Timefulness: A Selected Bibliography

November 20th, 2018
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. Marcia Bjornerud will discuss Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World on November 27 at 6pm.

The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 billion Years, From Stardust to a Living Planet, by Robert Hazen - Hazen, a prominent mineralogist, argues compellingly that the rocks and minerals in Earth’s crust have evolved over time as Life has altered the chemistry of the planet’s air and water.

On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin - Although it’s heavy going in places (it’s OK to skip the long passages on pigeon breeding!), Origin of Species is ultimately a journey deep into Darwin’s versatile mind. Labyrinthine passages through thick underbrush alternate with lyrical exclamations from panoramic overlooks.

The Two-Mile Time Machine, by Richard Alley - Alley, a leading climatologist, explains how high-resolution records of climate over the past 800,000 years can be retrieved from the natural archives of glacial ice.

About Marcia Bjornerud: 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.

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