How will we live when fossil fuel reserves have almost run out? Scientists and students of human history accept that human population will continue to explode until the energy sources fueling this incredible expansion start to run out. It is clear that a collapse of civilization will occur, probably over a period of decades in the mid-to-late 21st century. The change will be too rapid to cope with effectively, especially given skyrocketing energy costs and infrastructure breakdowns. The magnitude of the disasters involved will vary depending on how soon we wise up as a species, improve our long-range planning, and get serious about mitigating the coming challenges. While substitute energy sources will be developed quickly, the sheer numbers of humans being born onto the planet, day by day, may exceed our ability to build and deploy the replacement hardware and infrastructure, and the inability of most people to afford it may be an additional problem.
In the aftermath people will live quite differently from how we live today. After a period of decline that might last several decades, or perhaps a century, what remains will stabilize and coalesce into a new human civilization with some significant differences from what we know today. For instance, energy consumption per person will need to be a tenth or less of what people currently consume in North America. Here are a few ideas that might describe how we will live then.
Conservation and energy-austerity will be an accepted part of everyday life, and many changes in living patterns will occur.
– People will live in more densely populated communities, which will be redesigned, organized for walking and bicycle travel
– people will walk and take public transit much more than they do today
– very few people will have things we take for granted today: cars, second vehicles, motor homes or travel trailers, second homes or cottages, or boats.
– family members will tend to stay physically closer to each other, and the extended family concept will return to the developed world, including many “families” of unrelated and childless adults
– houses and apartments will have more residents per square foot than today
– Long distance travel will be mostly by train because fuel costs will make air and long distance road travel prohibitively expensive
– People will live within an hour’s walk of their work – commuting tens of miles to work will be a thing of the past
– Working from home will be much more prevalent, and the internet will be even more important to business than it is today
– Newer houses and apartments will be small and as energy self-sufficient as possible, and older buildings will be retrofitted with better insulation, windows, doors, and more efficient heating and lighting systems (or they will be abandoned)
– most people will only heat one or two rooms in their homes during the winter, in an area that contains most or all of the plumbing so that it doesn’t freeze
– families will live in near to each other similar to the way most people lived in the 18th century
– in summer most people will move to the coolest area of their home to avoid having to run air conditioning
– residential buildings will be modified to be more efficient (“passive solar”) and landscaping and trees will be designed to reduce home energy needs
– trucking will be almost entirely “short-haul”, bringing goods to and from a nearby rail line.
– agriculture will include more hand labor and very few tractors, and many farms will use horses and oxen for the heavy work as hay will be much cheaper than fuel.
– outlying suburban neighborhoods will become almost deserted, and many will fall into a state of decay, being too far from supplies and railroad lines to be economically feasible. This will be especially true in arid areas such as the Southwestern US, where water tables are dropping rapidly and pumping costs may become excessive in the future
– Solar powered homes and buildings will generate electricity via roof panels and solar shingles, feeding excess energy into the grid (which will hopefully still be economical to keep up). Solar panels will be everywhere, and shelves at sun-facing windows will be dedicated to the charging of personal electronic devices, which will line up there when not in use
– people will be educated over the internet using virtual reality software
– Major capital goods such as industrial equipment will have to last much longer than it does today, due primarily to the need to conserve energy used in mining the necessary raw materials, building it, and the transportation involved
– Large and inefficient buildings will be abandoned, but some will be dismantled for materials as the cost of new materials rises along with energy-related costs
The world will be a quieter place by the end of the 21st century.
– Freeways will be only sparsely traveled, and much of the traffic will be electric-powered, so the familiar roar of nearby freeways and roads will be greatly reduced.
– Skyrocketing fuel costs and resulting high ticket prices will greatly reduce air travel, and the constant din of arriving and departing aircraft will be replaced by just an occasional takeoff or landing.
– Industry will be much less energy intensive and a good deal quieter than today, not only because a lot less business will be being done, but also because more modern equipment will be a lot more efficient and less energy will be lost in the form of noise
What other changes might occur in an energy-starved future world? These are only a few ideas that came to me – there are many more. I am sure you have many ideas about the way we will live in the future on our long journey to a sustainable global civilization and ecosystem. Please leave any ideas you may have in a comment. Thanks in advance — Tim