Matters of Scale - The Speed of Change

"Nature, we believe, takes forever. Ever since Darwin, nature writers have taken pains to stress the incomprehensible length of this path?.Change takes unimaginable - 'geologic' - time. This idea about time is essentially mistaken." -Bill McKibben, The End of Nature
Time it took for 50,000 species to go extinct due to natural causes, on average, throughout the 68 million years prior to the industrial age
10,000 years
Time it takes to extinguish 50,000 species now, with the addition of human causes
1 year
"Only in the last moment of human history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the world." -Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life
Time it took for the earth's human population to grow to its first billion
2,000,000 years
Time it will take for the next billion, from now
11 years
I'll tell you?who Time gallops withall." -William Shakespeare, "As You Like It"
Age of recorded human history, from the dynasties and empires of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Aegeans, Hittites, Hindus, Persians, Ethiopians, Mongolians, Mayans, Incas, and Iriquois, through the rise of industrialism and the subjugation of indigenous cultures
4,500 years
Age of a single bristlecone pine tree that was cut down in Nevada in 1964
4,900 years
"Time and tide wait for no man." -16th century proverb
Time that has passed since the city of New Orleans was founded near the mouth of the Mississippi River, where it covers 518 square kilometers of land
275 years
Time it takes for an area of coastal land the size of New Orleans to disappear from the mouth of the Mississippi at the present rate of erosion (largely as a result of flood-control projects that halt natural sediment accumulation)
3 years
Sources: Extinction rates are based on Edward O. Wilson, The Diversity of Life (Harvard University Press, 1992), John Ryan, Life Support: Conserving Biological Diversity (Worldwatch Paper 108), and Peter Weber, Abandoned Seas: Reversing the Decline of the Oceans (Worldwatch Paper 116). Population growth figures are from Population Reference Bureau tables and projections. Age of recorded human history is from John B. Sparks, Rand McNally Histomap of World History. Age of bristlecone pine is from Encyclopedia Britannica. Erosion of coastal Louisiana water from Peggy Rooney, "Louisiana's Wetlands Calamity," in EPA Journal, September/October 1989. War deaths from Michael Renner, The Future of Peacekeeping (Worldwatch Paper 114), 1993. Compiled by Ed Ayres.