Climate Futures: Ian in 2040, Part 2 – The Great Transition

In our last installment, we joined Ian as he awoke to a new year in a “business as usual” world. By 2040, the worst impacts of climate change had begun to bite significantly, interconnecting in aggressive and unexpected ways. The primary resources in short supply were hope, sanity, and reason. The die was cast, and Ian began a new year with a vague sense of desperation and helplessness, missing a world he never really knew.

In part 2 of Ian’s New Year’s Day vignette, we consider how things could be different and how we can choose now which world Ian wakes up in on New Year’s Day, 2040.

The Great Transition

The sun dawns bright and clear. Ian rang in the New Year with his friends and family, laughing and talking into the wee hours of January 1st.

Still groggy from the happy festivities of the night before, the bright winter sun bids Ian’s attention: a new day, a new year. The light streaming through his window captures the sun’s energy and stirs excitement in Ian.

It still mystifies Ian why it took so long for his parents and grandparents to “get it” about climate change and runaway consumption, to embrace the many ways of harnessing clean energy, and to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. What was it standing in their way? Were they numbed by the fear of change? Hyperconsumerism? Junk food?

From False Solution to Real Hope for a Better World

Ian was still young when the Great Transition began percolating through society in the late 20s, nearly a century after the Great Acceleration when human civilization began overstepping planetary boundaries in earnest.

In 2024, when Ian was only 9, things looked bleak. Across the globe, climate records tumbled like boulders off a rocky cliff.

Much of what was presented as solutions was little more than overhyped greenwashing meant to make palatable an untenable status quo.

The delusion and hubris of concentrated, untouchable wealth defined the era. The political leadership of the period was even worse—driven by narcissistic cravings, fearmongering, and grift, would-be leaders fomented outrage and allegiance to conspiracy theories instead of critical thinking and collaboration.

Back then, for Ian, it felt like all he had to look forward to was a civilization flying apart. For him, there was no center. The only normal was no normal. Climate change was driving environmental collapse, economic instability, and human suffering. He remembers hearing reports saying that the trajectory of human civilization had to change so fast, so radically, that it seemed all but impossible for most.

Experts estimated global emissions would need to be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 for a 66% chance of capping average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It sounded laughable. The early 2020s saw emissions surging relentlessly in the wrong direction.

He remembers hearing his parents say, “We’ve screwed the pooch on climate,” while exchanging furtive glances between Ian and the news feed on their devices. It frightened and confused Ian. At school, kids would taunt him when he spoke of climate change, saying their parents told them that climate change wasn’t real and a big hoax. But that wasn’t what he saw happening in the world. If climate change wasn’t real, why was the climate changing? Nothing made sense.

Attitudes started to shift after the devastation of 2023 and 2024, seemingly to everyone’s surprise. Something about the human psyche requires hitting rock bottom to bounce back, turn the tide, and make the substantive change that once seemed impossible. And starting in 2025, that’s what happened.

As it turned out, we missed the 1.5C target. Realizing this was humanity’s rock bottom and wake-up call. The world—Ian, his parents, you, and me— refused to abandon hope, allow cynicism to drown us, succumb to the addiction.

The damage was done. But it could stop. It had to stop.

And the last half of the 2020s was the last chance to avoid utter devastation wrought by our blind foolishness.

Finally, the tide had turned. The journey of learning to live—finding a home— in the Anthropocene began.

Accepting Fate Without Surrender

By 2040, plenty of climate change was baked into the system. The seas were still rising, extreme weather harassed every continent, and the long patterns of ecosystems and seasons were shifting from their Holecenic norms into the Anthropocene. But the response to the challenge was no longer tepid, convoluted, and wholly inadequate.

Times were tough. But from what Ian can tell, times were always tough, in one way or another. Humanity has always excelled and pushed forward in the face of existential challenge. The muscle of civilization must be exercised.

Ian pulled out of bed into the streaming sunlight, prepared to take his place in a damaged world, recovering its hope and ready to heal.

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Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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