A warning for the future, we do not think enough about our actions
It seems unlikely that the world will ever forget the disruption of Covid-19, yet most did not think we would see something like this in 2020. Odds are you had not even heard of the Spanish flu of 1918 even though now you know lots about it.
For those that lived through it, the expectation was that so much had been written and recorded about it that it would serve as a warning to never let it happen again. But it did.
On the 6th and 9th of August 2020 the world will mark the 75th anniversary of nuclear weapons used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nakasaki, if we did not understand the destruction in 1945, there was little doubt in the months and years since, enough you might think to have convinced humans to abandon the weapons, yet in 2020 we still have more than enough to end human life on Earth and some nations still looking to acquire them.
Do we not learn from the past or do we just not plan for the future
A bit of both. Things are changing. Faster than ever before. When so much is changing it does not make sense to plan for the next 10 years when you have no idea what things will be like in the next 12 months.
Even when we do plan for the future, it would be on the scale of raising a child (about 25 years) or planning for your retirement (about 50 years)
For most of our lives and in much of society our planning is modelled on political cycles of about 5 years and corporate cycles of just one year.
With so much focus on the short-term, it is no wonder long term problems are ignored until they become a crisis.
Business Unusual focussed on pandemics in December 2019 and ended with the view that while it was a real risk, most of us would choose to believe it could not happen or that we would respond well if it did happen. We were wrong.
We can consider ourselves to be the ancestors of future generations, will they think we were good ancestors or foolish and wasted resources and quarrelled about inconsequential issues while ignoring critical ones?
So how do we improve our longer-term thinking and how might it work
Trying to solve big problems in short time scales is impossible. You can’t fix poverty or stop climate change in five years, but if you assumed you had 50 years then it may be achievable.
We have lots of impressive long term plans like reversing CO2 emissions by 2050, UN Millennium development goals, the AU 2060 plan and South Africa has the National Development Plan for 2030 which was started in 2013.
The plan is only useful when separated into a smaller one to five-year sub-plans that together will address the issue, but when you miss a five-year goal, you need to work very hard to catch-up or else you will not succeed. South Africa is behind on its milestones for the National Development Plan. Unless we hold politicians to get it back on track we can be sure will not reach that goal.
Here are some projects intended to inspire long-term thinking and others that we must tackle
We are not the only animals that pan for the future, you have seen squirrels burying nuts for eating later, the human version of that which would impress any squirrel is the seed vault built into a snow covered mountain inside the arctic circle. All the plants we have classified are stored in a version of Noah’s Ark ready to replant the world in case of a massive disaster.
There is a library in Norway that was just a plantation of young trees in 2014, each year a new book will be added but not read until 2114 when the trees that spent a century growing will be used to print the books. Margaret Atwood wrote the first one called Scribbler Moon. Isn’t bizarre that I can tell you about a book that will be published in a century, but have not idea what might be published next year.
There are two songs being played that will take a while to finish. John Cage’s composition is meant to be played as slowly as possible and so it will take 639 years to complete playing a tone every year in a town in Germany that first created what we now know as the piano keyboard. That took place 639 years prior to 2000 and so when the performance began on Cage’s birthday in 2001 it was decided to take 639 years to play it.
The Longplayer will take even longer, it began on 1 Jan 2000 and is simply an instruction to a trust to ensure there is a venue somewhere looked after by trustees to ensure the song will be performed for the next 1000 years.
Jeff Bezos has funded the Long-Now Foundation to build a clock in a mountain on his ranch that will keep time for the next 10 000 years.
Smaller efforts are just as impressive, on board the Voyager space probes were a golden record with a variety of information that should it ever be found will offer details of where to find us and a message from humans as well as songs and sounds from Earth. Voyager was launched in the 70s and has now left our solar system.
On the 20th of July, a new Mars rover called Perseverance was launched never to return, On it is 11 million names, including my own and a dedication to health workers fro their efforts during the pandemic.
The SpaceX spaceship that may take the first humans to Mars completed a test flight yesterday, it was not impressive, but that small hop may lead to human footprints on Mars one day.
One reason we must consider something that lasts not just 10 000 years but as much as 100 000 is how to warn future intelligent life not to disturb our long term nuclear disposal sites
There will be multiple sites around the world that will need these warnings and while our current
SA is due to identify and construct a Deep Geological Repository by 2065
Stone tools and bones are what our ancestors have left for us to decode what may have been the issues of their time.
Knowing that two of ours are climate change and nuclear waste is an invitation to consider some additional projects to set us up to be suitably impressive ancestors assuming we don’t accidentally kill ourselves in the process or get destroyed for a new Vogon intergalactic hyperspace express route.
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