Boiling Frogs

I was honoured to be invited to write a guest blog post for The Overpopulation Project in October 2020. Read on, or follow the link to view the original post and explore TOP’s excellent website.

According to the well-known metaphor, if you were to put a live frog into boiling water, it would – very wisely – leap straight out again. However, if you put the frog into tepid water that was then brought slowly to the boil, the hapless creature would be cooked before it even realised it was in trouble.

We’re the frogs. We’ve been relaxing in the nice warm water for years, turning a blind eye to the danger signs that have been appearing all around us. The outspoken few who dared to voice their concerns in the past were branded alarmists, and brushed aside. Those in political and commercial power have assured us that constant building and development is a Good Thing, that covering the land in concrete and plastic is positive: it’s all evidence of growth and progress and prosperity.

But now things are really hotting up, literally as well as figuratively. More and more of us parboiled amphibians are noticing that our surroundings are simmering in a distinctly uncomfortable fashion. Those danger signs that we conveniently ignored suddenly seem to be everywhere, because they are. We recall seeing graphs depicting exponential growth and we try to convince ourselves that we haven’t reached the nearly vertical line where things are escalating towards imminent catastrophe.

Only a few years ago, headlines about the environment were few and far between. Today, we can’t avoid the stories pouring in from every continent, and it’s not as easy to believe that everything will somehow be okay. Devastating wildfires and floods, unprecedented melting of ice in the Arctic, ubiquitous deforestation and habitat destruction, species extinctions, plastics in the oceans, air pollution, coronavirus, oil spills… It’s a long list, occasionally supplemented by mentions of concerns over intensive farming of crops and livestock, increasing allergies and mental health problems, poverty and famine.

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to acknowledge the existence of all of these issues, and to accept that they all have a single common denominator: human overpopulation. It’s time to work together; in criticising and blaming each other, we are frittering away what may well be our last opportunity to solve the environmental crises that threaten the very existence of mankind. It’s time to recognise that the sheer mass and insatiable demands of the human race are throwing the planet’s entire ecosystem fatally out of balance and the only hope lies in reducing our numbers.

Yes, that sounds simplistic. Yes, overconsumption and emissions and pollution and poverty and education all need to be addressed. But every single one of the increasingly critical environmental issues that we face stems essentially from the scale of human activity on Earth; every single one is made easier to solve if there are fewer people. Our survival depends on not being afraid to talk about overpopulation.

That’s pretty scary stuff for frogs to face. Much nicer to close our eyes and lay back in the hot-tub, right? Trouble is, the really scary stuff is yet to come. Our pandemics, plagues and extreme weather are only just beginning to escalate and, unless we face facts and take action, the inconveniences and fears of 2020 are soon going to seem like a walk in the park. We can’t afford to wait until the human population reaches some predicted future plateau. We can’t afford to wait until 2100 or 2050 or 2030 or even 2021. We can’t afford to wait for politicians and corporations to save us; with a few exceptions, they are generally the ones with the most to gain by maintaining the status quo. Let’s not continue to be duped by those who preach the gospel of economic growth at any cost. Let’s implement humane, achievable solutions before it’s too late. Let’s measure success not in numbers on computer screens, but in the health of the natural world on which we truly depend.

If we turn the volume down on the vitriolic objections of the deniers and the smooth reassurances of those who are busy lining their pockets at the planet’s expense, if we think for ourselves and open our eyes to the true scale of our vandalism, then it quickly becomes obvious that the water we’re sitting in is extremely close to boiling point. Any frog with an instinct for self-preservation would have hopped out a long time ago.

So what can we do? We post and retweet and like and share and sign petitions and hold placards, and all of that might help to raise awareness. But does it actually change anything? How do we translate awareness into action that might make a meaningful difference? Above all, we stop assuming that it’s someone else’s problem. We stop waiting for our governments to save us. We stop being passive. We hop out of the almost-boiling water and each do what we can. We make the number of humans on the planet the solution instead of the problem.

7.8 billion humans are destroying the world. 7.8 billion humans are the biggest threat to climate, biodiversity and habitats. 7.8 billion humans are generating waste and pollution on a terrifying scale. 7.8 billion humans are obliterating nature and wiping out other species faster than ever before. But 7.8 billion humans having smaller families, consuming less, avoiding waste, protecting Earth’s remaining treasures, shunning single-use plastics, planting trees, educating themselves and others, standing up against corruption and destruction… 7.8 billion humans each in their own small way doing what they can to restore the balance… Well, then 7.8 billion humans just might be able to save the world.


Niki Baker is the author of the new eco-thriller 10:59, described as an inspiring ‘must-read’ by both adult and teenage reviewers. In the course of researching for her novel, she discovered how close we as a species have already brought the world to the brink of disaster. What began for Niki as a love of nature and concern about overpopulation has – as a result of what she’s learned – become an urgent passion to help raise awareness and encourage action.

Posted by N R Baker, 0 comments

Pulped Fiction

It’s every writer’s dream to see copies of their masterpiece on the shelves of a bookshop, but there are good reasons why that might not happen for 10:59. At least, not yet.

Like every author, I used to daydream about herds of voracious readers browsing in their favourite local book store, drawn to my novel by its eye-catching cover, tempted by the intriguing blurb, and willingly parting with their hard-earned cash. (And then, of course – having been wowed by my scintillating prose – returning a couple of weeks later to buy extra copies for friends and family.)

The reality is rather more cut-throat and commercial than those romantic notions. Publishers and book retailers are all about making money. Who knew? The big publishing houses pay to have their titles displayed prominently in shops. They pay extra to have the book at eye level and to have the front cover facing outward on the shelves. They pay even more to bag a coveted spot near the front of the store, on the end of an aisle or beside the cash till. They pay for table displays, they pay for window displays, they pay for those sweet little recommendation labels.

This means that if, like me, you get your cherished masterpiece out into the big wide world via one of the many small-but-excellent independent publishers, we’re not exactly talking equal opportunities. Not only are you a nobody – a new author who no one’s ever heard of, with a debut novel no one knows exists – but it’s highly unlikely that your publisher has an obscene amount of cash in their pockets to splurge on prime shelf space and lots of advertising. Let’s face it: the odds are stacked against your precious baby becoming a runaway best-seller. Instead, you must rely heavily on reviews and personal recommendations from one reader to another. You must earn your success slowly, instead of buying it fast.

Now we come to the biggest handicap facing those poor, starving authors who dream of seeing their books for sale in the High Street. Retailers can’t afford to take risks, especially on new writers. Again, who knew? They prefer to buy books on a ‘consignment’ or ‘sale-or-return’ basis, which means they can return any unsold copies for a full refund. Perfectly understandable, but it’s another reason why the playing field is about as level as the Grand Canyon: the big publishers can afford to offer this, while most indie publishers supply their titles on a ‘print-on-demand’ basis.

So where do books go to die? What happens to all those unsold copies of Confessions of a Human Resources Professional, and Fifty Favourite Turnip Recipes, and My Bum Smells Like a Barnyard? Well, a lot of them get pulped. Thanks to the bizarre and extravagantly wasteful way in which the book industry still operates, over-ordering results in millions of trees being felled unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of unloved tomes being murdered in a variety of gruesome ways: those precious pages are chopped up, dissolved in acid, incinerated, buried in landfill… Despite attempts to make publishing greener, an estimated 40% of books that get printed are never sold.

Before you reach for your violin on my behalf, none of this is meant as a whinge; I’m just telling it like it is. Most publishers and retailers don’t have it easy. I have no regrets whatsoever about choosing an independent publisher. I’m one of those old-fashioned souls who doesn’t own an e-reader and prefers to hold a physical book in their hands. (Mmm, smell those pages… Look at them, feel them, turn them…) Bookshops are wonderful places and I’m especially in favour of supporting the indies who are passionate about their trade. I’m happy that my book is supplied on a print-on-demand basis that’s more environmentally-friendly.

Anyway, if you’re wondering why your nearest shop doesn’t stock 10:59, now you know some of the reasons. And if you see me pushing sales via Amazon and pleading for reviews to be posted there, it’s because we’re all slaves to the algorithms nowadays, and that’s what I need to do to try and get my little book noticed… at least until word gets out and every self-respecting book store wants to carry a few copies of 10:59.

Right, I’m off to nudge for more reviews and start work on My Turnip Smells Like a Human Resources Professional. Wish me luck.

Posted by N R Baker, 2 comments

10:59 is fast approaching

Praise for ’10:59’…

“What a read! This is one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring books that I have ever read.”

“I read a LOT of literature and I can honestly say this is among the best.  The story is brilliant! It is so well thought out. A pleasure to read – everything flowed.”

“This book has changed the way I look at the world.”

“A novel of great relevance. The book is equally hard-hitting and humorous, interesting and poignant.”

“This has to be the best book I have read all year! I absolutely love how the writer is able to put facts into a fiction book, it makes it such an eye-opening read.”

“An amazing book that tackles really strong environmental issues in an amazing way.”

“Full of gems: wonderful turns of phrase, things that made me laugh, words of wisdom… A brilliant book.”

“I really enjoyed it. Perfectly written for a teen audience. This book should be on the school curriculum.”

“Awesome and very thought-provoking.”

“A gripping read and a very timely and thought-provoking one at that! Overpopulation is an interesting issue and I do love reading about political thought experiments in a fictional setting.”

“This book had me second-guessing everything. It’s the most thought-provoking thriller I’ve read for a long time.”

“A powerful book which should be read by everyone to make us all realise we should look after our planet now for future generations.”

Posted by N R Baker, 4 comments