Tag Archives: martin-rees

Long-Term Thinking and Climate Change

One of the reasons the general public are slow in acting on climate change in the manner the situation’s importance demands is our reluctance to think too far beyond our immediate time horizon. However this shouldn’t stop us.

That is the suggestion of Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who extols the virtues of long-term thinking more eloquently than I’ve heard before:

“As in politics,” he says, “the immediate trumps the important.” Our future-blindness may reflect a basic limitation of the brain. “In so far as brains evolved to cope with everyday life on the savannah, they evolved in a context where you didn’t plan 50 years ahead and you cared about your local community. Although…” A pause. A sip of tea. “Although, it’s odd—I gave a talk at Ely cathedral not long ago. The people who built the cathedral had a limited view of the world. Their world was the fens, and they thought it would end quite soon, but nevertheless built this wonderful structure which is part of our heritage 1,000 years later. And it’s shameful in a way that we, with our longer horizons and greater resources, are reluctant to think 50 years ahead.”

via The Browser

Note: The full article is behind a pay wall. The above quote and the context thereof is available.

The Most Important Century

The next 50 years will bring technological, social and geopolitical change greater than we can imagine, says Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, but the emerging problems of population growth and climate change make this century arguably the most important in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, even from the perspective of an astronomer.

It’s sometimes wrongly imagined that astronomers, contemplating timespans measured in billions, must be serenely unconcerned about next year, next week and tomorrow. But a “cosmic perspective” actually strengthens my own concerns about the here and now.

Ever since Darwin, we’ve been familiar with the stupendous timespans of the evolutionary past. But most people still somehow think we humans are necessarily the culmination of the evolutionary tree. No astronomer could believe this.

Our sun formed 4.5bn years ago, but it’s got 6bn more before the fuel runs out. And the expanding universe will continue – perhaps for ever – becoming ever colder, ever emptier. As Woody Allen said, “Eternity is very long, especially towards the end”. Any creatures who witness the sun’s demise, here on Earth or far beyond, won’t be human. They will be entities as different from us as we are from a bug.

But even in this “concertinaed” timeline – extending millions of centuries into the future, as well as into the past – this century is special. It’s the first in our planet’s history where one species – ours – has Earth’s future in its hands, and could jeopardise not only itself, but life’s immense potential.

As Richard says (via), the article “seems to be a truncated version of his book Our Final Century“.