Could industrial civilization be rebuilt?

Our industrial civilization was made possible by easily available coal and then by easily available oil.

All the easy fossil fuels, not to mention the easy metal oils, have been used up, but advanced technology makes it possible to extract fuel from shale oil, shale gas and tar sands, drill in the Arctic and under the oceans and move whole mountains to get at coal.

collapse16-2But what if industrial civilization collapsed?  Do we have the knowledge to rebuild it without the resources available to the creators of the Industrial Revolution?

Lewis Dartnell, a UK Space Agency research fellow and author of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, said it would be possible, but very, very difficult.

The most likely places for a rebirth of industrial civilization, he has written, are Norway and Labrador, which have forests for making charcoal and fast-flowing rivers for water power.  These pre-industrial sources of energy just might generate enough power to create the materials needed for solar panels, electrical generators and other alternate industrial technologies.

I know enough not to pretend to predict the future, but the continuation of our industrial civilization is not guaranteed.

A nuclear war between the USA and Russia is still possible.   Drug-resistant diseases such as Ebola could sweep the world.  Global climate change could prove even more catastrophic than most scientists think.

Dmitry Orlov on his blog foresees the collapse of industrial civilization, and John Michael Greer predicts its slow decline.  Neither scenario is impossible.

The moral I draw is that the time to turn to renewable energy is now.


Can civilization reboot without fossil fuels? by Lewis Dartnell for Aeon.

Four surprising reasons why clean energy is gaining on fossil fuels by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch (via Grist)

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3 Responses to “Could industrial civilization be rebuilt?”

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    Renewables cannot and will not allow the current system to continue. And frankly I am OK with that. Life really was better in the 60’s and 70’s as far as I remember. Less TV, more outside. Less (no) internet, actual face time with friends. Real letters. I anticipate that eventually, somewhere down the road, we will end up with a level of technology somewhere around the level of 1900-1920 using renewables.


  2. patricknelson750 Says:

    We also need to get structurally prepared for the eventual depletion of oil as getting ready for a minimal oil situation is quite easy (with a little foresight) whilst we have got oil, but if we wait till the time when economies are rapidly contracting due to oil shortages then we are going to find it very difficult to adapt, because nothing (short of some sort of miracle) is going to be squirting out of the ground and providing us with billions of joules of almost free energy anymore. Waiting for cheap oil to run out before setting up for a post oil scenario is just like going camping in the wilderness, driving past the outdoors shop without stopping and arriving in the middle of nowhere without any camping gear and expecting to be able to manufacture it in situ.


  3. Fred Says:

    I am not inclined to expect any sudden end to life as we know it. Things might get bad but life will go on. Then things will get better. Humans have turned the process of evolution upside down. We don’t need to evolve genetically by natural selection. We evolve by learning.

    Industrial society “as we know it” might be gone but we’d simply devolve into a different industrial society. All that iron and aluminum we’ve mined is still here. (Well, some might be in orbit and some at the bottom of the sea.) It is stored in easily accessible, preprocessed lumps called cars. What we would be missing is easy access to vast stores of energy.


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