Long term thinking – Sustainable Living

Oct 04

This video, a clip from the BBC Series Human Planet, is a really interesting example of long term thinking. Can you imagine conceiving and designing a bridge that would require the roots of a tree to grow over many lifetimes to build it? I suppose you might think it isn’t really practical to think that way if a problem can be solved in the short term. Generally, I might agree with you, except that many of our short term solutions have lead to bigger problems down the road.

Is it even possible for us to think this long term? The bridge in this video will live for 500 years and take more than one person’s lifetime to build. Our society has become so accustomed to instant gratification, can we even commit to something we will never see finished?

Think how many years it took to build the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, or the great cathedrals of Europe. We’ve lost that sense of building something great for another time, to last all time. Our machines and engineers can build giant structures that dwarf these great feats of history in a fraction of the time but in doing so we take away some of the magnificence of the structure.

Today we face many difficult problems – feeding the ever growing population of earth; conserving our limited resources be they water, minerals, fossil fuels or soil; addressing a failing economic system and many more. Are we capable of working on solutions that might not be completed until well beyond our own lifetimes?

Is it even possible for us to think in terms of working WITH nature instead of against it. The bridges in this video were built to withstand tremendous changes in the volume of water running through these rivers – built BY nature – the strangle fig. Instead we build artificial levies and structures that hold back or divert the nature flow to a hyper critical state. What would happen if we put all the great engineering minds to work on addressing the problems we face on our coasts and along our major rivers with nature in mind – working with nature?

I think we have the creative problem solving skills. I am not sure we have the patience or penchant for delayed gratification to solve our problems in the long term ways we truly need – whether they be financial/economic/agricultural/housing/infrastructure/water. It is almost like we have lost the ability to think long term.

I saw this very notably when I was working for various public companies. While I am a firm believer in capitalism – I think its better than all the alternatives – much of the short term thinking has been fueled by Wall Street Trades’ short term profits mentality. I remember being a slave to the quarter, quarter, quarter growth that must be produced to keep the pundits happy and the stock price up. This often leads to earning less now when you could do much better down the road. Numerous studies have been done on this behavior so maybe its innate. But then you watch the video above and it makes you wonder. So I wonder – if we might opt for better, more long-term solutions.

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