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The Future: An Unfinished Timeline
This page presents the author's understanding of the current situation on Earth, along with a timeline of the most important events that have taken place since the year 2000, and those that will, in the author's opinion, occur in the near future. The events shown focus on climate change, as all other concerns pale in comparison. Following the timeline is a flowchart of the process in general, and a record of timeline changes.
The Situation in Graphic Form
Data from 1000 to 1900 is mostly from proxy sources, such as tree rings and ice cores. A range is shown because different methods produce slightly different temperature estimates.
Data from 1900 to the present is actual instrument data of average global temperatures.
Three predictions are shown for when we could reach 2°C above the 20th century average of 13.7°C. The prediction for the year 2100 was conservative science during the 1990s and early 2000s. The prediction for 2050 is current conservative science. The prediction for 2025 is current avant-guarde science.
The most daring current prediction, which I believe is quite possible (and is roughly the basis for the timeline below), is for run-away climate change resulting in about 10°C above the pre-industrial (1700) level, in other words about 23.2°C by about 2025, with the possibility that this state could arrive even sooner.
Events that have already come to pass are in their single-year blocks. Events in the future are preceded by question marks and placed in the current-year block if they seem imminent, or in future multi-year blocks if their timing is uncertain. Future items will be moved from one block to another as more evidence comes to the author's attention about how soon they might occur.
The timeline includes, when available:
- Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a metaphorical estimate of how close we are to the collapse of human civilization ("midnight").
- Earth Overshoot Day of the Global Footprint Network, an estimate of what fraction of the year we lived within the carrying capacity of the Earth.
- NOAA CO2 Equivalent, calculated by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to include the radiative forcing caused by all greenhouse gasses.
- Living Planet Index of the World Wide Fund for Nature, which measures the state of global biological diversity based on population trends of vertebrate species from around the world, relative to the year 1970.
The author will gladly receive, by email, opinions about anything he has left out, not worded well, or placed in the wrong time period.
The sources of this timeline are the thousands of essays, articles, and books the author has read during the last four decades, the inspirations of the Muses as he prepared NEBADOR Book Nine: A Cry for Help, and the still, small voices that speak at quiet moments late at night, or from the ferns and trees deep in the woods. Also, this timeline is consistent with the findings of scientists who are, in the author's opinion, thinking most clearly about these matters.
An early (May 2015) version of this timeline has been translated into German by Wolfgang Werminghausen.
FOUR PLANETARY BOUNDARIES ALREADY CROSSED: They were probably crossed in the late 20th century, but exact dates are impossible to pinpoint. See 2009 for the complete list of 9 Planetary Boundaries.
Loss of biodiversity / biosphere integrity
Altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen)
Land-system change / deforestation
GREENHOUSE GASSES: Carbon dioxide passes 370 parts per million (normally 180-290 ppm) and Methane reaches 1790 parts per billion (normally 300-700 ppb).
SIXTH MASS EXTINCTION: Although it began slowly with the Industrial Revolution in about 1750, the 6th mass extinction period in known geological time is being caused by humans, and its effects have greatly accelerated as we pass the millennium.
Earth Overshoot Day: 23 September
NOAA CO2e: 441 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.48 (1970=1.00)
UNIPCC-AR3: The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report contains Michael Mann's "Hockey Stick" graph that scientifically establishes that planetary heating in recent decades is anomalous in a millennial context.
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 23 September
NOAA CO2e: 443 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.47 (1970=1.00)
11:53 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Concerns regarding a nuclear terrorist attack underscore the enormous amount of unsecured -- and sometimes unaccounted for -- weapon-grade nuclear materials located throughout the world. Meanwhile, the United States expresses a desire to design new nuclear weapons, with an emphasis on those able to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets. It also rejects a series of arms control treaties and announces it will withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
LARSEN 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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 19 September
NOAA CO2e: 446 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.45 (1970=1.00)
HEAT WAVE: More than 30,000 people die in Europe, and one third of the world is in drought, double the usual amount.
Earth Overshoot Day: 10 September
NOAA CO2e: 449 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.45 (1970=1.00)
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 2 September
NOAA CO2e: 452 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.45 (1970=1.00)
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 discover that even the Amazon rain forest, instead of absorbing Carbon dioxide, can become a source under dry conditions.
Earth Overshoot Day: 26 August
NOAA CO2e: 454 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.44 (1970=1.00)
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 21 August
NOAA CO2e: 457 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.44 (1970=1.00)
11:55 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The world stands at the brink of a second nuclear age. The United States and Russia remain ready to stage a nuclear attack within minutes, North Korea conducts a nuclear test, and many in the international community worry that Iran plans to acquire the Bomb. Climate change also presents a dire challenge to humanity. Damage to ecosystems is already taking place; flooding, destructive storms, increased drought, and polar ice melt are causing loss of life and property.
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 15 August
NOAA CO2e: 460 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.43 (1970=1.00)
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 was 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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 16 August
NOAA CO2e: 463 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.43 (1970=1.00)
PLANETARY BOUNDARIES IDENTIFIED: Scientists identified and, to the extent possible, quantified the 9 boundaries that, if crossed, would push the planetary ecosystem into a different state than we are used to. The 4 in italics have already been crossed.
1. Climate change
2. Loss of biodiversity / biosphere integrity
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen)
6. Land-system change / deforestation
7. Freshwater loss
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading
9. Introduction of novel entities (organic/radioactive/nano/plastic pollutants)
COPENHAGEN ACCORD: The vague document that emerges from this U.N. Climate Change Conference fails to include any binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Earth Overshoot Day: 20 August
NOAA CO2e: 465 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.47 (1970=1.00)
11:54 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "We are poised to bend the arc of history toward a world free of nuclear weapons" is the Bulletin's assessment. Talks between Washington and Moscow for a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are nearly complete, and more negotiations for further reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal are already planned. The dangers posed by climate change are growing, but there are pockets of progress. Most notably, at Copenhagen, the developing and industrialized countries agree to take responsibility for carbon emissions and to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
DEEPWATER HORIZON: A major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico releases millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean. (The deadly effects on marine life are still being discovered 5 years later.)
CANCUN AGREEMENTS: This U.N. Climate Change Conference recognizes that some people in the world are much more vulnerable than others, and that forests need special protection.
Earth Overshoot Day: 9 August
NOAA CO2e: 468 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.45 (1970=1.00)
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 5 August
NOAA CO2e: 471 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.43 (1970=1.00)
11:55 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected. In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges." Political processes seem wholly inadequate; the potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia are alarming; safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters; the pace of technological solutions to address climate change may not be adequate to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends.
ARCTIC ICE CAP: The floating ice cap in the Arctic Ocean reaches the lowest extent ever recorded. (This record is maintained through at least 2016.)
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 6 August
NOAA CO2e: 474 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.42 (1970=1.00)
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.
INSECT COLLAPSE: Studies begin to show that many insect populations are collapsing, with reductions of up to 80%.
Earth Overshoot Day: 5 August
NOAA CO2e: 478 ppm
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.
PEAK OF GLOBAL ECONOMY: The global economy (GDP) peaks this year. (As of 2016, it continues to appear that this was the all-time peak.)
? CORAL COLLAPSE: With the oceans rapidly heating and acidifying, the death of the coral reefs (which began this year) causes many coastlines to eventually become vulnerable to fierce storms and floods. (If the reefs continue bleaching for several years with no recovery in sight, this question will be sufficiently settled.)
Earth Overshoot Day: 4 August
NOAA CO2e: 481 ppm
Living Planet Index: 0.40 (1970=1.00)
11:57 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth." Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads -- thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties. "The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty -- ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization."
CALIFORNIA DROUGHT: The drying of southwestern North America enters a critical phase in which rivers no longer provide enough water for drinking, irrigation, and hydro-electric power.
OCEAN HEATING: Excess ocean heat is creating an "El Niño" (or worse) condition in the Pacific Ocean, normal up-welling of nutrient-rich deep water is being disrupted, and large marine animals are starving as krill, anchovies, sardines, etc., vanish. From heating and acidification, about half the coral reefs of the world are now dead or dying. Chemical and physical pollution (especially plastics) increasingly cause mutations and death of individuals and entire marine species.
LAUDATO SI: The encyclical of Pope Francis clearly draws the battle lines between those who want a livable planet and a just human civilization, and those who would sacrifice it all for short-term comfort and profit.
? PEAK HYDRO-CARBONS: We pass the all-time maximum extraction rate of all hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). (Several years must pass before this peak can be verified.)
MASS MIGRATIONS: Displaced by wars, droughts, and increasing general poverty, large numbers of people begin to leave the Middle East and North Africa for Europe and other destinations.
ARCTIC: Although the Arctic Ocean did not become ice-free this summer, almost no thick multi-year ice remains. With the global Methane level at 1846 ppb, and readings over the Arctic up to 2629 ppb, evidence mounts of a Methane spike that could easily trigger abrupt climate change.
PARIS UNFCCC COP-21: At the 21st Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, most countries agree to vague and non-binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts that are believed to limit global heating to about 3°C. The conference's main contribution may have been a broad recognition that 1.5°C is a meaningful target, not 2°C.
Earth Overshoot Day: 4 August
NOAA CO2e: 485 ppm
11:57 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: 'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act -- immediately."
ANTHROPOCENE: The naming of a new geological epoch (defined by human influence) is in the process of formal acceptance, as it has now been confirmed to be stratigraphically distinct in rock and ice layers. Its beginning point will most likely be considered the middle of the 20th century, as radioactive fallout is one of its distinct stratigraphic markers, along with aluminum and plastics.
POLITICAL POPULISM: As mass migrations continue, political power shifts toward leaders who promise to improve conditions for the masses, and away from multi-national organizations.
RECORD TEMPERATURES: For the 3rd year in a row, the planet experiences record high temperatures on both land and sea.
ARCTIC/ANTARCTIC UNSTABLE: Sea ice extent for both poles completely deviates from historically-normal ranges, as highly-unusual amount of heat arrived by both air and water.
ULTIMATE TIPPING POINT: With global temperatures, Arctic sea ice, atmospheric Carbon dioxide, soil carbon loss, and many other factors beginning to diverge completely from historical norms, a large number of positive feedbacks are kicking in and overtaking any possible human remedial action.
Earth Overshoot Day: 3 August
NOAA CO2e: 490 ppm
11:57:30 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: "The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon." In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.
BROWN YEARS BEGIN: With the coming to power of climate-change denying political leaders, a period begins in which most environmental laws are repealed or ignored, funding for most scientific research ceases, and much of the information we currently have about climate change becomes unavailable.
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.
LARSEN C ICE SHELF: A 2200 square mile (5800 square kilometer) chunk of the ice shelf in Antarctica breaks away and begins to wander and melt, leaving the remainder of the 17100 square mile (44200 square kilometer) ice shelf more vulnerable.
SECOND NOTICE: World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice was published, signed by 15,364 scientists from 184 countries, an update to the 1992 letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
? FISHERIES COLLAPSE: As the ocean food chains break down, all commercial fishing becomes impossible, with little left in the oceans but jellyfish.
Earth Overshoot Day: 2 August
NOAA CO2e: 493 ppm
11:58 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago -- and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.
DROUGHTS AND FLOODS: Most dry areas continue to get drier, shifting to desert or dust-bowl conditions, and most wet areas experience regular flooding.
BIO-DIVERSITY COLLAPSE: The primary life-sustaining ecosystems reach a critical point after too many key species disappear, resulting in a cascade of further extinctions.
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.
Earth Overshoot Day: 1 August
NOAA CO2e: 496 ppm
11:58 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats -- nuclear weapons and climate change -- were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.
? FINANCIAL COLLAPSE: Stock markets and other financial venues become unstable or crash completely, causing credit to be unavailable to most people and businesses.
? NUCLEAR 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. Although war is terrible in any form, this would probably be a nuclear war that could greatly affect human health and survival.
? AGRICULTURE COLLAPSE: Commercial agriculture becomes unstable and unreliable because of droughts, storms, and fuel/fertilizer shortages, causing food prices to skyrocket.
? POPULATION PEAK: With wars, 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.
? 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.
? RAIN FOREST COLLAPSE: Due to drought, deforestation, fire, and other causes, the rain forests, once reliable carbon sinks, become net sources of carbon as they continue to degrade.
? DE-REGULATION: In desperate attempts to keep economies going, most safety, public health, and environmental regulations are repealed or ignored.
? 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.
? METHANE SPIKE: A sudden huge release of Methane from the oceans and tundra causes global heating to increase rapidly.
? COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE: With businesses unable to get credit, travel and shipping dangerous, and civil unrest everywhere, most products and services become unavailable. This quickly leads to:
? LOSS OF GLOBAL DIMMING: With COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE comes the loss of the air pollution (especially sulfur compounds) that used to reflect some of the sun's heat, resulting in a sudden jump in global heating.
Earth Overshoot Day: 29 July
NOAA CO2e: 560 ppm (estimated by Dr. Andrew Glikson, Earth and climate scientist, Australian National University, Canberra)
? 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.
? POLITICAL COLLAPSE: Governments are unable to provide any services and hold onto power, and large political units break down into smaller kingdoms and tribes.
? NUCLEAR WASTE: With governments collapsing, stockpiles of nuclear materials, especially spent reactor cores, become uncontained and begin to spread their radioactive poison by wind and water.
? 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 courses 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. If certain key species are lost, ecosystems could collapse that are essential to human food production and habitat.
? UPPER TROPOSPHERE MOISTENING: The accumulation of water vapor in the upper troposphere adds greatly to global heating, multiplying the effects of greenhouse gasses in the lower atmosphere.
? SOCIAL COLLAPSE: Social institutions, including churches, find they have absolutely no resources and become irrelevant to the remaining people who become isolated into small tribal groups.
? EAST ANTARCTICA: The last glaciated region rapidly melts, bringing sea level to about 260' (80m) above the current level.
? PORT CITIES ABANDONED: Sea-level rise causes the loss of not only vast amounts of habitat and farmland, but also most cities and our most important transportation infrastructure.
? 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.
? 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. Brutality by people toward other people becomes the norm.
? 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.
The Process in general
Reducing a complex real-world process to a "system" of stages and inter-connections is an intellectual modeling exercise that sometimes helps us understand the process, but is never completely accurate.
On the left side of the diagram are listed some approximate dates, although assigning dates to stages of a process is always difficult.
On the right side is the most severe consequence of each stage of the process.
Part of this model is based on the writings of Dmitry Orlov, as expressed in his book The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors' Toolkit.
Definitions and notes:
ECOLOGICAL OVERSHOOT - when a species uses more resources than natural processes can replenish
RESOURCE PEAK - the point when resource extraction starts to decline because of natural (usually geological) limits
STAGNATION - when the economy ceases to expand, and debt becomes impractical
CLIMATE DISRUPTION - when forced heating of the planet (because of greenhouse gasses) exceeds natural cooling processes
PLAGUES - any type of large-scale problem, including disease, drought, flooding, etc.
AGRICULTURAL COLLAPSE - when weather changes exceed the ability of the agricultural system to adapt
FAMINES - when large numbers of people die of starvation
FINANCIAL COLLAPSE - when banks, stock markets, bond markets, and other forms of money creation and lending fail; the path that leads from RESOURCE PEAK directly to FINANCIAL COLLAPSE is based on what we see happening today in which "Peak Oil" and other resource problems in the first decade of the 21st century played a large part in causing the financial instability of 2007-2009, which has left our financial systems weak and vulnerable even ten years later
WARS - as a consequence of FINANCIAL COLLAPSE may seem illogical, but it is a choice that people have made again and again throughout history
COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE - when the effects of FINANCIAL COLLAPSE trickle down to the cities, towns, and farms where people live, which tends to happen very quickly
CIVIL UNREST - when people no longer have any motivation to suppress their anger about COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE and other problems
POLITICAL COLLAPSE - when there is no longer sufficient common ground between people and leaders to form a government
FRAGMENTATION - when political units break up into smaller units, possibly all the way down to tribal territories
SOCIAL COLLAPSE - when the places (market, church, etc.) where people would normally socialize become unsafe and are abandoned
ISOLATION - when people dare not go beyond the relatively-safe boundaries of the tribal territory
CULTURAL COLLAPSE - when the values that allowed people to trade, share knowledge, immigrate, and engage in other forms of exchange, fail because doing so has become too dangerous
BRUTALITY - the harsh conditions of life under CULTURAL COLLAPSE
EXTINCTION - when the population falls too low for the remaining members to have a good chance of surviving the many PLAGUES that come along
Record of Timeline changes
15 May 2015
Based on comments from Dr. McPherson's Nature Bats Last web site, I added NUCLEAR WASTE and PORT CITIES ABANDONED in the 2026-2030 block.
26 May 2015
After reading several recent articles, I added an OCEAN HEATING item to 2015, and moved FISHERIES COLLAPSE from the 2021-2025 block to the 2016-2020 block.
19 June 2015
I added LAUDATO SI to 2015. Also, based on recent political events, I moved WAR from the 2021-2025 block to the 2016-2020 block.
22 September 2015
Although the eventual magnitude is not yet known, I added MASS MIGRATIONS to 2015 as most causative factors can be traced back to climate change and resource depletion.
27 September 2015
I added an ARCTIC item to 2015 to summarize the sea-ice situation and give the most recent, and very worrisome, Methane levels.
13 October 2015
A note about dying coral reefs was added to the OCEAN HEATING item for 2015. Also, a RAIN FOREST COLLAPSE item was added to the 2021-2025 block.
25 October 2015
Thanks to feedback, the wording of the 2015 ARCTIC item was improved slightly.
12 December 2015
The item PARIS UNFCCC COP-21 was added to the end of 2015. Also, based on accumulating evidence that the current "El Niño" may be something even worse, a parenthetical note to this effect was added to the OCEAN HEATING item in 2015.
18 December 2015
Based on comments from Dr. McPherson's Nature Bats Last web site, a note about chemical and physical pollution was added to the OCEAN HEATING item for 2015.
31 December 2015
The SIXTH MASS EXTINCTION item was added to the year 2000.
12 January 2016
The ANTHROPOCENE was the first item for the year 2016.
24 January 2016
A mention of aluminum and plastics in the stratigraphic record was added to the ANTHROPOCENE item in 2016.
The WAR item in the 2016-2020 block was changed to NUCLEAR WAR, with an explanatory sentence added.
The LOSS OF GLOBAL DIMMING item was added just after COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE in the 2021-2025 block, with a reference to it in the COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE item.
In the MASS EXTINCTION item in the 2026-2030 block, a sentence was added about the effect on us if too many key species are lost.
The UPPER TROPOSPHERE MOISTENING item was added to the 2026-2030 block.
17 February 2016
To begin my new practice of placing future items in the current-year block that seem imminent, I have made the following changes:
ARCTIC SUMMERS ICE-FREE was moved from the 2017-2020 block to 2016.
FINANCIAL COLLAPSE was moved from the 2017-2020 block to 2016.
9 March 2016
PEAK OF GLOBAL ECONOMY was added to 2014, the kind of thing that can only be known, even tentatively, in hindsight.
29 April 2016
PEAK HYDRO-CARBONS was moved from the 2017-2020 group, to where it has so far occurred, mid-2015, but the question mark was retained as a few more years are needed to be sure.
CORAL COLLAPSE was moved from the 2021-2025 group to where it looks likely to occur, late 2016 (assuming the prediction of an ice-free Arctic this year proves accurate). If this comes to pass, it will probably force the FISHERIES COLLAPSE item to be moved up.
16 May 2016
PERMAFROST THAW AND BOREAL BURN was moved from the 2021-2025 group to the current year, retaining the question mark for now, as it looks like the current temperature spike is continuing, and will NOT fade with the current El Niño. Like the CORAL COLLAPSE item, this will probably follow from an ice-free Arctic, and if it comes to pass, could cause the METHANE SPIKE to occur sooner than it otherwise would have. Last year's boreal forest fires in Russia, and this year's in Canada, may be just a small taste of what is to come in our vast northern forests and tundra.
1 June 2016
Based on a thoughtful analysis by Prof. Sujoy Ghose, the following changes were made:
ULTIMATE TIPPING POINT was tentatively added to the current year based on temperature, Arctic sea ice, and Carbon dioxide data.
RAIN FOREST COLLAPSE was moved from the 2021-2025 block to the 2017-2020 block (and reworded) based on evidence that they are close to, or at the point of, being net carbon sources.
MARTIAL LAW AND FASCISM was moved from the 2021-2025 block to the 2017-2020 block as a logical consequence of other events projected for that timeframe.
15 July 2016
After news that 58% of the Earth has now experienced at least a 10% bio-diversity loss, the BIO-DIVERSITY COLLAPSE item was added to the 2021-2025 group.
10 December 2016
Most of the questionable items that were feared might come to pass in 2016 were moved to 2017. The POLITICAL POPULISM, RECORD TEMPERATURES, and ARCTIC/ANTARCTIC UNSTABLE items were added to 2016, and the question mark was removed from the ULTIMATE TIPPING POINT item (and "soil carbon loss" added to its description). Also, because of the current and deep-seated trend of political leaders blaming other countries for all their problems, the questionable NUCLEAR WAR item was moved up to 2017.
18 December 2016
BROWN YEARS BEGIN is added as a questionable item to 2017. This term was used by the main character in NEBADOR Book Nine: A Cry for Help.
29 December 2016
After further research, the CORAL COLLAPSE item was moved to 2016, but left questionable, as there is still a slight chance that the massive die-offs in 2016 were caused by the recent El Niño event.
23 January 2017
With a change in leadership in the USA, and several such changes probable in Europe during the coming year, the threat of nuclear war has greatly lessened so the NUCLEAR WAR item was moved from 2017 to the 2018-2020 block. The same changes of leadership mean the BROWN YEARS BEGIN item in 2017 ceases to be questionable.
27 January 2017
The "Doomsday Clock" of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was added to each year on the timeline for which the Clock was updated, with a summary of the concerns that caused the update, as written by the Bulletin.
14 February 2017
Based on recent scientific writings, METHANE SPIKE (a result of ARCTIC SUMMERS ICE-FREE), COMMERCIAL COLLAPSE, and LOSS OF GLOBAL DIMMING were moved from the 2021-2025 group to the 2018-2020 group, and most of the items in the 2026-2030 block were moved up to the 2021-2025 block.
18 February 2017
Prompted by recent reading, UNIPCC-AR3 was added to 2001.
22 February 2017
The questionable CORAL COLLAPSE item in 2016 was moved to 2014, the year the process began, with some wording clarifications.
5 May 2017
The Earth Overshoot Day has been added to all past years, as calculated by the Global Footprint Network. Also, due to on-going geopolitical friction, NUCLEAR WAR and POPULATION PEAK were moved into the current year, but left questionable at this point. The SOCIAL COLLAPSE and CULTURAL COLLAPSE items, both (hopefully) in the future, were edited slightly to better express the primary condition that each would cause: isolation and brutality, respectively.
12 May 2017
INSECT COLLAPSE is added to 2013 to reflect the results of recent insect population studies.
9 June 2017
A slight error in the "Situation in Graphic Form" graph was corrected. The run-away climate change prediction was not for 10°C above the 20th century average, but for 10°C above the pre-industrial (1700) level, in other words, 23.2°C instead of 23.7°C.
5 July 2017
Although it really began slowly more than a decade ago, PERMAFROST THAW AND BOREAL BURN appears to have increased greatly this year, so the question mark was removed. Also, ARCTIC SUMMERS ICE-FREE was moved to the 2018-2020 block as it looks like the arctic will tie or set a new record low this year, but not melt completely.
21 August 2017
The CO2e or Carbon dioxide equivalent levels, in parts per million, as calculated by the NOAA, is added to the timeline. They tell us the amount of CO2 that would cause the same radiative forcing effects as all current greenhouse gasses. Also, LARSEN C ICE SHELF is added to the current year.
14 November 2017
SECOND NOTICE was added to the current year, as World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice was just published. Also, based on recent news and scientific studies, FISHERIES COLLAPSE was moved up to the current year from 2018, but left questionable.
1 January 2018
As the new year begins, FISHERIES COLLAPSE was left in 2017, but still questionable, as it looks like it happened but just hasn't been confirmed. FINANCIAL COLLAPSE, NUCLEAR WAR, and POPULATION PEAK, all of which have not yet occurred but still look imminent, were moved to 2018.
14 January 2018
PLANETARY BOUNDARIES IDENTIFIED was added to 2009, the first year of the concept's publication, and FOUR PLANETARY BOUNDARIES ALREADY CROSSED was added to 2000, as they were probably crossed sometime in the late 20th century.
25 January 2018
The latest Doomsday Clock statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been added to the current year, 30 seconds closer to "midnight" than last year.
28 January 2018
After reading more research on when we first began to overshoot the carrying capacity of the planet, the date for OVERSHOOT on "The Process in General" diagram was changed from "1950-" to "1960-1980."
1 February 2018
The World Wide Fund for Nature's Living Planet Index has been added to the timeline. It is a measure of the state of global biological diversity based on population trends of vertebrate species from around the world, relative to the year 1970.
24 July 2018
Based on recent events and studies, DROUGHTS AND FLOODS and BIO-DIVERSITY COLLAPSE were moved from the future to this year, and ceased to be tentative. AGRICULTURE COLLAPSE was moved from the future to this year, but left tentative at this point. Thanks to recent efforts by some world leaders, NUCLEAR WAR and POPULATION PEAK, both currently tentative, were moved into the future. This year's Earth Overshoot Day (1 August) was added.
26 December 2018
AGRICULTURE COLLAPSE was moved from 2018 to 2019, as it did not substantially occur in 2018. But CIVIL UNREST was moved from 2019 to 2018, as it was a major theme of the year, and only appears to be increasing. Finally, FINANCIAL COLLAPSE was left questionable for 2018, as the year is ending with all financial systems very weak but not yet clearly collapsing.
11 February 2019
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' clock and summary statement was added for the current year. Also, FINANCIAL COLLAPSE was moved from 2018, when it did not fully manifest, to the current year.
24 June 2019
The NOAA CO2e may have jumped to 560 ppm, as estimated by Dr. Andrew Glikson, Earth and climate scientist, Australian National University, Canberra. Last year, NOAA reported that it was 496, and has been rising 3-5 ppm per year.
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