The „Shifting Baseline Syndrome“ is a phenomenon of environmental research, which plays an increasing role in science and society. Basically, it describes the tendency that the ideas and expectations of a community with regard to nature and the environment are constantly changing. What is considered normal and acceptable today may be seen in a completely different context tomorrow. This can be environmental protection, resource use as well as sustainability. Presumably, the Shifting Baseline Syndrome looks at a change in the underlying baseline, which is a kind of reference point against which change can be measured.
Changes in reference points happen gradually – that is, they happen only gradually and therefore often go unnoticed. On the one hand, this means that people are often not very aware of the consequences of their actions. Moreover, harmful effects on nature and the environment often become apparent with a time lag. The actual effects will therefore only be felt by future generations.
The following article will therefore deal in detail with the Shifting Baseline Syndrome in relation to nature, environment and sustainability. It will deal with a definition of the term, its effects, approaches to combat it and the social relevance of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome.
What is Shifting Baseline Syndrome? Meaning, definition, explanation
The term „Shifting Baseline Syndrome“ is a combination of the words „shifiting“, „baseline“, and „syndrome“. Thus, it is a phenomenon in a negative context that entails a changing baseline. A baseline or reference point can mean a wide variety of things. In the context of nature and the environment, however, it is primarily the points of environmental protection, sustainability, and resource conservation.
The concept behind the Shifting Baseline Syndrome is therefore concerned with the change in the subjective perception of nature and the environment. Specifically, the concept describes the extent to which our perceptions and expectations change over time. Various environmental problems can be cited as reasons for change. These can be, for example, the irreversible loss of biodiversity or ecosystems.
The consequence of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome may be declining quality of the environment and thus of individual circumstances. By accepting deteriorating conditions and at some point not even noticing them, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Thus, Shifting Baseline Syndrome clearly describes a shift in individual reference points for assessing existing conditions.
Effects of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome on nature and the environment
Shifting Baseline Syndrome has major implications for nature and the environment. This is because it causes humans to perceive or influence them differently. In fact, the concept behind Shifting Baseline Syndrome suggests that it changes the understanding of normal and acceptable. Thus, Shifting Baseline Syndrome has various impacts on nature and the environment. There are both short-term and long-term effects.
Very specifically, it is the decline or loss of ecosystems. This can be accompanied by a loss of species, genera, as well as underlying diversity. Other impacts can come in the form of weather or environmental events such as global warming, increased occurrence of environmental disasters, and deteriorating livelihoods.
Shifting baseline syndrome is thus a concept that deals with negative aspects of the human way of seeing and thinking. It is considered a major obstacle to the protection and conservation of nature and the environment and is currently a hot topic of discussion in science and society.
Approaches to combat shifting baseline syndrome
In order to effectively combat the effects of shifting baseline syndrome, it is extremely important to understand the various mechanisms of action. From these, approaches can then be developed to combat it. Shifting Baseline Syndrome is basically a perceptual error that happens due to gradual events. These provide less relevance to the recipient of information than, for example, acute, serious events.
The frog in the saucepan is often used as an example. If the frog is thrown directly into hot water, it will recognize the danger and try to escape from the hot water as quickly as possible. If, however, the water is gradually heated together with the frog, the latter will not notice the gradual rise in temperature (and thus the danger to it) and will eventually die.
Approaches to combat shifting baseline syndrome are therefore based primarily on education, awareness, and restoration. In order to provide an in-depth understanding of potential approaches to combat shifting baseline syndrome, the following sub-paragraphs will highlight the three most popular options.
Approach 1: Education and Awareness
Education and awareness can be used to, among other things, educate people about the value and importance of nature and the environment. Education and awareness can also be used to create a better understanding about normality and acceptability. In this regard, it is equally significant that people are educated about the effects of their actions (including effects on themselves).
Such education and awareness-raising measures can be carried out in schools and communities, companies and organizations, among others. Information sessions, environmental education programs, field trips, and activities are the best overall ways to convey the necessary information.
Approach 2: Conservation and protection of diverse ecosystems
Conservation and protection of diverse ecosystems is another mechanism to combat the effects of Shifting Baseline Syndrome. The primary objective here is to limit, slow, or completely halt the loss of biodiversity. Concrete action measures can consist of expanding existing protected areas. But they can also focus on restoring damaged ecosystems through regenerative measures or flood regulation, as well as the conversion of land used for agricultural or industrial purposes.
3rd approach: Involvement and commitment of the population
Last but not least, combating the shifting baseline syndrome also relies on the participation and engagement of the entire population. Raising environmental awareness and individual behaviors are particularly important in this regard. To achieve this, information campaigns can be used, for example. Workshops on practical environmental preservation are also a possibility.
Community projects are particularly valuable for this purpose. These ensure that the population is jointly involved in implementing projects to combat the shifting baseline syndrome. This can take the form of planting trees, cleaning nature reserves and other activities.
Only if it is possible to involve other parts of the population in campaigns to combat shifting baseline syndrome can we speak of a truly sustainable effect.
Relevance of shifting baseline syndrome in today’s society
Shifting Baseline Syndrome is becoming an increasingly important factor in today’s society. It expresses that each generation has its own reference line and views things that happen to the environment differently as normal or acceptable.
The concept behind the Shifting Baseline Syndrome has relevance today especially in terms of climate change, where this phenomenon addresses the gradually visible damage caused by past generations. Environmental preservation and stopping climate change are major goals of today’s society, which is of course fundamentally concerned with the extent to which humans have actually allowed it to come this far.
At the same time, the Shifting Baseline Syndrome is a warning for society, which is now increasingly aware of gradual processes and changes. Only by recognizing the Shifting Baseline Syndrome can defense mechanisms actually be set in motion, which is why the younger generation in particular and the scientific community are currently aware of the dangers of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome and classify it as a serious risk to nature and the environment.
Perspective of the Shifting Baseline Syndrome in different scenarios
Shifting Baseline Syndrome is considered a comparatively novel discovery that is now being observed in the social sciences in addition to the environmental context. Here, a deadening to work-related changes equally leads to worrying shifts in reference points.
In perspective, the Shifting Baseline Syndrome will probably provide new insights in other scientific fields as well and thus represents an important discovery of the new age. Because Shifting Baseline leads sooner or later to the fact that convictions, behaviors as well as acceptance criteria change quasi unnoticed – often for the worse! Only those who internalize a continuous understanding of a baseline can counteract negative processes, no matter how small and (supposedly) insignificant they may be.
Conclusion on Shifting Baseline Syndrome
In summary, Shifting Baseline Syndrome describes a negative tendency in the way people think. It is now considered to be one of the most significant reasons for environmental and social conditions developing in a negative direction. The cause of the shifiting baseline syndrome can be found in the poorly functioning perception of gradual changes in people. If things change only very slowly and in small steps, people often do not perceive them or do not attach great importance to the changes. This can happen in both positive and negative contexts. The Shifting Baseline Syndrome thus describes a current trend topic in behavioral psychology as well as in science.
The term „shifting baseline syndrome“ is related to the concept of „culture of normality“, among others. This, too, addresses a shifting reference line. However, a similarly related term represents the „cycle of change.“ This, however, suggests less gradual changes, but rather recurring processes of change.