The first essay I read on the Long Now’s website was written by Michael Chabon (‘The Future Will Have to Wait’). Immediately I knew I had discovered a group who ponders the same questions I do. Cares about the same things I care about. As I read more essays and blog entries on the site, this conviction deepened. The Long Now Foundation isn’t a clique or a cult. It isn’t a trend. Likewise, our species shouldn’t be viewed as a passing fancy of biological evolution. It is through the forward, long-term thinking of such organizations as the Long Now that might decide if we remain present on the Earth.
The Long Now Foundation asks people to think about what our planet and civilization will be like 10,000 years into the future. Not, that’s not a typo. That’s ten millenniums. 12,000 AD. And to provide a public focus for such thought, the Foundation intends to construct a clock that will still be ticking in 10,000 years. The purpose of this eternal timepiece is to goad people into thinking about the future. Some have criticized this as a lofty ideal, or a waste of money and resources. I disagree.
First, let’s think about the world in just the next one hundred years. Climate change is a reality, along with rising sea levels, hotter temperatures, and dwindling food supplies. It has been estimated that all top soil will be gone within the next 45-60 years. That means no plant life—and no crops. The acid levels in the oceans are steadily rising, and soon that will mean no marine life. Fifty percent of all water in the United States is used on livestock—animals that we slaughter for food—and according to the Worldwatch Institute, 51% of greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. And nuclear energy/weapons still pose a deadly threat to us. I could go on, but the point is that change is hitting us. Hard. There’s no turning back from what we’ve done to ourselves and Earth.
But everyone, deep down, already knows this. Doomsday has always been around the corner. This time it really is, though, as life on Earth will become much more difficult in the next few decades. How will people cope? Science alone won’t save us. Religion certainly won’t. Despair will set in, and that is the death of hope.
Thinking of ourselves with a longer perspective can provide that hope. Because if we still think humanity will inhabit this planet in ten millenniums, if we imagine a human ear will be around to hear the clock chime, then we are confident that we will survive.
To get there, though, our civilization must re-evaluate how it functions. We need less waste, less ignorance, and less exploitation of people, animals, and the environment. We need more education, more application of sustaining technologies—and more understanding of each other. This is a herculean task. It won’t be achieved through political, economic, military, or religious means. It must happen in the collective mindset of humanity. Willingly, through an understanding of where we are going as a species, and how we will get there.
I have been a pessimist and a nihilist for a long time now. Reading that first essay on the Long Now’s website reawakened something inside of me.
It gave me hope.
Though I am a new member, I am already expecting the Long Now Foundation to take its message into the mainstream. Just building this clock isn’t enough. Simply getting the support of people like Jeff Bezos, Brain Eno, and Ray Kurzweil won’t be enough. This message must enter the public conscious, and the Foundation’s members should lead by example: advocating sustainable, green energy; soliciting an alternative, healthy diet that focuses less on animal protein and refined sugar; creating real social networks that celebrates pluralism and culture; supporting space exploration; reducing the disparity between the rich and the poor; taking a strong stance on human and labor rights; educating people against superstition and bigotry; and seeing that food and water become the right of every human being, not economic amenities.
Otherwise, 10,000 years from now, that clock will take its place alongside Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and Chichen Itza as the relic of a civilization that thought it controlled its destiny.
In closing, I’ll reference a few lyrics from a David Bowie song, ‘A Better Future’:
don't tear this world asunder
Please take back
this fear we're under
I demand a better future
It’s time that we all do.