Author: Ron Humble

The most deadly device ever conceived by the human mind has not been a weapon, but a word. It’s a word of mass destruction. Its danger lies not in the power to motivate foolish actions. On the contrary, it encourages passivity. The word is Eventually.

There is a millennia-old saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” The counterpoint to this wisdom is the simple, seemingly benign Eventually. There’s plenty of time. I have my whole life ahead of me. I’ll make amends or write that novel or start an exercise regimen. I’ll stop drinking too much or overeating or overspending. But thanks to Eventually, I don’t need to do it now, I can do it tomorrow or next year or next decade.

Then one day you realize you didn’t do any of those things you promised yourself you would. However, now it’s too late because you’re feeling the pangs of death. Your old friend, Eventually, stabbed you in the back.

Eventually would be bad enough if it only infected individuals, but it has caused a species-wide epidemic with its inducements to ignore problems and to pass the buck to the next generation. A prime example of such a problem involves the life cycle of a star, in particular, our sun.

As an astrophysicist, an important component of my job is viewing the universe from a big-picture perspective. When I peer at the light of a distant star, I see what that star was like millions or even billions of years ago and events which will occur over equal amounts of time.

It is, in a sense, unnatural for human beings to think in this way. We evolved to consider short-term possibilities for two main reasons: in primitive societies, community-wide changes are infrequent and our earliest hominid ancestors were lucky to reach thirty.

As a result, even with our cosmic perspectives regarding the stars, my colleagues and I, like everyone else, often neglect to apply this mode of thinking to our own lives and to the problems facing our planet. Thanks to Eventually, the big picture is abstract, far away, inapplicable to us, someone else’s problem. That is until it isn’t.

Humanity survived the ravages of climate change and a world war in the late twenty-first century to reach for the stars, launching vessels with eager settlers to colonize new worlds. We should have learned our lesson, but we filled the void of space with Eventually.

Ten thousand years ago, our forebears reached planet Erasmus, where humans have multiplied and covered its surface with our reasons and follies. We’ve rested in the understanding(actually held by few as most don’t concern themselves with what is happening beyond the atmosphere of their planet) that it will be almost five hundred million years before our sun would unleash a solar flare, which would threaten human survival on our world.

As such, we’d given no consideration to the event and made no preparations for our descendants. We’d left it up to them. However, as it became clear in recent years as we made more precise measurements of the sun, our calculations were about half a billion years off the mark.

So, our engineers have been scrambling, building ships to take as many of us as possible away from this planet before it’s engulfed by a conflagration. My family and I are fortunate to be among them.

Perhaps, we will once and for all throw Eventually to the fire and not take the future for granted, though I very much doubt it.