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September 13, 2006

Taking The Long View Activism  Environment  Ethics

Somehow or other, we need to foster the mental and moral habit of taking the long view. We need to visualize humanity and the Earth as here to stay, not just for 7 generations, but for 7 hundred, 7 thousand, or 7 million. Consider this (from WorldChanging):

The KEO project aims to launch a satellite into an orbit which will decay over 50,000 years, eventually returning the capsule and its contents to Earth intact.

The capsule will contain what the folks putting together the project imagine will be an archeological treasure-trove for future generations: an astronomical clock; a diamond-encased set of samples (of sea water, fertile soil and human blood [before any genetic engineering], a library (with instructions for decoding), portraits of people from all the major contemporary ethnic groups (since the ethnic make-up of humanity will undoubtedly be completely transformed in 50Ks) and a bunch of messages contributed by supporters.

Like Stewart's Clock of the Long Now, Jaron Lanier's library written in cockroach DNA, or Jamais' Retrospect Project, the real value here is in getting us to think of responsibilities and continuities that extend 50,000 years. After all, when we think of building a future, we ought to be imagining a future that goes on a very, very long time, for simply conjuring the idea of our decendents living here on this planet fifty millennia hence changes the meaning of our lives and actions today. [Emphasis added]

A time capsule, yes, but more than that. It will be up there, overhead, not buried somewhere out of sight. I like the symbolism of it, and the implied optimism. When was the last time any of us seriously contemplated humanity 50 millenia hence? Consider the responsibility such a time horizon entails, the reverberations down the millenia of the choices we make today.

Posted by Jonathan at September 13, 2006 08:26 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


It is hard to think ahead 50,000 years right now. Gary Snyder had us thinking back to the neolithic in his bioregionalism - a new idea for a lot of us, but that was only 10,000 or longer. The Dutch are adapting to the future by building houseboats - preparing to live on the water. I am ensconced in a rural experiment to get people to look around them and use less and give more. I saw a billboard for foster parents that said "Live deeper, love wider, leave bigger" that made a big impression on me. These are the kinds of guidelines that help me negotiate my days with people I see and live with or work with better. I was in a fitful conversation with two friends of mine - both in the their 60's - much engaged in their own disapointments and angers - I put forth the idea that choosing people to truly care about in your life was the rope to health in our community, and could make a very big different in their lives. We are all "angels" (a word I don't like) for other people. One friend was bemoaning the fact that the computer she had lent the kids of the woman who takes care of her motel (and who is poor) was broken. I suggested her providing them with a laptop would make such a big difference to them - it would open the world to them, and let them do their homework. She went out and bought a new one for them. She felt good, I felt good. I'm sure the kids feel good. What can we do for each other? I will probably include in the grant I am writing a book/dvd project for high school students to create - one that tells the story of how their high school solved its major energy challenges, and is one of the three leading schools in the state with regards to efficiency. The kids at the high school were inspired by the Kenyan woman who planted trees and spoke in the Twin Cities recently, and they have come back to Ashland all excited about forming a "Waters" group. this is what I want to nurture. Just some thoughts on what the real work is as I think about it. It strikes me up here that everytime I turn around, there is another person working on combatting climate change (I much prefer global warming as a term). Al Gore's movie is coming - I should go to the school and to the City council, and offer to pay anyone's ticket who goes to the movie. It's late, I'm rambling.

Posted by: Mary Rehwald at September 13, 2006 10:45 PM

It's difficult to constructively think 50k into the future; provided we survive global warming and heal our biosphere, the planet could go through a major, unforeseen, natural cycle by then with unknown consequences for the human race. I do think 1000 to 3000 years into the future, which by then most if not all metals will have been completely mined from the earth. By this point nearly all metal will be recycled, but more importantly it will have to be allocated.

Think of a world with increasing demand for metal with only a finite supply on hand. Maybe we'll have created organic alloys by then. Better yet, maybe we'll be living a highly sustainable life with minimal need for metals.

One thing’s certain, humans won’t stop mining metals. We’ll pluck every last gram from the earth’s crust. It’s our nature to do so.

Posted by: Jeff at September 14, 2006 06:42 AM