The term has been circulating for decades: We were born on a destroyed planet and are moving towards the collapse of the environment. However, our intelligence is not enough to grasp the scale of the earth’s ecological death spiral. We try to imagine how climate change might replace the entire population in just a few decades. It is hard for us to imagine that the fate of plastic waste will be centuries longer than ours. We cannot imagine that our offspring will live on a depleted earth that is depleted by resource extraction and lacks biodiversity. In our daily lives, we lack a reference frame for thinking about the millennium time scale of the radioactive hazards of nuclear waste.
I am an anthropologist, studying how society solves the relationship between the current living community and the unborn community imaginary living in the future. I learned that studying the relationship between a community and the passage of time can provide a window into its values, worldview, and lifestyle.
From 2012 to 2014, I conducted a 32-month anthropological field trip to explore how Finnish nuclear energy waste experts are dealing with the fundamentally long-term future of the planet. These experts often deal with long-lived radionuclides, such as uranium-235 with a half-life of more than 700 million years.They work with nuclear waste management companies Posiva Helped to build a final disposal facility about 450 meters below Olkiluoto Island in the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. If all goes according to plan, the facility will become the world’s first operating deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel in the mid-2020s.
In order to assess the long-term durability of the Olkiluoto repository, these experts have developed a “safe case” that predicts possible geological, hydrological and ecological events in western Finland in the next tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. Their efforts have produced visions of glaciers, climate change, earthquakes, floods, changes in human and animal populations in the distant future. These predictions became the starting point for a series of “mental time travel” exercises, which I incorporated into my book, Depth time calculation.
Extending thinking across time-even in the most speculative way-can help us become more responsible stewards of the earth: it can help us have the time literacy needed to deal with long-term challenges, such as biodiversity loss, accumulation of microplastics , Climate change, antibiotic resistance, asteroid impact, sustainable urban planning, etc. This not only makes us feel more at home when thinking about the past and future of our planet. It can also attract us to imagine the world from the perspective of future human and non-human communities-fostering empathy for generations.
5710 Chief Executive. A tired man was lying on the sofa. He lives in a small wooden house once known as the Eurajoki region of Finland. He works in a local medical center. Today is his day off. He spent a long day in the forest. He hunted moose and deer, and picked lingonberries, mushrooms and lingonberries. He now sips the water drawn from the village well with a wooden cup. His husband brought him a dinner plate. It has fried potatoes, oatmeal, boiled peas and beef. All food comes from local farms. The cattle were watered in a nearby river. The crops are irrigated through irrigation channels flowing from three local lakes.
This person does not know that more than 3700 years ago, safety case biosphere modelers used 21st century computer technology to calculate everyday situations like his. He didn’t know that they had named the lakes around him (formed long after their own death) “Liiklanjärvi”, “Tankarienjärvi” and “Mäntykarinjärvi”. He doesn’t know Posiva’s ancient determination that technological innovation and cultural habits are almost impossible to predict decades in advance. He was unaware of Posiva’s response and instructed its modelers to pragmatically assume that the lifestyle, population pattern, and nutritional needs of the western Finland population will not change much in the next 10,000 years. He did not know that the safety case experts inserted the assumption that he and his neighbors only eat local food in their own parameters of the model.
However, the life of a hunter is still entangled with the work of a safety case expert. If they succeed, the vegetables, meat, fruits, and water in front of him should have only a small chance of containing trace radionuclides from nuclear power plants in the 20th century.
12020 AD. A lone farmer overlooked her pasture, surrounded by a green heather forest. She lives on a sparse land once called Finland, on a fertile island once called Olkiluoto. The area is no longer an island. What was once a coastal bay is now dotted with small lakes, peat bogs, and mud bogs with white sphagnum moss and herbaceous sedges. The Eurajoki and Lapijoki rivers flow into the sea. When the farmer was fishing in a nearby lake, she caught barracuda. She watched the beaver swimming around. Sometimes she feels melancholy. She recalled the freshwater ringed seals that shared the country with her before they became extinct.
The lady did not know that deep under her feet, there were ancient deposits of copper, iron, clay and radioactive debris. This is a highly classified secret-it has been leaked to the public many times for thousands of years, but it is now forgotten. However, even the government’s knowledge of the cemetery is poor. Most records were destroyed in a global war in 3112. At that time, the ancient predictions for the site discovered in the “Supplementary Notes” of the 2012 safety case report had been forgotten by history.
But this farmer did know the myth of Lohikäärme: a dangerous, flying, salmon-colored poisonous snake that anyone who dares to dig near his underground cave will kill it. She and other farmers in the area grow peas, sugar beets and wheat. They are hesitant to fools who tell them that the monsters living under them are real superstitions.
35,012 AD. A tiny microorganism floats in a large lake in the north. It didn’t know that the clay, silt, and mud layers below it were rising little by little, year after year. What I don’t know is that 30 years ago, this lake was still a vast ocean. It is dotted with sailboats, cruise ships and cargo ships, and is called the Baltic Sea by humans. The water strait connecting the Baltic Sea and the North Sea has surfaced thousands of years ago. Denmark and Sweden merge into a piece of land. The seafloor is depressurizing from the Weichselian glaciation-a huge layer of ice that was pressed on land during the last ice age.
After the death of the last person, the land continued to rise. Its rise has nothing to do with the extinction of mankind. In 2013, how an anthropologist and a safety case expert sat in a white chair in a cafe in Ravintola Rytmi: Helsinki and talked indifferently. There, the safety case expert communicated his prediction that by 52,000 AD there will be no more water between Turku, Finland and Stockholm, Sweden. At that time, people could walk from one city to another on foot. Experts estimate that in the north-between Vaasa in Finland and Umeå in Sweden-a waterfall will one day be found with the largest flowing water on earth. The waterfall can be found on a sea shelf that was once submerged.
However, this microorganism does not know or care about Vaasa, Umeå, Denmark, long-lost ships, safety case reports, or Helsinki’s past dining options. It has no concept of them. Their importance dies with mankind. Microbes also cannot understand the pain they face when they succumb to the collapse of the Anthropocene. Mankind’s past technological feats, grand civilizations, passion projects, intellectual victories, wartime sacrifices, and personal struggles are now meaningless. However, the radiological safety of microbial lake water still depends on the work of several human safety case experts who lived thousands of years ago. Considering so far, these experts have never lived to see whether their depth-time predictions are accurate.
Of course, we do not live in these imaginary worlds. In this sense, they are unreal—just fictional. However, our ability to envision potential futures, and our ability to feel compassion for those who might live in it, is very real. The depiction of tomorrow can have a powerful and concrete impact on the world today. This is why deep time thought experiments are not fun games, but serious behaviors to solve intellectual problems. This is why the long-term nuclear waste risk models of safety case experts have unique value, even if they are, in the final analysis, only approximations.
But thinking about the far future earth can also help us Step back From our daily lives-to enrich our imagination by transmitting our thoughts to different places and times.Business coach Recommended Take a break from our familiar mindset, experience the world in a new way and overcome psychological obstacles.Cognitive scientist Already shown How to stimulate creativity by perceiving “something that has never been seen before (but that may have always been there)”.
Set aside a few minutes a day for long-termists, planetary imagination can allow us to navigate between multiple interacting time scales with greater dexterity. This can foster more visionary empathy for landscapes, humans, and other creatures for decades, centuries, and thousands of years. As the global ecological crisis spreads, embracing empathy for the earth will prove vital to our collective survival.
This is an opinion and analysis article; opinions expressed Author or author Not necessarily those Scientific american.
this essay First appearance In MIT Reader on August 10, 2021.