Shifting Baseline Syndrome

The Shifting Baseline Syndrome is a psychological and sociological phenomenon that is used to describe the constantly lowering of people's accepted thresholds for environmental conditions.
In the absence of past information or experience with historical conditions, members of each new generation accept the situation in which they were raised as being normal. Researchers envisage several self‐reinforcing feedback loops that allow the consequences of Shifting Baseline Syndrome to further accelerate Shifting Baseline Syndrome through progressive environmental degradation.

For instance: When the Italian navigator John Cabot – Giovanni Caboto (ca. 1450-ca. 1500) came to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in 1497 he was astonished at what he saw. Fish, so many fish — fish in numbers he could hardly comprehend. According to Farley Mowat, Cabot wrote that the waters were so "swarming with fish [that they] could be taken not only with a net but in baskets let down and [weighted] with a stone."

The fisheries boomed for five hundred years, but by 1992 it was all over. The Grand Banks cod fishery was destroyed, and the Canadian government was forced to close it entirely, putting 30,000 fishermen out of work. It has never recovered.
In 1995 fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly explained that "Each generation of fisheries scientist accepts as baseline the stock situation that occurred at the beginning of their careers, and uses this to evaluate changes. When the next generation starts its career, the stocks have further declined, but it is the stocks at that time that serve as a new baseline. The result obviously is a gradual shift of the baseline, a gradual accommodation of the creeping disappearance of resource species…"

Most scientific disciplines have long timelines of data, but many ecological disciplines don't. We don't have enough data to know what is normal, so we convince ourselves that the current situation is normal. Which it isn't[1][2].

[1] Plumeridge, Roberts: Conservation targets in marine protected area management suffer from shifting baseline syndrome: A case study on the Dogger Bank in Marine Pollution Bulletin – 2017
[2] Turvey et al: Rapidly shifting baselines in Yangtze fishing communities and local memory of extinct species in Conservation Biology - 2010

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