“We will see 10,000 years of ecological change in 50 years”

“Deep time is really a refers to the age of the Earth. Deep time invites us to think about timescales that unfold in geological time, it is way beyond the experience of anyone living or human imagination. Deep time asks us to think about time on the scale of the planet itself”. The author of Footprints, David Farrier, answers the question of what is deep time asked by journalist and Master in Scientific, Medical and Environmental Communication alumni at UPF-BSM, Luis Quevedo.

The journalist and the author talk in this interview in the context of the Environment World Day celebrated at UPF Barcelona School of Management. The conversation revolves around the need of being aware of the impact and footprints that humanity will leave on the planet for the future generations. Are we capable of thinking in terms of deep time? Can we incorporate that vision in our Monday through Sunday life?

“It's a challenge, yes, but I think we can. I think it's possible to stretch our imagination and our sense of empathy as well. The reason I think it's so important to think in terms of deep time as well in terms of the time that we experience is because so much of what we are doing today in the present is going to have an effect on the world to come for thousands of years and thousands of generations. We are shaping the world that those who follow us will have to live in. I think that requires us to be able to imagine that kind of impact on those lives. To feel empathy for those people who will have to cope with the world that may be very challenging. That may present rather radically different ecosystems to the ones that humans have known for all of human history. I think we can, but I also think we must”, says Farrier.

Farrier and Quevedo also explore the concept of future fossils: “The future fossils is a way of making deep future immediate and available in the present, because anything could be a future fossil. The laptop that I'm talking to you on now in the right conditions could create its own kind of future fossil. They are the things that surround us every day, the cities we live in, the everyday objects, the glasses I'm wearing... they are quite ordinary, and we take for granted. One of the most astonishing is Shanghai”.

The author appoints the issue that “There has been a massive acceleration in all kind of planetary processes driven by human activity since 1950. Carbon cycle, melting in the Arctic... all those processes will have huge implications for us, but we don't know how quite fast. We will see 10,000 years of ecological change in 50 years”.

So, will it be sufficient for us to realize the change? “We have been thought not to. We are taught in the short term, in election cycles, to satisfy the consumption  impulse. We are not really asked to think in terms of intergenerational time. We need to cultivate a more time-minded sense and alert to the rapidity of change. It's a challenge, because modern society is organized to work against that and keep focus on the present. One of the most important lessons we have to learn is that we are more than our present”, says Farrier.

During this interview the journalist and the author also debate about the role of the arts in this global effort to fight climate change: “The arts have a vital role to play. Future fossils are stories told to the future. Every single molecule of carbon, every microplastic has potential to tell a story to the future about what we cared about and what we didn't care about. What art can help us to do is not just see the world how it is now but imagine the world otherwise”.

Farrier remembers that it is said that "we need to save the planet", but that's a slight misunderstanding in his opinion: “The planet does not care, and it will go on regardless of what human societies do. What we need to preserve is a liveable planet, where life can thrive”.

The journalist also analyses the role of the arts in the fight for sustainability: “We are trying to save the planet with science, which is amoral. It is the arts where we can find moral and human values. Is in the arts the answer to save the planet?”. The answer is as easy as a conversation: “I think we need communication between the two. The arts can give us the stories to imagine a hopeful future”, expresses Farrier.