1-Sentence-Summary: Long-Term Thinking For A Short-Sighted World explains why we rarely think about the long-term consequences of our actions, how this puts our entire species in danger and what we can do to change and ensure a thriving future for mankind.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Remember how the world was supposed to end on December 21st, 2012? Scientists and historians predicted this day as the world’s last, because the ancient Maya calendar “ended” that day. Well, we’re still here and it looks like we will be for quite some time.
The truth behind this fluke is quite ironic. The Maya calendar works like the odometer in a car. It counts and counts until it eventually hits maximum, rolls over and resets. This maximum was set at 13 baktun, the equivalent of 5,129 years, which the calendar hit on, you guessed it, 12/21/12.
Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Due to the cyclic system, ancient Maya ruins contain dates that reach back one billion billion years (!) more than that. So while we were running around preparing for The Day After Tomorrow, the Mayans thought in much longer terms.
It’s this exact phenomenon, our incredibly short-term thinking, which Jim Brumm addresses in Long-Term Thinking for a Short-Sighted World. Here’s where it comes from and what we can do to think more like the Mayans:
- Living by the clock enhances our natural tendency to think short-term.
- Cars were one of the most devastating short-term moves we’ve made.
- One of the best things you can do to think long-term is buying locally.
Ready to trade your lens of time for something with a longer view? Let’s do this!
Lesson 1: Our modern lives are centered around the clock and this reinforces short-term behavior.
Humans suck at understanding time. Even the world’s greatest scientists struggle with it. Especially large periods of time we can barely comprehend.
For example, you might think you have a good feel for how big the difference between a million and a billion is, which is a factor of 1,000. But I bet you’ll be surprised to hear that 1,000,000 seconds ago is 12 days ago and 1,000,000,000 seconds ago is 30 years ago. Shocking, right?
And those are still common numbers. Anything beyond 80 years we can’t really understand. Imagine how hard it is to deal with deep time (also called geologic time), which covers billion year periods and more. Good thing we only have to think about the next 24 hours. Or is it?
Since we live our modern lives in 5, 10, 25 minute intervals, we’re used to having to make snap decisions and providing immediate results. Not only do we make worse decisions because of this, it also leads us to expect the same thing from the world. That’s why we chase 3-step solutions, 12-week diets and 7-minute exercise programs and are discouraged when things don’t work out immediately.
Lesson 2: The rise of cars was actually a short-term move, and its consequences are severe.
Cars were instantly popular when they came out some 120 years ago. They resembled the freedom to go where you go when you wanted to go there and came with the status of being able to afford this freedom. However, their environmental impact has been devastating, because nobody thought of the long-term consequences.
So today, we face CO2 emission regulations, which car manufacturers scramble to meet, have only one company who nails electric cars and some cities have to raffle away car licenses due to pollution. Half the cars of the world drive in the US alone and its arable land has been plastered with roads, parking lots and cities that are built around driving. Oil isn’t the best fuel either and car accidents have killed more people than all wars the US participated in combined.
But the worst part may be the reason for a lot of these needless deaths: road rage. When we’re alone in our car, we’re disconnected from the world and other humans. It’s easy to lose our temper, act out and curse at everything and everyone when we’re in our own little, metal bubble.
Factoring all of this into the equation, cars just might take the top spot in terms of stupid decisions that ruin our planet.
Lesson 3: Buy locally and spend your money where you are to support your community long-term.
Alright, enough complaining, I wouldn’t want to end this summary without telling you what you can do to change all that and help ensure a good future for humanity. Right here, right now, you and I can change our behavior, one day and decision at a time. One way to do this, is of course to rely less on your car, take public transport and walk a lot.
A huge benefit of walking around your town is that you’ll notice lots of things, such as small businesses that serve your local community. Since they can’t just pack up shop and move around, these businesses usually have a long-term interest in doing the best for their community, which is why supporting them is worth it. Also, when you consume products right where they are created, you help eliminate the need for transportation and conservation.
I could buy Nespresso coffee pods and bring my coffee to school. But every day, I walk past a small bakery, and I’m happy to spend a little more on their coffee and pretzels, because they’re friendly, everything is fresh and I’d like them to stay around.
Local businesses reinvest 55 cents of every dollar again locally, big brands only 15 cents. So spend your money where you are and use your dollars to vote for what you want to keep around.
My personal take-aways
I thought this book would play more on a psychology level, but instead of throwing tons of rational arguments at you, maybe this solution of showing you a wide array of how short-term thinking has thrown us back might be a lot better! Pick the topic that most resonates with you out of the blinks or chapters, find a small step you can take to support long-term thinking in this area and put it into practice!
What else can you learn from the blinks?
- How the indigenous people of the Easter Island died out
- Why the Royal Air Force had to airdrop cats on Borneo
- How much of global retail spending goes to the top 10 retailers
- The number of credit cards the average person in the US has
- How many burgers McDonald’s sells per second and what we can do to get better food in the future
- What area we would need to cover to only live off solar energy (it’s not that much)
- Two steps towards practicing longer-term thinking
Who would I recommend the Long-Term Thinking For A Short-Sighted World summary to?
The 27 year old, stressed out manager, who wants to get his career done as fast as possible, the 57 year old driver, who keeps cursing on the road, and anyone who complains about a bad selection at their local jeans shop, but keeps ordering on Amazon.