This is part 1 of our newsletter series, Imagining 2040. Ian awakes into a broken world bereft of hope for the future. In part 2, the script if flipped. Climate change impacts are still very real, but the world – at last – realized that thriving in the 21st century meant abandoning the false assumption of a fossil-fuel-based economy. The Great Transition had begun. It is up to us, here in 2024, to decide which scenario Ian will find himself in 2040.
Climate Futures: Opportunities Lost
2040 arrives just like Ian’s pounding head feels: hot and heavy. He squints at his device as the hazy morning light pours through his bedroom window. “January 1st is set to be the hottest New Year on record—Just Like Last Year, “ he reads.
“What a surprise,” he mumbles to himself.
The relentless sameness of the parade of fallen records strikes Ian, bleary-eyed and hungover, as annoying, ironic, and vaguely frightening. “Here we go again.” It’s all just sad. What do they call it? Solastalgia.
Ian was born in 2015, the year the Paris Agreement was adopted at the 21st of what they called at the time a “COP” summit. Some old United Nations mumbo-jumbo, as Ian recalls it.
His parents told him it was a historic achievement that would lead toward a sustainable future for Ian’s generation. There was a chance to avert the who-knows-how-many tipping points that, in 2040, were long ago past. But that was then. Things didn’t go as his parents had hoped. Ian’s parents died in the massive heat wave in 2034.
He remembers everyone blaming the “Boomer” generation for messing things up in the first place by ignoring the early warnings.
The Boomers were born in the mid-twentieth century, from the late 40s to early 60s, coinciding with the Great Acceleration. The West, particularly the United States, won the spoils of war, turning its wartime production juggernaut to refrigerators, TVs, plastic, and jet travel. A consumer-driven economy powered by cheap, dense energy was hard to resist.
“If only,” he thought.
Ian imagines living back in his grandparent’s time, when the promise of the fossil fuel economy held sway, at least for some, when every day didn’t bring a new climate record somewhere, when gas was less than a dollar a gallon.
It was all unsustainable, of course. Deep down, everyone knew it. Rigorous theorists produced challenging and persuasive arguments claiming that human ingenuity will eventually circumvent limits to growth. They were wrong. So much whistling in the dark.
Ian got out of bed and braced himself for another year.
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