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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 that can enable 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 is professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University. She is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth and a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker's science and technology blog. She lives in Appleton, Wisconsin.
"In this trenchant study, Bjornerud calls for a new geological literacy to instil deeper knowledge of planetary rhythms and processes."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature
"Timefulness is a delightful and interesting read. The author's cadence and the illustrator's aforementioned figures made me feel as though I was having a glass of wine with a friend who was explaining geologic history while sketching on a napkin."
– David R. Wunsch, Science
"With Timefulness [...] [Bjornerud] delivers a brisk biography of Earth. Aside from charting the rise of mountains and the transformation of the atmosphere, she shows us why – given an uncertain future – taking the long view is more critical than ever before."
– Matt Huston, Psychology Today
"Bjornerud gives lyrical voice to the rocks that tell the story of our wondrous planet. Engaging and eloquent, Timefulness reminds us that the present is only a link between past and future, a reality too often forgotten in the modern world's obsession with the here and now."
– Ruth DeFries, author of The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis
"A passionate and timely plea for the urgency of geo-literacy."
– David R. Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations and Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life
"This book is a masterpiece of superb writing and accurate, up-to-date science. It places modern climate change in a geological context and makes an eloquent plea for action. Timefulness is one of the best science books I have ever read."
– James Lawrence Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth
"This succinct and engaging book covers the history of Earth from its birth some 4.5 billion years ago to the problem of human-induced climate change. Bjornerud's message is that we need to understand geological time to appreciate – and deal with – the impact we are having on our planet."
– Simon Lamb, author of Devil in the Mountain: A Search for the Origin of the Andes