I grew up in a large city in the Southeast. When I was a kid of eight or nine I remember getting several big snows each year, the kind that cancelled school for two or three days. Now why I remember this is because I lived next door to “the hill”.
For any of you unfamiliar with the term “the hill” this is spot where kids within a three-mile radius would come and sled. In an other otherwise flat world “the hill” was our Mount Everest.
I had a hand-me-down Flexible Flyer from my older cousins who lived down the street from us. For whatever reason when they hit fourteen they became to cool to sled but I wasn’t. For the next three or four years I wore that sled out, literally. It’s final voyage was right before Christmas when I was eleven. Screaming down “the hill” I had to make a hard right to avoid some little kids and hit the street curb. I went flying in the air left and the Flexible Flyer went right, nailing a tree and breaking in half. Sled season over.
Fortunately, Santa Claus, being the jolly good-hearted man that he is, brought me a new sled for Christmas, the max daddy, the Cadillac of Flexible Flyers, sixty inches of steel and white-oak. By the time I got to be a cool fourteen year old I had only used it twice. It just quit snowing.
Shifting Baseline Syndrome is (1) generational amnesia, where knowledge extinction occurs because younger generations are not aware of past conditions and (2) personal amnesia, where knowledge extinction occurs as individuals forget their own experiences.
We have all heard the stories from our parents about walking ten miles to school barefoot in three feet of snow but for many of us the experiences of the past are true. It used to be cold in February. This year, in my neck of the woods, the flowers bloomed. It used to rain in the summer. Last year at my house, it didn’t rain once during the months of July or August. If it happens again, my expectations will shift, my baseline will change. Part of me will know it is wrong and probably part of a much bigger problem but I will continue on with my busy life accepting this as the new normal.
Think about all the environmental issues we are dealing with today, warm winters, hot dry summers, wild fires, droughts, and unusually high occurrences of tornadoes and other deadly storms. These have become our norms, events that barely register our attention on the news any longer. Why? Shifting Baseline Syndrome.
We can apply the Shifting Baseline Syndrome theory to any number of experiences and conditions from terrorism, politics to religion. But for me our shifting baseline on environmental conditions is one of the most telling and certainly a long-term experience that will potentially have the most dramatic effect on future generations.
Our current administration has shown a total lack of regard for environmental issues from funding to leadership. Their short-term, twenty year view of the world placate voters but does nothing to ensure that our children or grandchildren will have clean water to drink or clean air to breathe. For them it is about economic gain at all cost and the cost of coal, pipelines, energy and jobs is the environment. If we allow them to shift the environmental baseline for political gain that is our fault and future generations won’t blame Trump but you and I because we accepted their shift rather fought against it.