When does unseasonable morph into seasonable? When will 14 degrees in mid-February be greeted with a shrug and August forest fires become the norm? George Monbiot and Daniel Pauly say that shifting baseline syndrome takes place over the course of a single generation. It’s also one of the greatest obstacles preventing a wide range of environmental issues from being properly addressed. For example, fish stocks in the North Sea in 2019 are low compared to fish stocks in 1970, but fish stocks in the North Sea in 1970 were already critically low compared to the period fifty years before that. Our perception of what is normal shifts. We compare only to the generation before, and allow our collective memory to be wiped.
We have turned the environment into a zoo - we demarcate a section of land and allow the few animals that are already there to thrive. Meanwhile, we raze everything outside that demarcated section until there is nothing left alive. But we point to the zoo and say ‘Look, there are 10 more animals living there now than there were when we put the fences up around it. Our method is working.’ Over a generation, we accept that this is how we ‘save’ the environment. The process becomes normalised.
Music for an unseasonably warm February: