The Future: An Unfinished Timeline

by J. Z. Colby (A German translation is provided by Wolfgang Wer here)

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 ( that will list the important events since 2000, and the future 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 industrial civilization.



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 conditions.



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 shortages.

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 Pacific Ocean.

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 contracting economies.



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 regular flooding.

? 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 dangerous.

? DE-REGULATION: In desperate attempts to keep economies going, all safety, public health, and environmental regulations are repealed or ignored.

? 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 but jellyfish.

? 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 people.

? 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 regions.


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.

Comments 111

  • Thanks, Cuntagious. I mention the bees in FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS. I saw a news article about them today, on The Automatic Earth, I think.

  • This whole NTHE thing reads just like something out of the Bibles “Book of Revelation” . There you can read a very specific timeline of what the last 7 years of humanity will look like from the perspective of “Christian Humans”. I can easily spot several parallels like mass starvations , mega wars, plagues, natural disasters , even the cessation of the wind currents (probably due to the equilibrium of the equatorial and polar temps).
    The story also includes a drama of the Haves and Have-Nots fighting over dwindling resources and the Haves instituting a “Mark of the Beast” to identify the Haves that can have access to resources at the expense of and ultimate elimination of the Have-Nots.
    As the Human population crashes, “God” steps in at the last moment and spares the survivors the final death blow to Humanity and ushers in a 1000 year period of healing to Earth and humanity again repopulates the Earth, but at sustainable levels with “God” personally ruling supreme on Earth.
    But the story doesn’t stop there. After the 1000 years of healing, the Devil is set free again to deceive Humanity and ultimately fails. Then “God” decides to create a new Heaven and Earth and all believers will abide with their God for Eternity in peace and safety.

    PS: There are also several nice sub-plots to keep people on their toes like what specifically happens to many of todays countries. Russia is there, The European Union is there , Asia is there (Kings of the East) Israel is there and of course The USA (Babylon the Great)
    If this stuff wasn’t in the Bible, then someone would have made a movie about it, but because its “Religion” most are not interested.

  • ‘when someone says something that sounds a bit off, I start looking into how the stories and infrastructure of civilization might have affected their views. I have nothing against them. I know what they believe and I know why they believe what they believe. It’s very freeing. Nothing personal. Just stories.’

    satish, i wish i could be so philosophical. i can’t figure out why most sheeple hold dogmatic, highly irrational beliefs, except perhaps from a view that’s oft been expressed on this blog, but not much recently. it’s a view, i think originally expressed by a canadian libertarian philosopher who puts out voluminous youtube videos like this one:

    from this p.o.v., civilization has produced class based societies wherein ‘elites’ domesticate, manipulate, and exploit us, much as our species as a whole has done to many other species. domestication reportedly has been demonstrably shown to decrease brain size in both humans and ‘livestock’, basically due to the restrictions on thought and behavior that are imposed upon the domesticated. it is a process of dumbing down. with a little perception/reflection i think it’s also apparent that a sort of perverse symbiosis occurs between those who adapt best to being domesticated, and their masters, such that that adaptation becomes advantageous to survival and reproduction, or, from another angle, those who are maladapted to being dumbed down become social outcasts, ‘enemies of the state’ or at odds with ‘authorities’… thus, intellects that are highly resistant to being controlled are chosen against in this perverse social climate, less likely to pass genes on to future generations… (sigh)

    so, in a broad ill defined sense, i sort of understand why ignorance, delusion, and stubborn irrationality are so prevalent here and now, but i still struggle with accepting it, or understanding it on a deeper level. i think it’s one of those things that ultimately defy comprehension, both humbling and frustrating. driving home the point of our ultimate powerlessness. perhaps, at best, we can try to minimize our own suffering, and eliminate altogether the hapless suffering of another hypothetical human, by consciously not reproducing.

    lidia, i think we share similar zeitgeists, kind of a cold comfort under the circumstances. cold comfort’s better than none. it’s always nice to come across a similar ‘alien’ stranger in a strange land. doomer commiseration relieves a bit of the sense of isolation, doesn’t it?

  • @Jimbot

    Re: corium

    Thanks Jimbot. I reckon the technology ought to be available to clean it up about two hundred years from now. BWAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • JZ – just requested the first Nebador novel through interlibrary loan – thanks!

    As to why you’d share this stuff with the young people… I’m the father of a teenager. She is often depressed over the usual teenage stuff – hormones, friendships, romance, etc. – but last night she explained to her mother and me that she has known that the world was messed up for years. She hears us talk about “collapsitarian” stuff, asks why we’re working hard to learn how to do things like grow veggies and make dandelion wine, and most of all has access to information and her own intuitions. I don’t think keeping the truth from them is possible, let alone advisable. My hope is that Mr. Colby’s novels will provide some sense of how to live into and with uncomfortable realities.

    First comment ever here, BTW. Thanks for all your efforts Dr. McPherson & company!

  • Thanks to all for the posts!
    So many brilliant, compassionate insights—– my mind is reeling but in a good way.
    I am grateful that there are those who think (and hopefully act) beyond ego and greed as evidenced here.
    So glad to be part of this conversation on this —–yes—-still magnificent earth. Life in the midwest has never seemed so verdant although I think I say this every May. Climate change has brought tufted titmice to our area and . . . . why is it that I am able to get giddy over the way they look and sound?

    But now back to reality (yet they still sing outside my window):

    @Satish: I agree with you about children having to grow up too fast. Regarding what/how/when to convey information about the collapse of our world . . I’ve grappled with this for years——I have a teenage daughter (too long of a story but suffice to say the industrial civilization way of parenting is another tragic example of our failure as a species)

    I lived with a brilliant yet completely frustrating mother who never hesitated to convey her beliefs about industrial civilization, patriarchy etc. She bombarded me with tirades of how destructive humans are, that “we are not deserving of this earth”. I can tell you that I harbored (and still do— change “harbored” to present tense!) a huge amount of resentment toward her for her words. For they were JUST words. She did not couple this with action—–just simply bemoaned our predicament and didn’t do a damn thing to make the world a better place.

    She lived a life a privilege, took from this planet and gave nothing back. But you can’t say that she was a climate change denier, that she wasn’t up to date on the latest news regarding the destruction of the earth courtesy of homo un-sapiens. She was great at giving me facts along with conveying her feelings about how destructive humans are.
    This was not helpful for me or my siblings.

    There was no teaching of reciprocity towards nonhumans and what we can do to help the earth. I believe that even at the end we can attempt to live with reciprocity. When I can no longer give back, I don’t want to live. Hopefully there will not be some bizarre, creepy, nasty overdrive via biological imperative that trumps my survival at the expense of others. God, I hope not. Although I shouldn’t bring god into this given I’m an agnostic.

    How to talk with “young adults” re our predicament? Supply facts when questions are asked BUT couple this with examples of living lightly, living with reverence for the natural world, trying to do no harm, living with compassion and empathy for humans/nonhumans. Teach reciprocity based on reverence for our living earth. What is the point of existence if it’s only taking from the earth and not giving back? In my opinion if we humans can’t get this, we should not live here, we shouldn’t live on Mars (as Guy brilliantly says in the Q and A on the next post) or anywhere else!

  • Thom, you can also download Book One from my web site (, and Book Nine (a story most relevant to our current situation) will also be a free download, by order of the Muses.

  • Thanks for the offer J.Z., but I’m one of those paper fetishists who must have his books in hardcopy format. :)

  • caroline, thanks for sharing that very personal comment and some constructive observations earlier today! imo your a very welcome addition to this beach party of doom!

  • @tvt, thanks for the commiseration. Yep, I agree entirely about our “domestication”. What’s funny about most bien-pensant laypersons who believe in evolution: they are generally horrified to actually think it might apply to them.

    In various cultures, there’ve been fascinating cultural flushes of Renaissance along with increased freedoms, but I think those come from the intersection of sudden surplus AND a population which retains prior innate creativity and their wits about them. That can get bred right out of people within a generation or two. There’s a lot of fascinating epigenetic work going on that shows how an organism’s context affects the genome and can be passed down to future generations.

    OF course, a renaissance just burns through energy and material at a faster rate…

    My candle burns at both ends
    It will not last the night;
    But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
    It gives a lovely light.

    —Edna St. Vincent Millay

    I watched the video, but am not sure what the author is recommending. “To see the farm is to leave it”, and go where? If “economic freedoms” increase the power of the State, is the response “economic unfreedom” and, if so, what aspect does that take?

    This video would appear to challenge the standard libertarian line which (as I have known it) reveres the expansion of “economic freedoms” and private property, a condition which ironically can only be enforced by a State. Most libertarians I know want to be Dagny Taggart, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps by inheriting a railroad monopoly. [On a local, real, level, here in VT they are moronically infuriated that the State won’t let them inundate their property with chemicals because of toxic run-off onto the private property of others and into the common waterways. In this they tend to project a Monty Python “Gumby” profile, as I see them. Their brains hurt!]

    The video’s observations are certainly valid, though, and fascinating support for my “it’s all thermodynamics” conceit. The torture porn was hard to watch. I’m sure there are people itching for those sorts of days [I was going to say “return to”, but then you have Abu Ghraib, Cheney/Bush directed waterboarding, Obama’s might-as-well-be-random drone attacks..]

    I like the farm metaphor very much: I employed it myself a couple of weeks ago when I went in to Staples to buy some pads of paper. They tried to get me to sign up for programs and rewards cards, etc., and I said “look, I know you are just doing your jobs, but I’m just tired of being “farmed”.. I know the business of your company is to farm its customers, but I’m just not up for it today..” I said this in the friendliest tone of voice.

    It’s going to become difficult for farmers at every level, as the energy available to them to use in control becomes scarcer.

  • This topic of what to tell young adults or children about this is interesting. I raised two kids who are now in their 20s. I never allowed them to believe in any delusion–whether it was the easter bunny, santa claus, god, or ignore the environmental destruction and collapse around them. I didn’t bring up the subject directly, just taught them to be good observes and point out the harm and changes that I noticed. Eventually, they started to ask questions. Whenever directly asked, I answered with what I believed in a way that they could understand for their age. I never pressured them to agree with me and fully supported them when they disagreed with me in their right to have their own thinking and to explore other answers. They both came to the same conclusion as me without having to be indoctrinated by the time they were 12/13 years old. They saw the changes for themselves…they felt something was wrong. Frankly, you have to be willfully deaf dumb and blind to not have seen it even as far back as 2000.
    Allowing your children to live in the delusion of this society is a crime in my opinion.
    Everyone should know the truth. We are all guilty in the developed world of creating this mess and we all contribute in one way or another knowingly or unknowningly. It seems to me only right that no one should arrive at the precipice and be able to claim ignorance.