Lachlan Summers at Noema:
“Geological time,” or “deep time,” as Robert MacFarlane describes it in his wonderful book “Underland,” is the vastness of planetary history that “stretches away from the present moment.” While the Scottish geologist James Hutton first described the idea in 1788, the term “deep time” is often attributed to the nature writer John McPhee, who wrote, a couple of hundred years later: “Consider the Earth’s history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the king’s nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.”
And yet, despite the geological timescale ostensibly rendering humans obsolete, the warming climate has brought it into everyday politics. Deep time has become an analytic frame, albeit a contested one; some argue we ought to develop it to overcome short-termism, others that we should not in order to avoid flattening history or inflating the present, and still others that we cannot due to ontological limitations.