Bob Woodruff on boiling humans.

June 2nd, 2009 12:11 pm by Kelly Garbato

Journalist Bob Woodruff made an appearance on The Daily Show last night in order to promote his latest project, Earth 2100:
 

 

I find it interesting that Stewart and Woodruff open the discussion with a clip of Earth 2100 that invokes the anecdote of the frog submerged in a pot of boiling water: namely, if you put a frog in a pot of water that’s already boiling, she’ll jump right out, having sensed the heat and danger. But if you place her in a pot of cold or lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, she’s none the wiser, and will remain in the deathtrap until she becomes frog soup. In this metaphor, humans are the frogs, and the pot is earth.

Which is all fine and good, except according to Snopes, this is a folk tale:

Like a fable, the “boiled frog” anecdote serves its purpose whether or not it’s based upon something that is literally true. But it is literally true? Not according to Dr. Victor Hutchison, a Research Professor Emeritus from the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, whose research interests include “the physiological ecology of thermal relations of amphibians and reptiles to include determinations of the factors which influence lethal temperatures, critical thermal maxima and minima, thermal selection, and thermoregulatory behavior”:

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

The “boiled frog” legend is a ubiquitous one – one that, given its falsehood, is both speciesist and completely inappropriate for what I assume is supposed to be a scientific documentary. The latter point is a given, but allow me to explain the former: central to the anecdote’s premise is the idea that a frog is so utterly stupid that, given subtle but entirely discernible cues, “it” would remain oblivious to the increasing danger and allow “itself” to be boiled alive. “Let’s not be like those lesser animals!” the tale cautions. Except. In denying climate change and poo-pooing slight increases in average global temperatures as “insignificant,” the human species is actually exhibiting less sense than Dog gave a frog. The frog isn’t earth’s complacent village idiot – we are.

Also of note: Jon alludes to the presumed vivisection which led to the “discovery” that frogs might allow themselves to be boiled alive, given the right circumstances. Both Stewart and Woodruff appear to think that such gruesome experiments probably took place years ago, in the distant past. Except.

“The legend is entirely incorrect! The ‘critical thermal maxima’ of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.”

While I can’t locate citations for these experiments, Wiki suggests that they’re more recent debunkings of “research” performed in the late 1800s (“research” on which the legend is apparently based).

So, yeah, we boil frogs alive – or attempt to, anyway. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Anyhow, back to Earth 2100.

The show strikes me as a prequel to Life After People – which I blogged about last week – albeit with a contingency plan. Of course, all the lifelines in the world won’t help unless we’re willing to avail ourselves of them.

From ‘Earth 2100′: the Final Century of Civilization?:

It’s an idea that most of us would rather not face — that within the next century, life as we know it could come to an end. Our civilization could crumble, leaving only traces of modern human existence behind.

To change the future, first you have to imagine it.

It seems outlandish, extreme — even impossible. But according to cutting edge scientific research, it is a very real possibility. And unless we make drastic changes now, it could very well happen. [...]

In the history of Earth, there have been five mass extinctions in which at least half the species on the planet disappeared. Scientists believe the extinctions were brought on by natural disasters — massive volcanic eruptions, rapid climate changes and meteors hitting Earth.

Today, scientists say we are in the middle of a “sixth extinction” — and for the first time, it’s being caused by one species — us. It seems inconceivable that we could do so much damage to our planet that we actually cause society as we know it to collapse. But historical precedent shows that it is, in fact, a very real possibility.

“Every society that collapsed thought it couldn’t happen to them,” says Joseph Tainter, an expert in anthropology and societal collapse. “The Roman Empire thought it couldn’t happen. The Maya civilization thought it couldn’t happen. Everyone thought it couldn’t happen to them. But it did.”

These populations grew too much and exhausted their resources — and their climate suddenly changed. People were forced to fight each other for what little was left or face starvation. Entire societies broke down.

“Civilizations in the past have lost the fight,” says climatologist Heidi Cullen. “They have collapsed as a result of the inability to deal with several different events going on at once. I think the takeaway is that honestly, we are not that special.”

Earth 2100 covers the obvious suspect (climate change) as well as water scarcity, oil and fuel depletion, national security, migration patterns, drought, flooding, mass (non-human) animal (species) extinctions, and other global crises. If you’re as cynical as I, probably you’ll read this as Exhibit #23,386,982 in favor of VHEMT.

Anyhow, if this all sounds interesting, Earth 2100 airs tonight on ABC at 9 PM ET – so set those timers!

There are also a number of clips available on the show’s website, so check it out.

In an entirely unrelated matter, I’m supremely disappointed that The Daily Show didn’t so much as mention the murder of Dr. Tiller on Monday’s episode. Granted, I didn’t expect them to devote a segment to it – nor would such a segment have been appropriate, unless conducted with righteous anger and a complete absence of humor, which Jon rarely deals in – but I had hoped for a mention of the crime, or at least an “in memoriam” graphic to close the show. But nada on what amounts to an atrocity committed against women everywhere. Fauxgressive much?

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Videos in this post:

The Daily Show – June 1, 2009 – Bob Woodruff
Bob Woodruff lays out the worst-case scenario for the future of our civilization in “Earth 2100.”

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