Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shifting baseline syndrome

A conservation theory which says that people’s perception of the environment is determined by what they see now, with their own eyes, and does not take into account what things were like in the past.

A study undertaken by Sarah Papworth, a PhD student at Imperial College London, found that ‘young members of the community are less aware of past changes’. Not rocket science you might say, but if people do not perceive there is any degradation in the world around them they may be less willing to engage in conservation in any form. Questioning village residents about common birds now, and twenty years ago, older villagers were better able to judge how numbers had gone up or down. People who thought there had been no change in bird populations were more likely to think birds common now were also common twenty years ago.

Sarah suggests, reported in Conservation Letters, that there is both ‘generational amnesia’ – where younger people do not know what things were like in the past, coupled with ‘personal amnesia’ where people assume that what they see now is how the world has always been.

Conservationists are now taking into account shifting baseline syndrome when planning activities – it is now more and more common for researchers to use local residents’ recollections alongside traditional methods when compiling data on changes in biodiversity over the years.


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