On Shifting Baselines

by Kyle Medin
(Tallahassee, Florida, USA)

You know what the saddest part of climate change is? In 100 years, people won’t be running around screaming about how hot it is.

People won’t be tearing their hair out, wondering where the glaciers are, or why their oceans are so acidic that fisheries are essentially gone.

People won’t be shaking their fists at us, wondering why we couldn’t get our acts together.

They likely won’t even know what they’re missing.

A New Normal

It’s a common lamented phenomenon in the sustainability discussion: shifting baselines. If you’re born into a situation, you don’t have any physical ties to what came before.

So, while you may realize that the current situation isn’t ideal, you’re not going to have the same appreciation for what came before.

It’s happened to us already. Some of us who live in big cities are happy when we see trees dotting the sides of the roads, or feel “at one with nature” when we visit a park or go hiking.

The thing is, to most Americans living 200 years ago, the idea of having to go to nature would be completely foreign. But we accept it, because it’s all we know.

A Scary Future

It’ll be the same thing for those born in the year 2100.

They won’t feel any more robbed of polar bears or glaciers than we feel robbed of dodos and “the frontier.” That, to me, is the scariest part of climate change.

Slowly, bit by bit, year by year, things will get progressively worse, until the people of say, 2500 live in a world which we would consider hell on earth. What do they have to say about it? “Could you hand me a blanket? It’s like 90 degrees in here!”

A lot of people view the voices warning us about climate change as overdramatic, making a big fuss over something that won’t really start being a huge problem for almost a century.

All we’re trying to do is keep the baseline from shifting.

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