40 years ago, my parents climbed trees after school to catch bugs and collected seashells when the tide was low.
15 years ago, my friends and I rode the subway after school, went to game centers, and hung out at the malls.
I could find my favorite crane machine in the mall maze, just like my dad could find where the biggest crawfish was among fish ponds.
My parents were around 15.
I was around 15.
Lujiazui area of Shanghai in 1985 (top) and 30 years later (bottom).
Photographs courtesy of Liu Heung Shing
My memories of growing up in Shanghai are woven between glass facades and concrete. Most of the trees and plants in the city were part of the designed landscape, pruned as they grew into spaces of human activity. For me, nature is a vacation destination, something out of the ordinary, completely detached from everyday life.
In just one generation, the baseline of Shanghai's nature-city balance has degenerated from forests, rivers, and ubiquitous wildlife to gardens, lawns, and roadside shrubs. Such a rapid "baseline shift" is unprecedented on planet Earth.
This is how our nature is slipping away, not only in reality, but also in our minds.
Shifting Baseline Syndrome is a gradual change in the accepted norms for the condition of the natural environment due to a lack of experience, memory and/or knowledge of its past condition, coined by Daniel Pauly in 1995.
Put simply, what we now consider a healthy environment was considered degraded by past generations, and what we now consider degraded will be considered healthy or "normal" by the next generation.
Source: McLENACHAN, L.(2009), Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs, Conservation Biology, 23: 636-643.
Photographs courtesy of Monroe Public Library