Marcia Bjornerud's Off-Topic Reads

November 22nd, 2018

Marcia Bjornerud is professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University. She is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earthand a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker’s science and technology blog. Marcia Bjornerud will discuss Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World on Tuesday, November 27 at 6pm at the Co-op.


Independent People, by Haldor Laxness - A slow, dense book about Bjartur, a stubborn sheep farmer in Iceland. Its deliberate pace and patient study of the landscape give the reader a sense of Time as the earth experiences it.

Tracks and Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich - Two books in a loosely connected series about four Ojibwe/Anishanabe families in North Dakota in the 20th century. Playing out over decades, their stories are microcosms of larger American narrative, told through people with deep roots in a place that outsiders would consider blank and empty of history.


About Timefulness: Few of us have any conception of the enormous timescales in our planet’s long history, and this narrow perspective underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The passage of nine days, which is how long a drop of water typically stays in Earth’s atmosphere, is something we can easily grasp. But spans of hundreds of years—the time a molecule of carbon dioxide resides in the atmosphere—approach the limits of our comprehension. Our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and our habits will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations. Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future.

Marcia Bjornerud shows how geologists chart the planet’s past, explaining how we can determine the pace of solid Earth processes such as mountain building and erosion and comparing them with the more unstable rhythms of the oceans and atmosphere. These overlapping rates of change in the Earth system—some fast, some slow—demand a poly-temporal worldview, one that Bjornerud calls “timefulness.” She explains why timefulness is vital in the Anthropocene, this human epoch of accelerating planetary change, and proposes sensible solutions for building a more time-literate society.

This compelling book presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales. The lifespan of Earth may seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but this view of time denies our deep roots in Earth’s history—and the magnitude of our effects on the planet. 
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