As a total science geek, I love the Guardian’s DataBlog. But what’s really great about DataBlog is the fact that they find and create visualizations of data that you don’t have to be a geek to appreciate. Case in point:
David McCandless used data from a study by Dr. Villy Christensen and colleagues at the University Of British Columbia to show how the biomass (tonnage) of popular food fish, like bluefin tuna, cod, salmon, herring, and striped bass (to name a few), changed between 1900 and 2000. The result is pretty dramatic, and really drives home why New England’s fishermen often seem to be hanging on by a shoestring. But McCandless says the images drove home another point for him:
They also help counter the phenomenon of “shifting environment baselines”. This is when each generation views the environment they remember from their youth as “natural” and normal. Today that means our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That’s considered the environmental baseline.
The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.
So this is a kind of collective social amnesia that allows over-exploitation to creep up and increase decade-by-decade without anyone truly questioning it. Today’s fishing quotas and policies for example are attempting to reset fish stocks to the levels of ten or twenty years ago. But as you can see from the visualization, we were already plenty screwed back then.