An expansive, multidisciplinary indexing of emergent indelible legacies arising from present-day socio-technological activities, risk management strategies and ethical observatories, pioneered to stimulate further studies about ‘essential’ deep-time stewardship information.
ABOUT 'AFTER THE HORIZON':
The tentatively recognised Anthropocene epoch, in its broadest and most general sense, illustrates the growing exigent impacts of modern human interactions across multitudes of ecological services. We can readily observe, and generally measure, these intertwined impacts today across a diverse range of ‘planetary boundaries’ as identified by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Future Earth and other macroscopic research programmes that continue to monitor our dynamic planet; local and regional climate changes, abrupt biodiversity cascades within complex ecological systems, large-scale disruptions in natural geomorphic cycles, and the gradual redistributions of matter and energy across the planet. In addition to these fluctuating, and often counterintuitive, changes across our biome, we have also observed the emergence of trace fossils or ‘technofossils’ across the archaeological record. Examples of these enduring material legacies include the vast proliferation of concrete sub/surfaces, the plasticity of geological strata and ocean composition, the abundance of radionuclides in all environmental settings, immense landscape excavations and subsequent redistributions of these materials, and even widespread cross-hatched incisions on deep ocean floor strata from trawler nets.
Not all of these latter material legacies are however, so innocuous in nature. As with every technological advancement that far outpaces social adjustments, ethical foresight and legislative not yet written, our civilisations have excelled – unwittingly or otherwise – in establishing protracted, indelible legacies with potential long-term implications over intervals of deep time. Some are readily apparent and subject to international discourse by a number of global stewardship entities including bioethics observatories, climate and biosphere regulators, planetary protection authorities and hazardous waste custodians. Others are not so easily recognised and quantified, or are simply eclipsed by the overwhelming social, political, cultural and technological demands of today's burgeoning civilisations. Yet, much like the multitude of exigent impacts mentioned above, contemporary generations will likely not directly experience the long-term impacts of these legacies. This is often due to an associated lag apparent within various complex planetary systems between initial action, emergent impacts and consequential experiences.
Traditionally, our responses in surmounting encountered impacts have been partitioned between two broad categories – mitigation or adaptation – and two equally as broad time-reaction cognitive categories; short-term thinking or long-term planning. There are some historical precedents for these strategies in long-term thinking and planning, for instance, in waste management strategies such as the terminal phase of the nuclear fuel cycle; plans which intend to deter inadvertent future human intrusion in deep geological repositories. The nuclear waste argument is perhaps the most iconic example of these protracted impacts, and the multinational approaches pioneered to mitigate future risks posed by these hazardous materials. However, some more recently identified legacies possess much less historical scrutiny, ethical foresight and rational engagement within their projected future impacts. Examples of these comparatively latent perennial legacies include safety control measures and standards for the bioaccumulation of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), potential rogue gene cycles which will continue to alter the resident ecosystems in unpredictable ways, and the robust conservation of perishable Climate Records (i.e. datasets derived from materials that may have a limited window for repeated testing and evaluation – for example, the the isotopic chronology of atmospheric climate records preserved in ice cores) for the long-term stewardship across the ages.
Our focus within this ‘Beyond the Horizon’ research programme lies within pioneering archival and memory retention schemes as a special type of pre-emptive mitigation strategy – collating and preserving what is identifiable as ‘essential’ stewardship information, required for long-term decision making by future generations. We aim to work in international partnership with similar institutes to identify, document and preserve crucial materials about these emergent legacies, before creating active detailed registries for later bequeathal and co-authorship with forthcoming generations. Our vision is to responsibly ensure that the preservation and commensurability of this essential information is simply maintained for these future generations – to give posterity a factual opportunity to commit informed decisions on behalf of their inherited life-world, regardless of what other cultural documents and materials we may wish for them to also inherit from our present age.
There are some recognisable legacies that conform to this ‘essential’ categorisation of information, and forecasting other emergent impacts is very much in an ontologically fluid state – subject to persistent observation, revision, reflection and reinvention of our collective knowledge by the scientific and ethical disciplines involved within these fields of research. For example, observed Near-Earth Object (NEO) orbital trajectories are subject to perturbation, and therefore will need to be periodically adjusted over time to compensate as an active custom within memory retention. Clearly, such an archival endeavour necessitates a robust, peer-reviewed foundation in order to initially understand ‘what the future needs to know’, and the diverse scope of these mounting, multidisciplinary legacies that posterity will inherit from the Anthropocene epoch. As such, the foundation is committed to compiling an expansive library of these emergent legacies under set categories; a decadal research initiative to essentially understand how these impacts may reach down throughout the ages to powerfully affect the lives of those not yet born, while incorporating this research into a number of outreach and public engagement initiatives for the benefit of sustaining long-term thinking. We invite you to peruse these legacies and contact us to join (see below for details), or peer-contribute to these active documents, or even suggest new avenues to collectively explore.
This curated library of ‘essential’ information will form the semiotic basis in the Companion Guide to Earth archive – an experimental platform for exploring the long-term conservation of this material, in addition to featuring within the archival efforts of our partnering organisations as an essential human document initiative. It should be noted that these listings are compiled as active catalogues which will continue to be modified and updated over the ensuing decades to ensure accuracy, as well as to document ongoing remediation works. While the foundation supports and actively campaigns for these remediation works, we are not directly involved within these mitigation or adaptation efforts, instead simply retaining collective records, enabling associated communities to consult these repositories, and raising awareness for these lasting legacies. Despite this, nothing gives us greater pleasure than footnoting featured impacts as historical records as opposed to enduring legacies.
To join our inspiring teams of interdisciplinary researchers, advisors, project organisers, citizen scientists and volunteers in developing and delivering foundation activities, please fill in the below fields including any specific interests(s) you may have and we will get back to you soon.