Fable would have it that if the temperature is raised slowly enough, a frog will sit in a pan of water until it is boiled alive rather than jump out.
Wikipedia tells me this isn’t true – but the principle that we tolerate small incremental changes, which if amassed would cause revolt, certainly is (of humans, if not of frogs).
George Monbiot describes it as “baseline readjustment”; we have slowly got used to the depletion of moths, fish, bees, the dawn chorus, and arguably empathy for the vulnerable, slightly readjusting our expectations each year based on recent experience, rather than that of our youth.
If we notice changes at all, somehow we are convinced that resistance is futile, impractical, or just too expensive to economic growth. We have surrendered our autonomy and the future of our planet to market forces, despite the fact that, collectively, we are those forces. Sometimes it takes a shock to wake the frog from its stupor and make it jump.
Perhaps it is not inevitable that half our food is imported (as I write, my neighbour is ploughing a field to plant with courgettes at one week’s notice); that what we do grow is almost exclusively picked by imported hands (we have been inundated with applications from UK nationals); that culinary fulfilment is seen as dependent on having the choice of eight types of tomato, 365 days a year (so far almost everyone seems happy with our radically reduced offering).
Perhaps we can cook for ourselves, from scratch, from what is available, rather than ordering a take-away or ready-meal (UK searches for ‘how to cook’ are up 3,600 per cent). Perhaps we might spend more of our huge wealth on looking after the vulnerable (there seems to be a growing acceptance that businesses should serve rather than exploit).
Despite the suffering and tragedy, one silver lining of coronavirus must be this undeniable proof that we are not the boiled frogs of the fable. We do have control over our destiny; we are not eight billion heartless, mindless consumers, just waiting to be cooked alive.
If we can mount this response to one global crisis, perhaps we will finally realise that we can do better over climate breakdown, which will kill many more, and offer no chance of recovery.
Rather than readjusting each year to an incrementally crueller, uglier planet, we could take a collective pride in finding collective solutions. I think we might need to rid ourselves of Trump first, though.