In the spirit of Slaughterhouse 5, I dedicate this installment to Time.
Starting point: We’ve been unbalancing the ecosphere since we learned to control fire. That’s a lot of carbon added to the atmosphere. Nature can withstand the occasional volcanic eruption, the constant burning up of meteors, natural methane venting, and all the other processes of the carbon cycle—things it has had to cope with since the beginning of Life-on-Earth. What it cannot cope with is us. Our incessant, relentless burning of not only fossil fuels, but surface fuels as well, is beyond Nature’s design limits.
In the long term, we have an enormous accumulated carbon debt—200,000 years’ worth. and in the short term, we have our annual carbon deficit. Just like nations, we have the total of what we owe (national debt) and the yearly increases due to borrowing more than we pay back (annual deficit). On a personal level, it means that if we aren’t helping the environment every day, we are making it worse. In effect, we are borrowing without the ability to pay back—ever.
Of course, worrying about climate change and carbon debt is fine for retirees, school kids and the unemployed. They have too much time on their hands; the rest of us are too busy working real jobs in the real world, right? I know, I’ve been there. It’s a common condition in modern life. We are so busy communicating, scheduling, planning, travelling, and working that we are not able to contemplate a better way to live. After all, time is money and we don’t want to waste it. On the other hand, when we say that someone has too much time on their hands, what we are admitting is that we ourselves have sold our time for money.
If our priority is making money, we are simplifying reality. Time is not money, it is the opportunity we each have to contribute positively or negatively to our long-term survival. We can choose to spend our time satisfying our present needs and desires, or spend it building a viable future. Money isn’t much of a life-currency. The real currency is our time and the things we do with it.
I plant trees. Each Spring I put 300 to 500 seedlings in the ground. Some of those that were planted 11 years ago are now 10 foot saplings. In another 50 to 60 years they will mature, and some may last up to 200 or even 300 years. My dining room table is made from a single piece of old white pine salvaged from an abandoned farm. The owner said the barn was built around 1900. The board had over 200 rings in it so the tree probably started growing around 1700. In that year, Pope Innocent the 12th died. So did John Hale, a renowned American witch hunter, and Mary Bradbury, an accused Salem witch. The table top is scratched and dinged after 25 years of children eating, crafting, and doing homework.
Each of us chooses what we do with the time we have. Pesticide accumulations may take decades to manifest. Droughts may last just as long. Our lives are a bit longer, but not as long as that of most trees. A century of city growth can be washed away by a single tsunami. Nations may last 10 or 20 centuries, ice ages are much longer. Continents grow or subduct at the rate of a few centimeters per year, but a single hurricane can erode meters of ocean-front bluffs. Species can take millions of years to evolve and be wiped out by a few decades of hunting.
Ending point: Our global impact is undeniable and our options to ensure long-term human survival are limited. Time is so much more than money and it is running out, Our lives have incredible potential and our contribution can be much greater than a few RRSPs.