'Thinking far beyond the Critical Decades, and long after Century XXI'
Observe our Ecological Interactions. Forecast Deep-Time Legacies. Educate Generations on Impacts.
Archive the ‘Essentials’. Conserve Records for Posterity. Bridge the Long Communication Distance.
What should posterity know about our unfolding Anthropocene era? Do we have any legal, ethical, or stewardship obligations to those not yet born? Should we bequeath a historical account for the benefit of future archaeology? As the vast majority of archival projects today are already engaged in curating these ‘goodwill’ accounts as a cultural inheritance for unknown denizens we will never meet, what other archival trajectories should we begin to responsibly explore for ‘essential’ information preservation? What practical decisions on record custodianship could we foreseeably make on behalf of human posterity today? What might future generations deem to be of significance to safeguard their inherited world? What do they need to know about their unfolding chapters of Earth history, as opposed to what would we ideally like them to know about our brief technological developmental phase? How much of this vital stewardship material is now degraded beyond value, or simply lost? Are we being conscientious ‘good’ ancestors?
LOOKING FARTHER FORWARD
The intricate questions raised in ‘Challenges’ broadly illustrate some of the perplexing dilemmas already apparent in discussions surrounding the conservation of information for posterity — debates that still tend to tilt towards furnishing future generations with cultural and ‘goodwill’ contents that represents fragments of our unfolding era, at the expense of investigating the scope of vital knowledge that may be practically useful for the eventual inheritors of Earth. At this moment in history, it is widely recognised that the immediate future of our shared biome and common heritage is now governed by the actions of Earth's principle geological agents; humanity. In acknowledging the anthroposphere, we can concede our planet's imminent future is also profoundly intertwined with the diverse moral decisions we enact today on behalf of generations not yet in the room, and our capacity to forecast emergent, longer-term impacts that will cascade down throughout the ages to influence all terrestrial life. Our guiding aspiration is to simply ensure a vital archival bridge is maintained for these unborn generations — to furnish unknown posterity with imperative material records that fall under our principal safeguarding ethos; ‘do not go, and need to know’.
How do we even determine what material records adhere to our safeguarding principle? Pivotal to this deep-time planetary stewardship is our ability to identify, and adequately document, the unfolding inheritance of the Anthropocene, while also ensuring comprehension of these indelible legacies for future entities that we may not recognise as 'human'. Understanding, for ourselves, the purview of our own ‘waste’ and related 'do not go' material legacies, is also crucial for our attempts to convey this ‘essential’ information across an un-chartable, temporal horizon — much less attempting to redress these anthropogenic concerns in our own era. This extensive archival work inherently documents our 'alternative heritage' now unfurling across vast timelines, while also safeguarding pertinent records for long-term planning, custodianship, and stewardship tasks. To complement these efforts, we also maintain a detailed directory of long-term experiments and other similar practices to support ‘slow science’ fields while encouraging engagement with these subjects for the benefit of future studies. These experiment monitoring strategies populate our ‘need to know’ archival strand.
The foundation is a decadal research initiative and educational-outreach institute, established to investigate the breadth of these enduring anthropogenic legacies, while also studying the various dilemmas associated with intelligible communication across deep-time intervals. We aim to promote social discourse on the long-term archaeological impact of our technological interactions, value judgements, and intergenerational decisions; our choices that will far outlast our near-future conceptualisation of ‘Earth’. Our interdisciplinary work simply aspires to be of some measurable help to humanity and our emergent deep-time legacies, largely for the benefit of posterity who cannot readily ‘have a say’ over today’s choices.
THINKING 'BEYOND THE EARTH'
Thinking ‘beyond the Earth’ from a deep-time perspective — or ‘cathedral thinking’ across intergenerational timescales — is a tradition familiar to many disciplinary orientations, especially within the fields of environmental ethics, risk management, astrobiology, heritage conservation and stewardship praxis; each varyingly operating on geological, cosmic, or ‘long-now’ intervals of time.
However, this circumspection infrequently translates across the realms of our short-term planning in socio-political theatres, material culture practices and arenas of technological proliferation — all of which collectively re-shapes our modern-day civilisations within this narrowly focused ‘age of the now’. We hope to challenge this short-termism, and help place long-term sustainable decision making at the forefront of deep-time stewardship planning, while ensuring documentation for more protracted legacies is committed to intergenerational memory as part of a pre-emptive, mitigation strategy that may pay off in the long-long run. Such audits need to occur today while records survive.
A sure sign of human sapience, is our capability to decouple our lives from this short-termism of immediate seconds, minutes, hours, days and years that habitually govern our own lifespans. In its place, we should instead re-focus on cultivating a very long-term historical perspective, and protracted planning for those generations yet to be born. Acknowledging the ‘big history’ of past life on Earth, naturally leads us to recognise the ‘long futurity’ which will inevitably follow from today, and how present anthropogenic interactions will culminate deep-time implications for those long after the horizon.