Imagine a $42 million dollar project to hollow out a mountain near Van Horn, Texas, and then place a 200-foot clock inside. Now consider that this clock is designed to last 10,000 years and it is inside a mountain owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
This all sounds strange, doesn't it?
Of course, when you're the man who also promised to bring drones to U.S. skies as the future of package delivery, nothing is ever really impossible. This project, called the Clock of the Long Now, has been in development for over 15 years. Bezos believes that the clock will serve as a monument to long-term thinking and inspire future generations to think about time differently.
I won't argue whether this is a good or bad investment. The project may seem frivolous now, but it might be seen in the future as a worthwhile testament to a constantly changing world. When Wired wrote about the clock, they claimed it might endure as the only thing to represent our culture, representing us as progressive intellectuals. However, this mindset ignores the environmental impacts that our generation is having on the world. The 20th and 21st centuries will create many unwanted relics that our descendants will encounter as the consequence of our overconsumption and lack of commitment to environmental conservation.
What 21st century environmental problems will endure for 10,000 years?
Plastic Bags Pollution- The average grocery bag will decay within 500 years. But decaying plastic bags just divide into smaller pieces, which will float in the North Pacific Gyre for far longer than 500 years. We will never truly escape the reminders of our decision to mass-produce plastic.
Erosion- It takes 500 years for an inch of topsoil to form, but modern agricultural practices drive soil into streams and ditches far faster than that. Massive erosion problems are arising, especially in the developing world, which are destroying more acres of farmland than we can possibly afford to lose. In the next 10,000 years, the amount of fertile land will drastically decrease.
Extinct Species- How long does it take for a new species of elephant or rhinoceros to evolve? The current rate of extinction is estimated to be between 1,000 times and 10,000 times the baseline extinction rate. The biodiversity of the earth will be massively depleted in 10,000 years, if we continue to make imprudent conservation decisions today.
A Paved World- Concrete doesn't decompose. Many of the first buildings built with concrete by the ancient Romans still stand today. Concrete has only gotten stronger and we've paved far more than the Romans did. Even if our cities revert to forests 10,000 years from now, our ancestors will still be able to find the ruins of our concrete sidewalks and parking lots.
Mountaintops Gone- The problem with mining, and especially Appalachian mountaintop removal mining, is that coal produces only temporary benefits. You can remove it from the ground, burn it, and produce electricity. But the scars of massive mining operations last forever and virgin land that we've destroyed will not come back.
Regardless, hope for the future:
Despite the heavy environmental impacts that our generation will leave behind, our descendants may remember our era as a turning point for better preserving Earth. If directed towards conservation efforts, $42 million can have a tremendous impact.
840,000 acres of rainforest protected by the Nature Conservancy
2,300 years of public college education for those who can't afford it
4,200 tigers protected for a year
500 solar powered arrays for homes
336 National Science Foundation grants approved for research funding
A year's worth of Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Conservation Grants
Jeff Bezos' money is his to spend as he wishes. We should never forget, though, that we face great challenges and every successful effort at conservation is a solid investment in our future.