Protected space: where will we end up?

Our time—right now—is not exceptional. Rather, it is just another point in the continuum of time. We do not occupy the center of time any more than the earth occupies the center of the universe.

When we apply the idea of non-exceptionalism to the present time, we can learn interesting things about our future efforts to protect space.

Some time span that we are interested in—in this case, the interval of a particular space preservation program—can be depicted as a timeline. If our present time is not exceptional, then it should not be particularly close to either the beginning or the end of the timeline. The simplest expression of this is that today is somewhere (anywhere) between the 25% and the 75% points on the timeline. Because this interval is 50% of the total length of the timeline, there is 50% probability of falling somewhere in the 25%-75% interval.

Now let’s apply these ideas to a specific case. Fort Collins, Colorado,  the home town of, began its tax supported open space purchase program in 1992, 25 years before this 2017 writing. That is 25 years of history; what can this history, combined with the perspective of non-exceptionalism of the present, tell us about likely futures?

If we are at the 25% point of the program’s timeline, then the program will endure for 100 years (25 years = 25% of a 100-year timeline). If we are at the 75% point, then the program will endure for only 33.3 years (25 years = 75% of a 33.3-year timeline). The Fort Collins space preservation program is 50% likely to end sometime between 2025 and 2092.We have already noted that there is 50% probability that our present, unexceptional time lies between these two timeline points. We can say, therefore, that the program is 50% likely to endure for somewhere between 33 and 100 years, i.e. it will end sometime between 2025 (1992 + 33) and 2092 (1992 + 100).

Our analysis is, of course, naive. The Fort Collins program has, in fact, tax support that extends beyond 2025—but such commitments can always be rescinded. Nothing is certain, and the point of our analysis is to get a general idea of program durability, based only on past experience and not on all the bedeviling details.

Similar reasoning can be applied to put bounds on the ultimate amount of space that may be preserved. In 2017, Fort Collins has 35,000 acres1 in its protected space system. Rather than a timeline, we can reference to a “preserved space line” that also runs from 0% at the start of the program to 100% at its culmination. In a manner similar to the timeline, we can say that there is 50% probability that we are somewhere between the 25% and the 75% points on the preserved space line. The Fort Collins open space program is 50% likely to protect between 47,000 and 140,000 acres.If 35,000 acres happens to be at the 25% point, then the space protected at the end of the program will be 140,000 acres; if it is at the 75% point, then the program will top out at 47,000 acres. Thus, there is 50% probability that the program will ultimately protect somewhere between 47,000 and 140,000 acres.

Again, this is a naive analysis because it ignores such factors as the increasing price of land, diminishing supply of open space available for preservation, and so on. Nevertheless, it gives a broad idea of where current efforts may end up. This uncertainty is in contrast to the specific space conservation end point that can be achieved by adjusting economic incentives (see the web page on Regulations).

1 The Fort Collins program, like all others, expresses its space preservation in terms of area rather than space volume.

About Ray Watts

Raymond D Watts, PhD, is a geophysicist and geographer who retired in 2010 after a 40 year research career. He has worked on lunar exploration, glaciology, nuclear waste management, climate change, distribution of roads of the U.S., and ecological effects of roads. Most of his research career was at the U.S. Geological Survey in Colorado. While studying road distribution, he developed ways to measure the amount of space between roads and became concerned about the inexorable loss of this American resource. Ray lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. Email:

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