Long Now Foundation Thinks 10,000 Years Ahead

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16 April, 2017

The non-profit Long Now Foundation works to solve problems like climate change, disease and the loss of languages.

But it recently started an unusual project that could help support all its causes.

Inside a mountain cave in Texas, the group is building a huge clock. But, not one you would use to plan your day around.

This clock will tick just once a year. Every 100 years, it will make a louder, bong sound. And, each thousand years, the clock will release a cuckoo sound.

The foundation says the 150-meter-tall clock is to opearate for at least 10,000 years.

So, what it is for?

Alexander Rose is the executive director of Long Now. He says the clock is a symbol of the importance of long-term thinking.

"There's certain problems such as climate change, or education or things like that that can only be solved if you're thinking on a multi-generational or even longer time frame."

Rose notes the black-footed ferret as an example. Long Now's Revise and Restore project is working to save the endangered animal. The animal is threatened by habitat loss but also by an old disease called plague.

The Long Now Foundation is trying to make the ferret resistant to plague by changing the animal's DNA. Rose says Revise and Restore is also trying to bring back the wooly mammoth. It went out of existence many thousands of years ago.

"We're sitting on the cusp of one of the very first times in human history where we can do that. That project has been pulling together different scientists as well as ecologists to figure out not only what species we could do but what species we should do to help the environment."

Disappearing languages is another Long Now concern. Experts say thousands of rare human languages could disappear in the next 80 years. One of them is Arapaho, a Native American language. William C'Hair of the Northern Arapaho Language and Culture Commission still speaks it.

"It is necessary to retain our language, which is our identity."

The foundation is working with language experts and native speakers to keep these languages alive. It has created small devices called Rosetta Disks that can hold thousands of pages of texts in more than 1,000 languages.

Heather Ryan is the director of archives at the University of Colorado. She has helped the Long Now Foundation with the Rosetta Project since 2007.

Ryan says the disks will help people who live on Earth thousands of years from now.

"Looking 10,000 years into the future, somebody could come across and pick up the fact that there's information etched on here. We can then find clues to all the languages of human civilization over time."

The Long Now Foundation also supports live and recorded public speaking by creative thinkers like Larry Brilliant. He is a doctor who studies the spread of diseases. He helped the World Health Organization end the disease smallpox. Dr. Brilliant's audience says such talks lead them to think about the future

"Eventually, I want to make a difference in the world."

"We have to have a long-term view in order to have a long-term life."

Using long-term thinking to make a difference in the world is exactly what the Long Now Foundation is trying to do...before the big clock stops.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Shelley Schlender reported this story for VOA. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tick - n. a small, quick sound made by a clock.

cuckoo - n. a type of bird with a call that sounds like its name

frame - n. basic structure

on the cusp - expression, at the point when something is about to change to something else

ecologist - n. a scientist who studies relationships between groups of living things and their environment

species - n. a group of related animals or plants

archive - a place in which public records or historical materials are kept

disk - n. a flat, thin round object used to store information

etch - v. to produce a pattern, design etc. often used figuratively

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