2019, Middle School, Prose
The girl stares off into the sea.
It has been 2040 years since the birth of Christ, and 130,000 years since today’s humans had evolved. They have been entering her waters long before then.
When was the last time she’s grieved like this? Sixty million years ago? Sixty-six? Many like her wear older skins. But the world makes her feel helpless, and she doesn’t enjoy pretending she is as powerful as she used to be.
So many are dead. She cradles each life in her arms, every whale choked on plastic, every starved fish.
She is dying.
“This is my future! Justice for climate!”
Students all around Darya chanted slogans, holding up handmade signs. “Act Now or Swim Later,” her sign read. She could feel the passion pulsing around her, anger and fear and hopelessness channeled into chanting and shouting.
Darya was 14. It was 2019.
She admired Greta Thunberg greatly. She and her friends had eagerly joined the Fridays 4 Future movement, and she had helped organize her school’s strike.
“This is my future!”
The adults had failed them. Failed her. Being on the streets helped with her sense of hopelessness—sitting in Science class, learning about animals dying and the dire predictions that were getting worse and worse. Sea butterfly shells were dissolving and fishes’ senses were being hurt because of ocean acidification. A third of reef-building corals were at risk of extinction. The oceans would be empty of fish by 2048.
Greta Thunberg’s movement had spread like wildfire, and Darya’s Instagram feed was full of climate change posts. She scrolled through stats about species going extinct, screenshots from Tumblr complaining about the government’s lack of action, pictures from climate strikes all over the world. “You’re obsessed with climate change,” her parents would tell her.
“How can I not be? It’s my future they’re ruining.”
It was 2019. The girl had started to grieve, but also to hope.
So maybe she physically gave the children energy. Maybe her fish fed them. But she gave them more than that. Despite looking like one, she was not a child by any standards. But what she needed right now was the passion of these children.
When a child in Belgium looked at a picture of a dead whale whose stomach was filled with plastic, his resolve hardened.
Help us, she told him.
I will, he promised.
“You should be studying,” a mother told her daughter in Mexico.
I believe in you, she told the girl. Keep going.
In 2040, Darya is working for Fifty-Percent Left, an organization founded six years prior in 2034 when the population of the ocean dropped by 50 percent from pre-industrial times. It publishes news articles, books, and videos on human activity’s effects on sea life. She has just finished up an article on the extinction of the boulder star coral, and is collaborating on a new book tentatively titled, Death of the Ecosystem: What We Could Have Done. On her desk, she put a photo from when she was a teenager. She and her friends were all wearing shirts that said “Youth Climate Strike,” and they were holding a banner that read, “There Is No Planet B.”
Bored one day, Darya searches up the nearest sushi restaurant. It was three states away, and each dish cost around $2,000.
She shakes her head. They shouldn’t be eating fish at all, she thinks.
In 2020, the U.S. Youth Climate Strike had succeeded in pressuring the DNC to host a debate on environmental policy for the 2020 presidential candidates. 7.9 million people viewed the debate, which aired on NBC. Darya was one of them.
In 2022, the American president rejoined the Paris Agreement. All over the world, people celebrated, especially the children. “#ThankYouUSA” became a trending hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, social media users expressing their gratitude to the most powerful country in the world. Things were still getting worse, but with the global superpower committing to mitigating climate change and trying to slow the global temperature that was still rising and rising, there was hope.
2022 years after the birth of Christ, the girl was dying. The population of her charges was still going down, down, and her heart broke every time a fish starved or choked or was poisoned. But maybe she herself wouldn’t die. Maybe she wouldn’t.
“Are you working on the book?” asks Alex, Darya’s colleague, during their lunch break.
“Death of the Ecosystem? Yeah,” says Darya. “When I’m writing about all these disasters, it’s weird to think that it could have been so much worse.”
“Yes, it could have been the end of the world as we knew it. Half of me is angry at previous generations for what happened, but the other half of me thinks about how all life in the oceans could have been gone. If we hadn’t done anything as kids.”
Thank you, the girl tells the humans who are no longer children. Grief still fills her like an ever-flowing current, but she isn’t dead yet. They saved her.
Wilford, John Noble. “When Humans Became Human.” The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2002, www.nytimes.com/2002/02/26/science/when-humans-became-human.html. Accessed 8 June 2019.
 “K–T extinction.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, www.britannica.com/science/K-T-extinction. Accessed 7 June 2019.
 Waters, Hannah. “Searching for the Ocean Acidification Signal.” Smithsonian Ocean, Dec. 2012, ocean.si.edu/planet-ocean/temperature-chemistry/searching-ocean-acidification-signal. Accessed 4 June 2019.
 Bennett, Jennifer. “Ocean Acidification.” Smithsonian Ocean, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/ocean-acidification. Accessed 6 June 2019.
 “One Third of Reef-Building Corals Face Extinction.” International Union for Conservation of Nature, 10 July 2008, www.iucn.org/content/one-third-reef-building-corals-face-extinction. Accessed 7 June 2019.
 Science. Vol. 314, 3 Nov. 2006.
 Bardroff, Jenna. “5 Species We Stand to Lose if Coral Reefs are Destroyed.” One Green Planet, www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/species-we-stand-to-lose-if-coral-reefs-are-destroyed/.
 MoveOn Petitions. petitions.moveon.org/sign/the-2020-presidential. Accessed 12 June 2019.
I wrote 2040 because I wanted to highlight the climate activism efforts sweeping the globe. Like many other children, I’m incredibly inspired by Greta Thunberg, and I wanted to write about the global movement she kicked off. Because I wanted to write about something so big, when looking at the spectrum of organism to ecosystem, I chose sea life as a whole. I researched everything from the extinction of specific species to the effects of climate change on world economies to the English text of the Paris Agreement before writing my story. I made adult Darya a writer who publishes content on how we caused the extinction of different species and mourns the loss of life in the oceans. I modeled young Darya after me: passionate about climate change, with her social media feeds filled with social justice content. I’m currently helping organize my school’s climate strike on September 20th, so I wanted Darya to be a leader as well. I chose a story that skipped through time, because while I was imagining the future, the future is determined by the actions we take today. I wanted an immortal, supernatural entity that was a reflection of my main character in some way. “The girl” had the form of a young female, like Darya, but she also represented the life of the ocean. She was dying at the hands of humans, but also saved by the younger generation. She gave the children something to fight for.