The Long Time Project: Stretching our capacity to care about the long term


The IPCC report continues to compel a new urgency among many. The sense of a catastrophic climate “deadline” - almost literally interpreted - is focusing minds wonderfully.

Here’s an example from two powerful agents - Ella Saltmarshe of the Comms Lab and Beatrice Pembroke from AEA Consulting. They have started The Long Time Project, whose main insights are below:

  • Our capacity to care about the future is crucial to our ability to preserve it

  • Developing longer perspectives on our existence will change the way we behave in the short term

  • Art and culture will be crucial to making the much needed transformative shift in attitudes and behaviours.

(Some of you may know the Dark Mountain project, which is a somewhat more pessimistic project - and which believes that art and culture has to prepare us for the pain of what we have irretrievably lost, in terms of climate and nature.)

But it’s of interest to compare Beatrice and Ella’s cultural agenda in response to the urgency of the IPCC. They want to explore five big underlying cultural mentalities that could help foster a sensibility of long-term thinking.

We reproduce them below, with some of the artworks and projects they cite as promising:

DEEP TIME: “This enables us to engage with our place in the epic geological history of the universe. Deep time work can foster a profound sense of awe for the richness of life on earth.”

Creative examples: Global Generation, the Deep Time App, Deep Time (documentary trailer), Honor Arger’s soundscape of the deep universe

MULTIGENERATIONAL EMOTIONS: “This work is about how we connect emotionally across multiple generations. While most of have feelings (positive or negative) for the relatives we’ve known in our lifetimes, we find it hard to generate the same emotional connection for our descendants who have yet to come. It is possible to do this: many indigenous cultures have worldviews that connect them emotionally to long lineages in a way that means they feel a responsibility to care for future generations.”

Creative examples: Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects, the Seven Generations Stewardship of the Iroquois

LEGACY STANCE: “This work goes beyond just empathising with past and future generations and is about how we build our desire and agency to leave a positive legacy. It can involve looking back to what our ancestors gave us and forward to the world we want to leave as good ancestors ourselves”.

Creative examples: UC Berkeley’s, Thinking Like a Good Ancestor: Finding Meaning in the Technology We Build, Cathedral Thinking, Rachel Armstrong’s Black Sky Thinking (see also here), UBS’s cathedral wealth.

MORTALITY CONSCIOUSNESS: “We’ve got a hunch that our inability to deal with the future of the world beyond our lifespan is wrapped up with our inability to deal with the fact that our lives will end. Western civilisations have been distancing themselves from death for centuries. Our denial of our own mortality prevents us from engaging with the long term future. There’s a growing death-awareness movement happening.”

Creative examples: Death doulas helping you die well, the Order of the Good Death learning from global cultures to introduce better rituals for death, Bristol Museum’s Death: The Human Experience, the Wellcome Collection’s Death exhibition.

INTERCONNECTED WORLDVIEWS: “Valuing the long-term is also about understanding our place in the wider web of life, fostering a sense of connection to the non-human. Again we can learn from indigenous cultures here, many of which have worldviews which foster deep relationships with all species”

Creative examples: Marshmallow Laser Feast’s Treehugger VR [featured in A/UK’s politics of virtual reality event], Eve Mutso’s aerial dance performance Loop, Richard Powers’ recent Man Booker nominated novel, The Overstory (mentioned here on the DA)

More here. We are also interested in the cultural response to climate change in general - see these blogs on Lucy Neal’s Playing For Time, Julie’s Bicycle, Cli-Fi, Favianna Rodriguez, Bjork, Ludovico Einaudi and Greenpeace, the Deep Time Walk, among many others.