Friday, January 21, 2011

Shifting Baselines

On a hike up into the mountains above Ka'ena Point last weekend, I was thinking about strawberry quavas and shifting baselines. The issue started with a hot hike and a lack of strawberry quava - I realized that I had come to expect some to eat. For the 20 some years I have been in Hawaii, I associate the smell of rotting quava with hiking. Never mind that many of the quavas are highly invasive.

I don't think I even saw a true native forest on Oahu until a couple of years ago, hiking the same area, when a Natural Reserve staff took us off trail to a hidden oasis. An area fenced from pigs and cleared of invasives. It was so beautiful it took your breath away.

And then I forgot about it. My basis for a forest in Hawaii is what I saw when I first came here. That is my baseline. It is, unfortunately, not a great baseline as the glimpse of a true native forest showed.

The point here is that we are all subject to the phenomena of shifting baselines. Hawaii used to have lots of fish - big fish. Now folks say, "When I was young, there were lots of fish." And we work to get back to that point. But they were already depleted 100 years ago. Their baseline is already off.

It is what I call the "Bangkok Rat Syndrome." Can you imagine people living in a place where there were rats (big rats) on the street corner that hissed at you when you walked by? I had a couple of friends in college who grew up in Bangkok and talked about areas just like that.

Wouldn't you take care of the rats if you lived there? I.e. - remove them? Or would you just get used to them? Actually probably the later if you grew up with them, they would become your "baseline."

What will humans put up with? Well, quite a lot really. But we don't have to. We just need to reset our expectations.

For a couple of interesting bits on shifting baselines - and some nice videos - see: .

My favorite - a hilarious fishing video - see:

or for a definitition.



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