by J. Z. Colby
I am a retired mental-health therapist who now writes young-adult
science fiction novels, and I also do my best to interpret the climate
crisis for the same audience since the crisis is so often presented in
thick adult language. I’m working on a new page for my web site
(www.nebador.com) that will list the important events since 2000, and
events that seem likely. I’m putting the future events in 5-year
blocks based on my best guess of when they will occur. My thinking on
this is similar to Dr. McPherson’s. I plan to move the items around as I
learn more, or as they come to pass.
I’d appreciate any opinions on the events I’ve chosen, my wording, or
the tricky issue of timing. I am purposefully avoiding vague items
like “the IPCC stated that there is a 75% chance that by 2050 …” as
those are not digestible by young adults. Also, I am not including
“piggybacked” issues like economics and social justice, unless there
appears to be a very close linkage with the climate crisis.
Thank you, all, in advance!
GREENHOUSE GASSES: Carbon dioxide passes 370 parts per million
(normally 180-290 ppm) and Methane reaches 1790 parts per billion
(normally 300-700 ppb).
END OF DEBATE: the vast majority of scientists are now convinced of the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and focus on collecting better data and building more accurate models.
WORLD TRADE CENTER: The destruction of 3 office buildings is used as
an excuse for war in the Middle East, the use of torture, and the
cancellation of many rights and freedoms.
LARSON B ICE SHELF: A 1250 square mile (3250 square kilometer) ice shelf in Antarctica collapses.
GLOBAL DIMMING: Scientists discover that some kinds of pollution,
especially sulfur compounds, slightly counteract global heating, which
would suddenly be much worse if the pollution ceased.
HEAT WAVE: More than 30,000 people die in Europe, and one third of the world is in drought, double the usual amount.
THE LIMITS TO GROWTH: The 30-Year Update is published of the book
that warned the world, in 1972, about the unsustainable course of
PEAK OIL: Cheap and abundant petroleum reaches its maximum rate of
extraction, starts its slow decline, and can only be temporarily
supplemented by expensive shale, tar sands, or deep-water sources.
HURRICANE KATRINA: An Atlantic hurricane does massive damage to the New Orleans area, most of which is not rebuilt.
KYOTO PROTOCOL: A treaty to reduce greenhouse gasses goes into
effect, but the biggest polluters of the world choose not to ratify it,
or withdraw after a short time.
AMAZON DROUGHT: We discovered that even the Amazon rain forest,
instead of absorbing Carbon dioxide, can become a source under dry
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: The documentary film is released that lays out the situation of global heating for everyone to see.
STERN REVIEW: The business world realizes that climate change could
do massive damage to global business and finances if allowed to continue unchecked.
THE SUN: Scientists find that global heating cannot be explained as variations in the energy received from the sun.
METHANE TIPPING POINT: Global heating from Carbon dioxide reaches the
point where the Methane hydrates in the Arctic, Antarctic, and deep
oceans start to return to gaseous form and bubble up.
PERMANENT RECESSION: With oil no longer cheap, the global economy
enters an on-going state of insignificant growth, stagnation, or
contraction, with our official response being money printing, increased
debt, and accounting tricks.
350: Scientists determine that 350 parts per million of Carbon
dioxide is the safe upper limit to avoid dangerous climate change, a
level passed about a decade before.
WILKINS ICE SHELF: A 160 square mile (415 square kilometer) section breaks free from Antarctica.
COPENHAGEN ACCORD: The vague document that emerges from this U. N.
Climate Change Conference fails to include any binding agreements to
reduce greenhouse gasses.
DEEPWATER HORIZON: A major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico releases
millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, the deadly effects of
which are still being discovered years later.
CANCUN AGREEMENTS: This U. N. Climate Change Conference recognized
that some people in the world are much more vulnerable than others, and
that forests need special protection.
ARAB SPRING: A series of popular uprisings and government changes in
the Middle East and North Africa are partly caused by water and food
FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI: Four nuclear power plants in Japan are destroyed
by a major earthquake and tsunami, and show the world the extreme
difficulty of cleaning up a nuclear disaster.
ARCTIC ICE CAP: The floating ice cap in the Arctic Ocean reaches the lowest extent ever recorded.
CALIFORNIA DROUGHT: An extreme multi-year dry period in southwestern
North America begins, possibly connected to a temperature spike in the
SUPERSTORM SANDY: An Atlantic hurricane does major damage to the New
York area and is considered to be a sample of what we can expect with
continued man-made climate change.
GREENHOUSE GASSES: Carbon dioxide reaches 400 parts per million, and Methane passes 1800 parts per billion.
OCEAN HEATING: Scientists discover that a recent slowing of global
heating, as measured in the air, is because more than 90% of the heat is
going into the oceans.
WEST ANTARCTICA: A huge region of glaciers and ice shelves are found to be melting at a rate that makes their complete disappearance inevitable.
EBOLA: An outbreak in West Africa of a very deadly virus shows that
nature is ready and able to bring the human population back into balance
if our public health systems become any weaker.
DEFLATION: Prices of crude oil, metals, and many other resources
begin to drop as demand for them slows because of high unemployment and
CALIFORNIA DROUGHT: The drying of southwest North America enters a
critical phase in which rivers no longer provide enough water for
drinking, irrigation, and hydro-electric power.
2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
? PEAK HYDRO-CARBONS: We pass the all-time maximum extraction rate of all hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas).
? ARCTIC SUMMERS ICE-FREE: The Arctic Ocean becomes ice-free in the
summer, greatly increasing the amount of solar heat absorbed, marking
the beginning of run-away global heating.
? FINANCIAL COLLAPSE: Stock markets and other financial venues become
unstable or crash completely, causing credit to be unavailable to most
people and businesses.
? DROUGHTS AND FLOODS: Most dry areas continue to get drier, shifting
to desert or dust-bowl conditions, and most wet areas experience
? CIVIL UNREST: Water shortages, high food prices, unemployment, and
government corruption cause people to start demonstrating and rioting
for almost any reason, which causes normal business and travel to become
? DE-REGULATION: In desperate attempts to keep economies going, all
safety, public health, and environmental regulations are repealed or
? AGRICULTURE COLLAPSE: Commercial agriculture becomes unstable and
unreliable because of droughts, storms, and fuel/fertilizer shortages,
causing food prices to skyrocket.
? POPULATION PEAK: With water and food shortages, and a break-down of
public health systems, infant mortality rapidly rises, diseases spread,
and the human population peaks and starts to fall.
2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
? PERMAFROST THAW AND BOREAL BURN: The tundra around the Arctic
thaws, and the boreal forests of Canada and Russia burn, creating
massive new sources of soot, Carbon dioxide, and Methane.
? METHANE SPIKE: A sudden huge release of Methane from the oceans and tundra causes global heating to increase rapidly.
? CORAL COLLAPSE: With the oceans rapidly heating and acidifying, the
death of the coral reefs causes many coastlines to suddenly become
vulnerable to fierce storms and floods.
? GREENLAND AND WEST ANTARCTICA: Both begin to melt quickly, causing
sea levels to rise and coastal cities to take serious damage from even
normal wave action and routine storms.
? FISHERIES COLLAPSE: As the ocean food chains break down, all
commercial fishing becomes impossible, with little left in the oceans
? WAR: Several North American and European nations, in an attempt to
improve their economies and pacify civil unrest, provoke a war with
several Eurasian nations.
? COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE: With businesses unable to get credit, travel
and shipping dangerous, and civil unrest everywhere, most products and
services become unavailable.
? MARTIAL LAW AND FASCISM: To keep some order and protect those in
power, governments suspend civil rights and due process, and hand most
remaining functions to corporations.
2026 2027 2028 2029 2030
? POLITICAL COLLAPSE: Governments are unable to provide any services
and hold onto power, and large political units break down into smaller
kingdoms and tribes.
? PLAGUE: With public health systems no longer working and
malnutrition rising, influenza, dysentery, dengue fever, and other
diseases will easily get started and run their course unhindered.
? FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS: The disappearance of key species such as
honey bees, krill, and sardines not only contribute to the collapse of
agriculture and fisheries, but eventually disrupt most food chains,
dooming all large animals.
? MASS EXTINCTION: Since the beginning of the “Anthropocene” (the
man-made era), the world has lost about 1/4 of all living plant and
animal species, with the total rapidly moving toward 1/2.
? SOCIAL COLLAPSE: Social institutions, including churches, find they
have absolutely no resources and become irrelevant to the remaining
? EAST ANTARCTICA: The last glaciated region rapidly melts, bringing sea level to about 260′ (80 m) above the current level.
? FINAL DIASPORA: The equatorial regions become completely
uninhabitable, and humanity is forced to migrate as far north or south
as they can go, with little or no interaction between the 7 or 8
2031 2032 2033 2034 2035
? CULTURAL COLLAPSE: The human values and traditions that have come
down to us from the Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese, Amerinds, and other
cultures are forgotten, save for those few that still aid survival on
the tribal level.
2036 2037 2038 2039 2040
? PLANETARY HEALING: The Earth begins the long, slow healing process
of bringing all systems back into balance, working with a
greatly-reduced palette of small plants and animals.