Many different kinds of trees live hundreds and even thousands of years. The earth is somewhere around four billion years old — and we have billions of years worth of sunlight and sunpower in front of us.

editor's blog logoAnd yet many of us — far too many of us, I believe — barely think beyond tomorrow, much less beyond next week.

I’m definitely going to do a longer, in-depth article on human attitudes and perceptions toward time for SolarChargedDriving.Com down the road.


“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
–Thomas Edison, 1931

Ironicially, I don’t have the time right now to devote to do this important story on social concepts of time and time horizons right now — though it is clearly hugely relevant to any discussion of energy use and energy sources.

In fact, I should be revising an academic journal article rather than posting this entry. Of course, blog entries are so much easier to do, and in some ways, just more fun — and you don’t have an editor waiting, red pen in hand, at the other end.

ExxonMobil’s short time horizon

digital camera photo of an exxonmobil NYT ad

Also, I couldn’t resist commenting on a ExxonMobil adverstisement I saw running at the bottom of the Nov. 3, 3009 New York Times’ front page. It’s clear evidence of just how short human time horizons appear to be.

There’s a blue banner running across the ad, which runs about one-inch up the front page. It reads “fuel for thought.”

(Bet ExxonMobil wasn’t anticipating the kind of thought they’d be fueling in my case 😉

My four- and three-year-old daughters could conceivably be alive in 100 years, and certainly their children will be. So 100 years = the lifetime span of only two currently living human generations. Just two.

The “lead” for the ad, reads “A century of natural gas supplies.” To the left of this lead, there’s a graphic entitled “U.S. natural gas supply”. It’s in the form of a pipeline, and it has the years 2025, 2050, 2075 and 2100 emblazoned onto it.

The ad is meant to convey the sense that there’s a lot of natural gas — and that it’s going to last a long time.

Does 100 years seem long to you, especially when we’re talking about energy?

It doesn’t seem long to me at all.

Just 100 years worth of natural gas left
My four- and three-year-old daughters could conceivably be alive in 100 years, and certainly their children will be. So 100 years = the lifetime span of only two currently living human generations.

Just two.

ExxonMobil notes that “experts” (these “experts” are un-named), “Estimate that the U.S. contains enough clean-burning natural gas to meet current demand for about 100 years.”

Does ExxonMobil really believe demand for natural gas is not going to increase in the next 100 years?

The bigger picture here is the time horizon projected in the ad — it’s short, short, short.

Yet ExxonMobil is trying to represent it as long, long, long.

Imagine the same graphic, but with the time scale changed. Instead of 100 years, say a graphic that represents the last 5,000 years. Then, imagine super-imposing the same ExxonMobil graphic charting 100 years onto the new graphic.

You’d have to shrink the ExxonMobbil 100-year-scaled graphic so much to keep it on the new scale you would barely be able to see it!

What do you think — is 100 years a long, or a short time when talking about something like energy supplies?

ExxonMobil is clearly assuming you — and most other people reading the ad — will think, “Wow, 100 years, that’s FORE-ever!”

Unfortunately, the Big Oil corporate giant may well be right about how most of us conceive of time. My gut instinct — without doing any research yet — is that most people’s time horizons are very, very short indeed.

So, I’m guessing most people would think that 100 years is a long, long time — even in terms of raw materials supply.

Clearly, 100 years is longer than anyone who is reading this entry will live.

It’s all — and only — about ME (and my lifetime)
To me, this short-time horizon is the epitomy of human selfishness. The “thinking” goes like this:

“Why should I worry about what sort of future is down the pipeline — energy, environmental, political, etc. — I will be dead.”

True.

What will it take for human beings to change our short-sighted and selfish concept of time?

But billions of other people won’t be. And there are so many other beings on our planet, including some  — the giant redwooods, for example — that live far longer than one human being.

What will it take for human beings to change our short-sighted and selfish concept of time?

Having kids can help — a little. For most people, it pushes their long-term time horizons out by, say, 50 or 60 years, maybe longer, if they think about their kids’ kids.

On a broader level, you could argue that concern about global warming indicates a growing number of people are indeed concerned about something beyond a 100-year time horizon.

But how far does this extended time horizon actually go. Two-hundred years? 500? 1,000? 10,000?

It would be fascinating to further probe the issue of general social concepts of time, energy use and energy sources.

In fact, I could start this project by showing the ExxonMobil ad I’ve just deconstructed to others.

How do they read it?

Do they think 100 years is a long time?

Or do they, or at least some of them, read this ExxonMobil ad like I do, or exactly the opposite way I’m sure ExxonMobil intended?

One-hundred years, then — boom — there’s no more natural gas, at least not in the U.S.

That’s pretty much the same time horizon for oil too — 100 years and then, boom — there’s no more oil!

Does anyone other than a few elite experts ever think about this?

I’m skeptical very many people do — but I’m also hopeful things are turning around, and that more and more people are expanding their time horizons, that more and more people are stepping out of the selfish, short-sighted notion of time that views time only in terms of one human lifetime, namely MY own lifetime.

Are we capable of expanding our time horizon?
When people expand their time horizons, they realize quickly what many of us already see: Not only is our burning of fossil fuels destroying our environment, but those fossil fuels will run out!

In a larger time schemata — for instance, that of human history since the adoption of agricultural food production several thousand years ago — these fossil fuel sources are going to run out very soon indeed.

In comparison, sun energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, wave energy, etc. are going to be around several billion more years, quite possibly longer than humanity itself survives — especially if it continues to be largely driven mostly by short-sightedness, selfishness and greed.

The other choice: Dare, and care enough, to step outside of our short-sighted, selfish concept of time and expand our time horizons to not one human lifetime, not two, or three — but hundreds and even thousands. When we do that, and I’m not sure, on a social level, we’ll ever get there, the choice seems very clear: It simply has to be for long-term, and clean, renewable energy.

Of course, we could wait until the last minute, and until after we’ve ravaged the earth for all of its natural gas, oil, coal, etc. Of course, by then, it could be too late.

The other choice: Dare, and care enough, to step outside of our short-sighted, selfish concept of time and expand our time horizons to not one human lifetime, not two, or three — but hundreds and even thousands. When we do that, and I’m not sure, on a social level, we’ll ever get there, the choice seems very clear.

It simply has to be for long-term, and clean, renewable energy. Period.

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