Civilization Has Lasted 5,000 Years. How About 5 Million?, Scholars Ask.

Civilization Has Lasted 5,000 Years. How About 5 Million?, Scholars Ask. 1

Jay Premack for The Chronicle

David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Library of Congress's John W. Kluge Center, lured a panel of luminaries to wrestle with a loaded question: "Will we survive our world-changing technologies?"

Enlarge Image
close Civilization Has Lasted 5,000 Years. How About 5 Million?, Scholars Ask. 1

Jay Premack for The Chronicle

David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Library of Congress's John W. Kluge Center, lured a panel of luminaries to wrestle with a loaded question: "Will we survive our world-changing technologies?"

This town is not known for its long-term thinking. But on a recent humid day at the Library of Congress, a collection of astronomers, humanists, and writers set their eyes on a deadline well past the next debt showdown, or even the next election.

They had a more distant horizon in mind. They had gathered in this 213-year-old institution to debate whether human civilization, which has had a good run over the past 5,000 years, could persist for longer than a geological blip in the