ago. Electricity generation from renewables now exceeds that from coal and is the lowest cost source of new power almost everywhere on the planet. Sales of electric vehicles are increasing, although still a small percentage of purchases in the U.S. Twenty-four states with over half the U.S. population are now part of an alliance committed to carbon neutrality.

So the question remains — will we, unlike frogs, jump out of the pot in time? Time will tell which of us has a better instinct for self-preservation.



Alan S. Miller

Alan S. Miller is co-author of “Cut Super Climate Pollutants Now!”. His full bio and links to writing are available at