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A thousand years

Calendars give us year numbers, and though they are arbitrary, we take them as important in marking our place in time. We are about to leave the '00s behind for a thousand years. As we look back to 1009 and forward to 3001, what might we expect?

One reminder is we can't predict. Even just these last hundred years demonstrate this. My dad, born in 1901 when and where oil was first extracted (Pennsylvania), remembers journeying in an animal-drawn Conestoga wagon. In his lifetime, our rate and distance of travel shot up exponentially: He started on foot and horseback and ended riding in jets. Photography and sound recording were new to humanity; he saw our visit to the moon on TV.

The World's Faire in Chicago at the turn to the 20th century proudly held high hopes for the fruits of science and technology. These turned out to be a mixed blessing at best. We got on top of infections, but barely ahead of mutating viruses. Research and development brought us cars, telephones and airplanes, but much of that ingenuity and materials went into ever-more-hideous weapons of war, from mustard gas to cluster bombs to atomic bombs to exotic pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Instead of just armies warring, we took to attacking cities of civilians, as in England, Germany and Japan.

World peace succumbs to the perverse logic that because some might start wars we should preempt them with our own attacks. Empires declaring and destroying any who dare fight back against such invasions "insurgents" insures an endless supply of enemies. We start a new century with some of the worst ideas and trends of the last. In a mere hundred years, our travel, communications and options have skyrocketed while we haven't changed much.

A thousand years ago we assumed kings and popes incarnated divine rule, thereby forsaking the inherent, intelligent sovereignty built into each and all, delaying the duty and delights of democracy. Slaves and serfs supplied cheap labor. The forests, lands, oceans and air seemed limitless.

Only recently have we learned the plants, animals and benefits of nature are easily and quickly exhausted, exterminated and ruined. The inch of soil that took a thousand years to build can be sickened, washed or blown away in a few seasons of mistaken farming or forestry methods. Abundance is exploited and wasted, ignoring mostly the sacred charge to "replenish" the earth. A thousand years ago we had no idea of the promise and peril of an impending eon of progress.

A thousand years from now, barring a massive asteroid impact, our earth will ride just about like it does now, though whether we have weather we can live in is not so sure. On a geologic time scale ice ages are the norm. They last about 100,000 years. Warm periods between ice ages last only about 10,000 years. All of what we think of as civilization rose in this short-lived warm period. Many former warm periods ended with temperature spikes, triggering a change in ocean currents leading to ice glaciers covering halfway from poles to equator.

Toying with the temperature, taunting another ice age, is part of the suicidal stupidity that squanders our unsatisfying gluttony (food and energy habits) for short-term profit at long-term expense. Any "progress" that isn't built on sustainability at least (or better!) is institutionalized sin, destroying the garden we could rescue, revive, and help flourish. How so-called "conservatives" can't or won't see this betrays their very name and nature, and it flippantly threatens our shared planet. Nor are they alone in pandering to ignorance and indifference. Humanity's habits need ameliorating if we are to survive and thrive.

Given stable weather and sustainable practices, humanity could still exist in a thousand years, but in what form? Will arrogant blunders in genetic engineering launch problematic viruses, bacteria, plants, animals and "humans"? Will any other inhabitable planets have been found and inhabited (which is doubtful given the vast distances and time needed to travel to and from them)? Will the physical, mental and social conditions of persons and society flourish in ever greater health, happiness and creativity, or will we still be steeped in stress, striving for scraps, serving the stingy, conniving elite?

We don't know. All we know is our short, skewed view of history, only recently expanded to grasp our place in natural laws, cultural relativity, ecological processes and geological time. All we know is that we are the incarnated ones for now, inheriting and passing on all of culture and nature so far. We know and we don't know, yet, like the founders of our religions and country, must act. We can't see the future or set it. We can at best veer the vast momentums of ideas and institutions toward hopeful and practical futures.

Brad Carrier has lived in Ashland for 23 years.