Shifting Baselines

Topics: Women's rights, Baseline, Shifting baseline Pages: 5 (1963 words) Published: December 11, 2012
Bilal Ahmed
Synthesis paper 4.2

Shifting baselines

Shifting baselines is a term used to describe or measure the change in a system keeping a reference point. This reference point is also known as a baseline which is usually taken from the past. The baseline can be any time period. It can be older than 50 years or 200 years from now depending on the situation and the availability of certain data, information and accurate statistics. “Shifting baselines are the chronic, slow, hard-to-notice changes in things, from the disappearance of birds and frogs in the countryside to the increased drive time from L. A. to San Diego. If your ideal weight used to be 60 kg and now it's 72, your baseline as well as your waistline has shifted” (Olson, 2002). Shifting Baselines is a term that was put forward in 1995 by Daniel Pauly (Olson 2002) which refers to a moment in our lives when we become unaware of the changes that are taking place around us and we lose track of the past reference points. This theory of shifting baselines syndrome (SBS) is being applied in different parts of scientific research department since then, to try to find out what our world looked like in the past and how can we reshape it in the coming future. It is most commonly used by marine biologists who examine and observe the changes taking place under the oceans. The industrial pollution, human waste, overfishing and the environmental degradation are causing destructive changes to our oceans as there is evidence for disappearance of certain fish species like flatfish, black sea bass and also a huge reduction in the remaining ones. The dead coral reefs of Jamaica and sudden rise in the number of useless species like jellyfish and bacteria are enough to ensure that the ecosystems of our oceans are unhealthy. The problem is that when the new generation observes this nature for the first time, they think that it is normal without knowing the situation of the past. Mostly the new scientists at the start of their carriers, set their baselines being unaware of what was the situation in the far past. And if we apply this concept in our lives, we can clearly visualize the difference of our standards of living in present compared to one in the past. This is when the baseline shifts and we assume the present situation to be normal while in fact it is not! It can be better than the past in some cases for e.g. when we talk about ‘the women rights’. From the statistics, it is clear that the shifts of baselines as recognized in 1995 have severely damaged our oceans to the extent that we now have an unbalanced natural habitat in the seas. Conversely, considering it from the perspective of our lives, although it surely brought some positivity, however, it has caused same effect as under the oceans.

When considering the shifting of baselines within our own human nature, actions and character, it is easily perceivable that the trend is changing with the arrival of every new generation. According to a marine biologist Randy Olson, ‘from a more philosophical manner, we should observe shifting baselines in our own lives as to where we have lowered our standards to the extent that we now accept things which used to be unacceptable’ (Olson, 2002). And where is this change in trend going to take us in the future. This change can be described in several manners. Either it can be an unrealized change in our routine work or on the other hand, it can also be by not following or ignoring our old beliefs, attitudes and cultural values. If we see it from a human’s physical point of view, a simple and appropriate example of the shifting baseline can be childhood obesity. The children nowadays tend to be more obese then they used to be in the past. According to a survey, an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents (ages 2-19 years) are obese in the U.S (Cala, 2011) and the rate has more than tripled in the last 30 years. The problem is not just...
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