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We Need to Think Thousands of Years Ahead

May 6, 2013, 12:00 PM

How can we think 100 years ahead, and is that enough? Well, it’s not enough, but it’s a fantastic start.  I think that to trust the future of the Earth to economists, after what we’ve seen over the last few years is total insanity.  And economists who teach us to discount the future don’t see anything but money.  They see nothing but money.  

The important thing is to look at your children.  I can’t tell you how many people spend huge amounts of time looking for the best preschool for their child, and they don’t spend five minutes trying to have a better world for the child when that child grows up.  We have to be paying attention to what matters. 

I would say if we start thinking 100 years ahead, that will already be taking us beyond our current problems.  And if we could just stop thinking about our own current, short-term problems and realize that we’re not just isolated beings in our lives, in our little flesh packages here, but that we are part of an enormous flow of life and that we have an obligation to it. Because look at all the animals, the billions and billions of animals that strive to protect their young in order to allow the future to happen.  We owe so much to them.  We owe the same thing to our children.  

There’s this American Indian concept of responsibility to the seventh generation.  And it’s a very good concept, but I think that it’s not really appropriate to our time because we, at this pivotal moment, have a much bigger obligation than that because we know more than previous generations.  We have caused more problems than previous generations, and we’re at a time where we may be the only generation with the resources and the power to change things for the long term.  So for those three reasons, we have to think, not just seven generations ahead – we have to think thousands of years ahead.  

Not that we’re going to make plans for what is going to happen in thousands of years, of course. You can’t predict what’s going to happen, but you can certainly see what the bad effects are of the things we are doing today that are going to last that long, for example, global warming.  I mean, when the oceans rise, that’s thousands of years.  We could be wiping out parts of the Earth for human habitation for thousands of years.  That’s our responsibility.  

Nuclear waste, our responsibility.  How do we atone for that?  If we could support it in each other that we have a shared obligation to present a decent world to our descendants that would be an enormous change.  It would be just wonderful.  It could be as big as all these revolutions and it could even build on them.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy fo Shutterstock. 


We Need to Think Thousands ...

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