In 1995, the University of BC’s Dr. Daniel Pauly coined the phrase "Shifting Baseline Syndrome" to explain why environmental degradation is incremental
Note to Reader:
Twice per year, Kim Stephens of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC meets with the Metro Vancouver Utilities Committee. The purpose is to keep municipal elected representatives informed about inter-regional collaboration with four Vancouver Island regions; and how Metro Vancouver members are both contributing to the program content and benefiting from the sharing and learning process.
Update presentations are by invitation, with the most recent being on November 13, 2014. In his presentation, Kim Stephens introduced the work of Dr. Daniel Pauly to underscore the importance of protecting and restoring Watershed Health in the Georgia Basin bio-region.
Creating the Future: Recognize and Address the “Shifting Baseline”
At the beginning of his presentation to Metro Vancouver elected representatives on the region’s Utilities Committee, Kim Stephens drew their attention to a recent headline in the Vancouver Sun newspaper.
“The reason we all need to care about Watershed Health is that another million people will call Metro home by 2041,” quoted Kim Stephens. “The good news is that some 80 percent of this growth is projected to be accommodated in existing developed watersheds. In other words, we have a second chance to ‘get it right’ this time. The decisions we collectively make now will ripple through time. By ‘designing with nature’, this means land redevelopment creates the opportunity to restore Watershed Health over time.”
To underscore the importance of this key message, Kim Stephens handed out copies of a “backgrounder /op-ed” that elaborated on the Shifting Baseline Syndrome, a concept introduced by Dr. Daniel Pauly in 1995.
Across Canada Workshop Series
“Last week I returned from a two-week road trip across Canada,” continued Kim Stephens. “Practitioners in other provinces were keen to learn about solutions and tools that we are developing in BC through a collaborative and adaptive approach to protecting watershed health.”
“In preparing for the Across Canada Workshop Series, we found the concept of Shifting Baselines was helpful and relevant in articulating why drivers for watershed protection differ across Canada’s diverse landscapes. This was the catalyst for producing a “backgrounder / op-ed” on the topic. The Shifting Baseline became a central tenet of our workshop storyline. The concept resonated with audiences in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.”
“The ‘salmon crisis’ in the 1990s galvanized awareness in BC that our baseline was shifting, suddenly and dramatically. For almost a generation, the focus of our collective efforts has been on how to reverse the shifting baseline. In BC, our connection with nature is what differentiates us from other provinces.”
“In the local government setting, a learn-by-doing process is opening minds and building confidence that we can re-set the baseline. It will take time, commitment and perseverance.” emphasized Kim Stephens.
Learn from the Past & Shift the Baseline
“We transform the world, but we don’t remember it. We adjust our baseline to the new level, and we don’t recall what was there,” stated Dr. Daniel Pauly in a 2010 Ted Talk
“Every generation will use the images that they got at the beginning of their conscious lives as a standard and will extrapolate forward. And the difference then, they perceive as a loss. But they don’t perceive what happened before as a loss.”
“You can have a succession of changes. At the end you want to sustain miserable leftovers. And that, to a large extent, is what we want to do now. We want to sustain things that are gone or things that are not the way they were.”
“And the question is, why do people accept this? Well because they don’t know that it was different. And in fact, lots of people, scientists, will contest that it was really different. And they will contest this because the evidence presented in an earlier mode is not in the way they would like the evidence presented.”
“So you have a situation where people don’t know the past, even though we live in literate societies, because they don’t trust the sources of the past,” concluded Daniel Pauly.
To Learn More:
To download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation by Kim Stephens, click on Inter-Regional Collaboration for Watershed Sustainability: Collaboration will Help Everyone More Easily Deliver on Regulatory Requirements
To download a copy of the accompanying 2-page Executive Summary, click on Presentation #7 – Progress update for period May 2014 through November 2014.
To download a copy of the “backgrounder / op-ed” released by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in October 2014, click on Creating the Future in British Columbia: Recognize and Address the “Shifting Baseline”.