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.

One Response

  1. David C

    Why can’t the world perceive the enormousness of the biggest issue ever to face humanity. Not only is fossil fuel ruining the planets environment, weather patterns and size of a whole continent or five (yes continents get smaller by both melting ice and flooding coasts); but they are also running out, rapidly. ExxonMobil once confidently stated that there is enough natural gas for 100 years, in apparent PR project to reassure the whole human species that we have enough energy for everyone. Fire up that heating and power station, we have I Pads to charge I hear you cry!

    Let’s think a minute, well let me think… and write. I am 28, I have only ever known the black gold running through the veins of England to feed the pumping heart of London. Multiply that 28 by 4 and we get, well a ruined planet with nothing to fuel our air conditioning to cool down a very hot planet; or more likely a water pump to get rid of the water flooding just about every place on the planet.

    The issue here is that we all, or most of us, agree that to some extent climate warming is not only happening, but it is speeding up. It is speeding up quicker than we all thought. Whilst most governments were happy with the ‘let’s link arms and sing Kumbaya’ approach to the Sustainable Development Goals, it bought a little time for them, they soon realised things were not as they once appeared. Hence the Paris Agreement. This was one of the quickest put together international treaties on the environment ever. The reason was not to take all the United States, or what remains of, car industry to Mexico or China – the EU already takes care of that. It is because the damage done by cars, factories and your I Phone (other hones are available) is not only getting worse, it’s getting worse faster than it was before, and many times faster than we ever contemplated, modelled, or cared to dip our toes into.

    Some Global Warming activists would cry ‘we have the technology now, let’s move from fossil fuels’, the truth is that we don’t. The wind turbines majestically spinning every now and again, the solar panels hidden by clouds, the nuclear plant by the sea to cool it… none of these work in a 100 years. They are all reliant on our current climate, just look at what happened to Fukushima Diiachi, not the climate in a 100 years. But surely the children, our children, can sort this out. Surely we need to use the energy in order to further our way of fixing it? Lets consider the blackouts of the 50’s, would your child could help further humanities in a school that is in darkness for half the day? Okay, not your child, but maybe theirs. Well not exactly.

    As resources run dry, as they already are (hydraulic fracturing – fracking is a result of the need to find new sources of black gold), people get a little touchy. First is the dyed diesel, all diesel is dyed for use in agriculture to ration it – we all need food. Our trains and busses, already on 6-hour days so save energy means the food farmers are growing with their rations of oil cannot be afforded. Now I am only guessing, educated I may add, but you get the picture.

    Now for the sorry part, and it’s not that we could all link arms and sing kumbaya to a solar powered radio. It’s that we don’t use solar lowered radio. The energy crisis is because as an individual we cannot take responsibility, I am to blame also. When the Paris Agreement was thrown into turmoil (it wasn’t mainly, the states still said they would go ahead in spite of any president who lacks any real persuasion in any case) people cried ‘what about the children’. The sorry state of the situation is whilst we were crying out for our children, we still had 7 items on standby, a few incandescent lightbulbs and 5 computer screens.

    Lets start to cry ‘what about the grandchildren, there will be no oil left for them, and no means to fix the destitute we have caused them, the planet and the economy’. Well, at least we had a good 200 year run eh? 😊. 

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