The New Normal of Ecological Amnesia

You kids don't even KNOW how much wildlife there used to be!

As our climate emergency gets passed on from one generation onto the next, a funny, ostensibly obvious thing happens—our understanding of what's ecologically "normal" keeps degrading.

This phenomenon of forgetting (or simply not knowing) the natural abundances of the past is called "shifting baseline syndrome". The best illustration of this phenomenon are photos of fishermen who, over generations, despite posing with smaller and smaller catches, retain the same magnitude of pride. That fish ain't that big, son.

Originally coined by Daniel Pauly at the University of British Columbia in Canada in 1995, the phrase has only recently started accruing substantial backing evidence.

Last year, an article in The New York Times Magazine titled, "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here" detailed the stark, visible collapse of our insect populations. It seems if you speak to anyone around the world over the age of 50, they'll tell you the same thing—it was a far buggier world back then.

Even I (a millennial!) can remember a time when summers Upstate meant the windshield of my parents car turning near opaque with insect carcasses. Not so much these days. And with the decline of insects comes the decline of the birds, plants, fish, and all their rippling dependent species.

These anecdotal measurements are far from insignificant. This is how we experience and understand the world around us. So how do we solve our ecological amnesia? For Ecologist Lizzie Jones, the answer is simple: "All we need to do is get grandparents to talk to grandchildren about environmental things," she says. "The alternative is people losing connections to wildlife and the will to care about stopping its loss."

Read more on The New Scientist.