If you’ve ever complained that the kids today just don’t understand how things used to be in the good old days, then you’ve grasped the concept of shifting baselines.
The phrase, coined by University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre Director Dr. Daniel Pauly in 1995, refers to the way that as reality changes over time, peoples’ standards change along with it. The way things are today begins to seem natural, like the way things have always been. The ‘shifting baselines’ effect masks change—in Pauly’s example, it hides the creeping progress of environmental degradation.
Marine biologist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson (he made Flock of Dodos, the 2006 documentary about the intelligent-design wars) has taken it upon himself to popularize the idea of shifting baselines. He founded the Shifting Baselines Media Project to do just that. The Project has allied a sound ocean-conservation message with Hollywood’s megaphone to get the word out.
Jennifer Jacquet, a graduate student studying with Dr. Pauly at UBC, will be writing for the blog, and Randy will check in and contribute regularly. Visit now for a welcome message, an introduction to the shifting baselines idea, and a debate between Randy and Jennifer about whether or not, in today’s world, giving up seafood is the responsible choice. Jennifer argues yes, and Randy says “not quite.” Find out why, here.
Images from Hobo Pd’s Photostream. Licensed under Creative Commons.