Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Expanding your time horizon

Most of us, most of the time, are so hypnotized by the generally short term challenges of living that we don’t pause to think about the long term. This seems a fatal flaw to me.

I mentioned last time some conversations I’d had last week, concerning climate change and the curious lack of concern about it.

Well, the bad news keeps coming. The New Scientist for the 17th October 2015 reported that if we carry on pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses – then major US cities are going be underwater quite soon: Jacksonville by 2035, Long Beach by 2075 and New York by 2085.

2035: twenty years hence. And yet, most of us, including those in power, are carrying on as if this isn’t a concern. A decade hence, it seems, is out of the general cognitive time-horizon.

So the question is: how do we cultivate a sense of the long term? We know it’s possible, because the long view can be trained – as historians, archaeologists, geologists, palaeontologists and astronomers will appreciate.

A part of this problem might be to understand your life in terms of a wider, temporal whole. Take a day – and multiply. What were you doing 100 days ago? That was late July. Maybe you were on holiday.

Okay; how about a thousand days ago? That was 2.73 solar years ago, late January 2013. Can you even remember what you were doing then?

Ten Thousand days? June 1988: I was Fourteen, and our family was about to break up from School and go on holiday in Norway.

One hundred thousand days? That was 1741; year of a slave insurrection in New York; the defeat of the Austrian army by the Prussian troops of Frederick the Great at Mollwitz, the Spanish victory in Battle of Cartagena de Indias over Great Britain, and the crowning of  Maria Theresa of Austria as Queen Regnant of Hungary in Bratislava. Any of these events familiar?

A million days ago? Approx 724 B.C., when the Assyrians start a four-year siege of Tyre and the diaulos footrace was introduced at the Olympics. Don’t current affairs suddenly seem rather… trivial?

At the very least, this exercise demonstrates how unconscious we are, much of the time, of the greater span of time, even within our own lives….


  1. Good post.
    One problem is that the long view is often thought of as the long grass. Another problem is that we may have lost the global warming struggle already, and should in fact be planning for what happens when London drowns (and other places too of course). But sadly I don't think it's going to happen. People simply don't think long-term.

  2. Hi William -- Paul Gilding also thinks its too late re. climate change, but we'll get out act together once a serious crisis hits: