Long-Term Thinking

“Evolution has provided the human brain with marvelous tools for detecting and resolving fast-moving, clearly visible, small-scale, near-future risks. By the same token, the brain is easily overwhelmed by slow, abstract, large, long-term problems.”
—Charles C. Mann, The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World

The Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, and scientists are still grappling with the laws of the universe. The Big Bang theory, the foundation of our origin story, still has question marks regarding the expansion of the galaxy. Our planet has changed radically since. Yet, large-scale processes like the movement of tectonic plates happen so slowly that human history is just a blip in time in comparison. Fluctuations in the atmosphere and surface conditions are a little easier to map out, but still tend to only make a marked impact over thousands if not millions of years.

As the global population booms and our collective technological and scientific models expand exponentially, one thing is clear: Human activity since the Industrial Revolution has increasingly affected climate change. Whether or not you believe an environmental crisis is imminent, it’s been established beyond a reasonable doubt that our behavior now will be felt for countless generations to come.

So those of us who care try to reduce our impact. We understand that, within the confines of modernity, it might be impossible to lead a zero-sum life with regard to the natural world, but we do our best. We engage in climate strikes, carpool more, fly less, recycle, avoid single use-plastics, lobby companies to improve their environmental practices and donate to organizations doing the same. And, hopefully, we vote.

This is a presidential election year in the United States. In 2016, a climate change denier became president by a very slim margin. A little less than half of the voting-age population skipped the polls. Since, the current administration has tried its best to deregulate industrial constraints. The good news is the effects will mostly be felt in the long term and they’re still reversible. Perhaps the Trump administration’s biggest policy decision with regard to the environment—leaving the 2016 Paris Agreement—will not be confirmed until a day after the upcoming presidential election. 

Like the environment, politics move slowly. Sweeping changes in a democratic society can’t be made without ongoing approval from the populace. And voting is our primary way of expressing approval or disapproval. It’s the reality of our society and it has its flaws, but it’s also our simplest way to use our voice.

As snowboarders, we’re connected to nature. Many of us feel the need to protect the environment, and long-term protection starts with our government. Elections, policies and day-to-day political processes are bound to economic and social forces that must consider the interests of a wide range of people, just like the rest of your life. The only way to create change, short of a large-scale revolution, is to take the best path possible given the available options. That’s how a society comprised of hundreds of millions of individuals works. There will be compromise, as with anything in life. 

Whatever you believe in, go vote for it. We’re lucky to have this option. Vote in local, state and federal elections. Vote for the person or party you believe will best push our slow-moving policies along your preferred path. If that’s not enough, engage in political activism. Put time into educating yourself and others on topics relevant to you. Like, for instance, the environment. 

I hope to see you at the ballot box this fall, and in the mountains this winter.   

This article first appeared in The Snowboarder’s Journal Issue 17.4, published in February, 2020.


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