Personally, I think the future is very bleak.
I don’t picture a state of fast collapse like Dmitry Orlov (see his 5 stages of collapse in the US theory), what I see is more like a gradual and irresistible economic and societal crisis, hitting every region in the world, and leading to multiple local and inter-border crises.
1 : Why is it going down ? Not enough of everything.
Yeah, most people would first mention the global warming, but that is not a short term issue, that is a middle to long term issue (it will cause real problems by 2050 and shit will literally hit the fan after 2100).
However, were you aware mankind acts like a total resources ogre, feeding wildly on the resources present in limited quantity ? How much were you really aware of that ? To make a bad metaphor, we boarded a splendid airplane and we’re above the ocean, but nobody’s piloting it and barely anyone has realized there isn’t enough food supplies for the flight, and, anyway, the airship didn’t load enough fuel to reach its target.
You can’t confuse resources available as flow (it’s renewed with every second, and you can pull a part of it off without worries, like solar energy or biomass), and as a stock (fixed quantity, not renewed on a human time scale, like oil).
Not enough metals.
I made a summary with figures, HERE. (French version : here)
We consume many metals at such speeds they’ll run scarce, some within the next two decades, some within this century.
Some metals can be substituted with others at the cost of a loss in performance, but that leads to a lower-tech industry production. The age of iron may be ahead, not behind.
Some other metals cannot be replaced, and their disappearance will jeopardize entire industries and will mean giving up on some activities and products.
Sadly, recycling doesn’t do the job, as only a handful of metals can really be recycled perfectly (in quality, and in quantity, like alumium), in most cases only a fraction of the metal can be collected, and then it’s not even possible to fully isolate it from the rest of the waste, so we get impure compounds from recycling, which can only be recycled into lower-quality usages. Sure, with unlimited energy we may get back the initial purest concentrations, but, heh, energy comes at a cost, and not enough may be available at all.
The scarcer a metal runs in the Earth’s crust, the lower the concentration it has in the ground and the more energy its extraction requires (the energy cost grows exponentially, while the production decreases at the same time), till the point whatever need we have of it, it is not viable to run its extraction.
Not enough Energy. We’ll run short.
- Please, don’t tell me you buy the “peak oil = bullshit” scam, peak oil IS a reality. USA fracking is a miracle that won’t last more than 20 years, only a few countries have such fracking potential. Prospection investments by all big oil companies fail to find promising enough new locations, and the energy return on investment ratio grows lower and lower (in early 1900s, in Texas, you invested an oil barrel’s energy, you obtained in return the energy of 50 oil barrels, a 1-50 ratio; nowadays that ratio is between 15 and 5, and it’s getting worse.)
- Nuclear power : fission will hit the uranium metal resource wall in 20-40 years, and (ironically enough !) 4th gen reactors that are supposed to be able to feed off their own waste will need plutonium to boot… and plutonium is a by-product of nuclear power generated in current-gen uranium reactors. Meaning : there won’t be dough for everyone, and production will be scarcer too.
- Nuclear Fusion : please, get down the to facts ! Beyond optimistic promises, all the test devices of this decade, even the biggest and most complicated ones, serve to test small bits of what nuclear fusion reactors are to be. We still don’t know how well they’ll work, and we’re nowhere close to testing a fully working nuclear reactor. In the BEST of cases, according to professionals of the nuclear industry, we could have nuclear fusion reactors working by the years 2060++. And even then, they’d be made of parts requiring frequent replacements, which should be fully automated, every 15 to 25 years, and as far as production goes, they’d be like fission reactors : providing a lot, but definitely unable to provide everything.
- Renewables : multiply them by a massive lot, it won’t make up for the loss of conventional energies, and, actually, in a disorganized economy more and more burdened my metal resource issues, you won’t be able to increase renewables enough anyway.
- Coal : the last energy we’ll run short of. Okay, producing energy with coal generates tons of pollution and boosts global warming, but not everybody will care *cough*
- Hydrogen : only mentioned here because some people still make that mistake. Hydrogen is a vector, not a source. You need energy to produce hydrogen, only then can you use hydrogen to transport and release energy.
- Reducing waste : that can be seen as a form of potential energy. With our level of energy production, if we stop consuming tons of shit, walk more, use our bikes more, make what we have last longer before purchasing a new version of it, paying to have our furniture and devices repaired instead of tossing them away and buying new ones, keeping unfinished food plates in tupperwares and eat them the next day rather than throw it away and cook new stuff the next day, that can very strongly reduce our energy consumption. You can also change your eating habits, jellyfish and insects provides meat costing much, much less energy – disgusting but true, and that shit is actually edible – or you can even eat less food and more veggies and cereals.
- Ideally, we’d need a miracle, a brand new energy source, available to many, easy to achieve. Sadly, this is still science fiction, and the laws of thermodynamics don’t make a miracle solution look possible. See scams grabbing attention and raising false hopes like the e-cat :-/
Besides, energies cannot be substitued to each other on a whim. Oil is INCREDIBLY practical compared to batteries (super easy to transport, delivering at once tremendous quantities of energy for its small volume), and several uses offered by oil will not be able to be substituted with other energy sources (I don’t only mean transportation, there are the drugs, tires, clothes and baby diapers – yep, there’s even a cup of oil per diaper. Albeit with lower productivity, but never fully.
And yet… ENERGY IS THE SOURCE OF EVERYTHING. Our food and our walls are energy made solid. This is not bullshit sci-fi, listen : you use energy to build houses, to grow crops, to transport food, and to warm your house. Without that energy, you would have nothing.
In our situation, imagine this; we’ll probably have 3 to 5% less energy in total for mankind, every year. No kidding. I can only give you a French source (sorry but I’m French), I trust you to Google Translate it easily, or find your own English sources.)
Explanation of the article on the French newspaper Le Monde
Source : Yves Bamberger, head of the Research And Development section of EDF, the largest French Electric energy company.
What does it mean ? Every year, despite a growing demography, there will be less and less of everything.
2 : What does “Less and less of everything” mean for mankind : how I imagine the future
Here, I stop using facts and venture into conjecture. I don’t like making bets, especially when it’s between various bad endings.
Remember the premise ? Less energy every year. The metals shrinkages forcing would force industry branches to temporarily halt production or adopt less efficient lower tech materials. And this would take place in a world with growing demography, burdened by less easy to produce food (global warming would hit agriculture, while over-fishing would be reducing the fish stocks).
Demographic growth will come to a halt, and then contract itself
We’re going towards an economic quagmire, made of recession everywhere, stagnation at the best of cases.
Welfare state will shrink everywhere, which will be the first cause of a slowdown of the population growth.
The old will be dying earlier, the weak won’t be helped enough to stay among the living. Public health will fall, while pandemics will travel faster and more globally than ever before (warmer planet, falling antibiotics resistance, economic crisis jeopardizing nationwide campaigns), with less babies and less adults being able to resist contagious diseases. The non-contagious diseases (diabetes, heart conditions, and the like) will kill more than ever before, as more and more people spend their lives eating shit while twiddling their lives away immobile in front of a monitor.
Famines will hit more and more of the countries that aren’t “rich”. Instability will be more contagious than ever. When you’re surrounded by countries in civil war, nasty lawless folks tend to yearn after your own riches.
There will be also more and more conflicts for resources. When there’s not enough oil and an oil field is between two countries, a quick war sounds better than long term sharing. Or also wars for water, since water is needed for agriculture and power generation. Rivers like the Nile, the Tiger, will see wars bloom for their water. Bad news, more and more countries own nuclear weapons.
Wars won’t kill many soldiers themselves, I mean, we’re not in the Napoleonian Wars anymore in which armies of 20 000 fight armies of 55 000 (Waterloo…), but they’ll “steal” precious energy and human resources that could have served other rightful causes. Besides most conflicts with a “low tech” profile, like today in Africa, still generate massive human casualties.
In a dramatically funny way, we may say the fall in human numbers will mean the toll on resources and energy will be a tad lower, per capita.
And yet, I don’t see population plummeting from 9-10 billions to 100 millions in a century. We humans can endure. The cold, the hunger, we can live with much, much less than today. Even famines striking African countries only take a few percents of the population, even with figures of 100,000 dead : I don’t say “finally, it’s not a big problem”, I say : “the global impact stays moderate”.
Maybe there will be more than half of mankind’s currently projected numbers still alive. And then less, and less.
3 : The global situation by 2050, and until 2100 ?
- Progressive collapse of the economy, every year is in crisis, the industry going through several parallel stop and go phases.
- Several resources running short, temporarily (market prices, a stop and go in the industry allowing its extraction) or permanently (not enough Zinc ? FML), not as fast as feared though, since population doesn’t grow as expected and the industry is a mess, while consumers lack money to consume everything all the time like capitalist pigs (oink oink, I’m not counting myself off, even if I make efforts).
- The population is in a mess, anxious about the future, despair for many, and anguish because it’s not possible anymore to live through consumption, it’s become unhealthy as hell. Maybe it will lead to more solidarity, maybe to less. What I can already tell for sure is that democracy will be blamed ; and for a part of it, I’m afraid to say, it will be a legitimate accusation. You’ll see fascism raising its ugly head again, because no matter how ugly fascism is, it finds strength in massive collective activity, in large scale collective enrollment, taking a few scapegoats (did I mention there’d be more wars ?), and hushing violently all opposing individuals. Fascism won’t be able to handle public policy and internal affairs worse than democracy did, and it will occasionally perform better (enforcing birth control, forcing solidarity and mutual support). Public rights, freedom of speech, liberty and individuality will be regarded as a luxury of the past belonging to a lost world in which there was plenty of spare time and energy for all, sadly.
- Even before the time the crisis begins to grow larger and larger, an increasing number of mankind will want to move from their big cities and back to the country again, with hopes of becoming more “self-sustained” (growing one’s own veggies, eating locally), and finding better values in live other than hyper consumption.
- Did you know that before oil was industrially developed, more than 90% of human population lived and worked in the countryside, outside of big cities ? So what do you think will happen once oil becomes more expensive and will become a luxury to use with great care ? You got it; more and more people will be living in the countryside again, and will work again in agricultural exploitations, as laborers. Intensive agriculture will partly recede in favor of extensive agriculture (lower productivity, but made at a smaller energetic cost).
- I didn’t mention much global warming, did I ? Truth is, we have so little control over it (the contraction of the industrial production will make its acceleration slow down so to speak, which is small relief) and this will act as a worsening factor everywhere, but I don’t think it’s possible to be very specific about its details.
Mankind will prevail, in small numbers.
But our civilization won’t have survived.
What will have died will be optimism. Faith in the future. And faith in science. We’ll be somehow dead inside.
I’m also afraid religious bigots will, in a way, triumph, as more and more turn to religion.
Several humans will still know to enjoy the day and know better than to regret the loss of what was not sustainable to have. A French saying opposes “being” to “having”, please forgive me the wrong English, adding a “the” enhances the idea, “the being” as opposed to “the having”, as ways to live. We can live happy no matter what our conditions are, or almost.
But several others humans – the majority of them- will live the rest of their lives like half-empty shells, sad and unable to love this world anymore. This is sad, so sad, a scar, no, a stain on mankind’s collective psyche that will take centuries to heal.
This saddens me personally. If only us humans had found enough reason in ourselves to lead a global birth control program, and we kept our numbers between 500 millions and 1 billion, we would have had much less of a global impact, better living conditions and, the most precious of all, we would have had TIME !
Time ! Time to develop scientific research, and, who knows, time to really manage to escape the downward spiral of our limited resources. Maybe with much improved recycling, space exploration for minerals, nanotechnology, who knows ? I don’t know, and probably, nobody will ever know, as science will be blamed for everything in the next century, and won’t be given enough funds to do anything about fixing it.
4 : And in the loooonger term ?
Blimey, do you think I stand a single chance to guess it right ?
The absolute worst for the whole planet is a global scale massive extinction event wiping away more than half of life off the face of the Earth, leaving us with a deserted globe, on which there’s a green sky above poisonous viny sirupy seas. It belongs to the realm of the possible, that is to say a chain reaction based on poisonous H2S. No shit, I really aren’t kidding, you may read this to understand, it’s already happened several times in the past of our planet, and the changes we introduced in the biosphere match the way several of these extinction events begun.
More reasonably, we can imagine mankind will survive and will live, more or less, like we used to live in the middle ages.
But only like that.
Please note that EVERY place where it was easy to extract coal and metals has already been dug out. The only energy and metal resources we’re left require massive industrial installations, something impossible without a sustained scientific level and abundant enough energy. That means a new industrial revolution is IMPOSSIBLE. If mankind falls behind, it won’t climb back up again. In this regard, I consider mankind lucky if, thousands of years from now, we don’t lose knowledge of steam engines.
As for the world’s population ?
It’s funny, it’s possible to try and guess how many of us will be left. Remember, when I wrote everything about us was built with energy transformed into something else, into us and our possessions ?
Mankind first only used solar energy. It made plants grow, plants fed animals and us, and we ate the animals we could beat. Estimated population : from 10 000 to 100 000.
Then, O miracle, we gained control of biomass energy. (You may call it “burning the wood” ^^). It allowed to warm ourselves in winter (we could now leave the warm countries), to cook the food (many more things became edible, and digesting food suddenly became easy like magic – previously, a third of the time spent awake was spent chewing until food became possible to digest !), leaving more time for thinking, experimenting with everything. It also allowed to hunt bigger than rabbit-like creatures (with fire hardened spears, man started hunting predators and big beasts). Eventually, it allowed to build houses, complex tools and furniture (baked earth, so to say ^^), and to reach the first ages of metals. Time to settle in and invent agriculture, and build the first villages and later on cities, yay. Estimated population : 10 millions.
Later on, we gained control of renewables : windmills, dams, and the first pre-science inventions improved life. Estimated population : 100 million.
… And mankind could fall to this level, in the verrrrrry long term. Except that, shockingly, metals would be much harder to find than before, don’t forget all easy sources are already gone.
Well, and that’s that, it’s the way I imagine the future.
I could have written much, much, so MUCH more on every topic seen in this post, but I think I’ve already written long enough, don’t you think ?
You, what’s your opinion on this ?
Do you have another idea of what is coming ?
How do YOU see the future, if you don’t agree ?
Posted by Oliver AKA The Admin in Imagine our future...
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