Monday, February 2, 2009

National Debt and the Age of the Universe

The other day I was pondering the length of the Universe. I remember that back in High School we learned about the Cosmic Calendar thought up by Carl Sagan. The Cosmic Calendar compresses the history of the universe into a 1 year period - the first moment of January 1st is the Big Bang and we are currently living in the last moment of December 31.

The calendar is usually displayed like this:

As you can see, not a lot happens that we know about between January 1 and December. In December it starts to look a bit more interesting, but even then, dinosaurs didn’t even show their face until December 24. Although dinosaurs only roamed the earth for 6 days of the cosmic calendar, that’s significantly longer than the 6 minutes that modern humans have been around. What is even more amazing is that only a second ago, Christopher Columbus was sailing across the Atlantic. Approximately 500 years of history is compressed into a single second when put into the scale of a year. All of the technological advances of the past 50 years like computers and the internet are compressed even further into an amount of time that is even faster than a blink of the eye.

It’s pretty amazing to think about how enormous and huge the universe is. It makes one realize how far into the past 12.6 billion years – the approximate time of the Big Bang – actually is. Pretty incredible.

Anyway, as I was pondering how long that is, I began to think of other numbers that we use that are similar to that measurement.

Warren Buffet’s net worth is $62 billion USD. That means that if one were to take every dollar of his wealth and equaled every dollar to a year, his wealth would be greater than the age of the universe by 49.4 billion years. That’s about 4 years worth of cosmic calendars!

An even bigger number to think about is the US National Debt, currently estimated at $10,639,353,162,670.15 or 10.6 trillion dollars. Way bigger than the number of years the universe has been around.

National Debt-___10,639,353,162,670.15
Age of Universe-_____12,600,000,000.00

It’s pretty shocking to compare the two numbers.

So continuing on from my point above. If you think about the age of the universe, it is pretty incomprehensible when compared to what we know now.

If you take that number and relate it to our current monetary situation it’s even more incomprehensible. We have put ourselves in a situation with all of our spending and debt accumulation where the value of our debt is a number that is impossible to comprehend.

However, instead of continuing to arbitrarily think of the value of the national debt as a mere number, we should begin to realize the enormity of this amount and why it currently exists.

Clearly our spending is far exceeding what we have and this spills over into a number of different factors such as resource use and the environment. If we can’t comprehend the monetary value of our spending, think of the difficulty in understanding the social and environmental impacts of our consumption.

Which is another reason why it is important that we determine sustainable ways of living rather than continue to consume at a rate which is inconceivable.

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