Thursday 21 June 2012

A Walk Along the Thames in Deep Time

Today's Festival of Transition post is from the new economics foundation blog and is by Dr Stephan Harding, the resident ecologist and MSc co-ordinator at Schumacher College and the author of Animate Earth and Ruth Potts, co-founder of Bread, Print and Roses.

The author and activist Rebecca Solnit describes walking as “how the body measures itself against the Earth”. It’s a poetic description that resonates with our experience of walking, and a sensation that we deliberately set out to evoke with our walk through 4.6 billion years of the Earth’s history on Saturday 12 May as part of the Festival of Transition.

It’s hard, often, to think beyond the scale of our own lifetimes. Even measured in thousands of years, the passing of time is elusive, inconceivable, almost magical. And that’s before we get to the billions. Until the bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009 we were unused to such orders of magnitude. Now, billions are bandied about like loose change (at least where the banks are concerned.) But it’s still hard to get a sense of scale. A billion is one thousand million. What might a billion years feel like?

To connect students at Schumacher College with the vast expanse of geological time, Stephan Harding and his MSc student Sergio Maraschin developed a walk that recreates Earth’s history along 4.6 kilometers of Devonshire coastline. Here, we follow the coastal path where the passing of geological time is evident in the cliff face, the contour of the shore and the shards of rock that crunch under foot through to the point where we finally meet the sea. On the scale of the Deep Time walk, one millimeter equals one thousand years.

Re-creating that walk along the Thames, our group of 30 set off from Festival Pier, one of the few visible reminders of the Southbank Centre’s origins and the spirited optimism of the Festival of Britain when anything seemed possible. We begin to imagine ourselves at the very beginning of geological time. For each step of the walk we pass through about half a million years of Earth’s history, aware in that timescale, of the transitory nature of the apparently immutable infrastructure that surrounds us.

Original post can be found here

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