Ivar Ekeland

The Boiling Frog Syndrome Publication date : October 14, 2015

Ivar Ekeland is a mathematician and an economist. He held the Chair of Finance and Sustainable Development at Paris-Dauphine University, and is a former president of the university. He is the author of several scientific works for the general reader (Calcul, l’imprévu; Théorie économique et rationalité).

The premise of the boiling frog syndrome is that a frog placed in a saucepan of boiling water will react and jump out, but if a frog is placed in cold water which is slowly heated it will get used to the heat and boil to death. Similarly, global warming, which is in the process of profoundly changing our way of life, is barely perceptible to us. Because climate change is only observable in the long term — over decades and even centuries — it does not seem to require any urgent decisions, with the result that politicians, whose concerns are short term, constantly postpone doing anything about it. Yet in the timeframe of the environment, it will take at least fifty years before an action produces a result.
Only an ethical and anthropological viewpoint that accounts for the survival of the human species can resolve this dilemma. But as Homo economicus, we are calculating individuals motivated by self-interest, for whom the environment is an infinite, free resource. In ordinary economic interactions there is no ‘environmental interest rate’, as has been amply illustrated by the inexorable depletion of fishing stocks due to the pressure of economic forces.
The author urges a thorough reappraisal of economic thinking if we don’t wish to see the human species become a victim of its economic theories and share in the sad demise of cod or of Bluefin tuna.

• Climate change viewed by an economist.
• Will Homo economicus survive climate change?
• A step towards new way of thinking about the economy.