First of all, it would be advisable to dismantle any construction or installation on which we know we won’t be able to keep up the maintenance. This should begin with the facilities where a lack of maintenance would subject the surrounding populations to a risk, such as nuclear industrial and Seveso sites. Then there are all the constructions that contain industrial process materials and which are large enough to require the use of machines (elevators, cranes, etc.) for access.
In addition to the industrial zones – which, it is easily understood, will no longer serve any useful purpose and would risk contaminating the air, soils and water – there are the urban zones (such as the Défense complex in Paris) where the buildings will empty out as the demand for office space declines along with the decline of the service sector. Their elevators will cease to run and the tons of glass, sheet steel and rebar used to build them could be recovered and easily reduced to small pieces for forgings.
Of course, this is just wishful thinking, because no one will accept to dismantle works like the monumental Normandy Bridge as long as we still have natural resources to consume. Still, one day it will wind up at the bottom of the Seine River.
The hardest places to live will be the urban zones, without a doubt. Added to the lack of food and potable water (remember that a drinking water network constitutes an industrial process), the lack of maintenance on buildings and infrastructures will make these areas unbearable to live in.
As Jared Diamond explains in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, some populations will refuse to give up their habits. The odds are that there will be groups who will cling to their suburbs at any cost and eventually die out.
I have trouble imagining a program that encourages inner-city youth to go and grow potatoes out in the country. But one day, going there will be absolutely necessary.
One who works the land, knows above all how to provide for his needs, to cultivate the earth, raise domesticated animals, keep a house in good repair and weave fibers.
We will all go back to being peasants.
Among the peasants, there is an individual who will have to stand up and be the “medicine man”, or the one who is capable of healing the others. The community will always be able to find enough surplus to provide for his needs.
The trend will be towards self sufficiency. It won’t be very difficult to provide for one’s needs at the local level, using local natural resources. This will show its limits when it comes to something like replacing a pane of glass, however. It isn’t easy to make sheet glass.
Another limit will come with metal, e.g. for piping (running water on every floor), but especially for making tools.
We have seen that you need wood charcoal to produce steel, and the easily mined ore is gone, anyway. For centuries to come, future generations will have to subsist on our refuse, recovering steel here and there to make tools. That will no doubt be a major preoccupation.
The main problem will be to feed the humans on Earth. We will have to shift rapidly back from the sterile industrial seed system to the traditional system of local seed production from a crop to ensure planting for the following year. The current system and its laws should be completely revised, and quickly. It is urgent insofar as we will need to relearn everything.
Follow the link to the Kokopelli Association.for more on this (in French).
The solar system formed about 4.5 billion years ago and will die in about 5 billion years. Before dying, the Sun will become a red giant, vaporizing everything on Earth. We are at approximately at the halfway point in the life of the Earth. Since we have also reached the midway point in oil production, you can take the point of view that the span of time for future eras will be identical to the span of time for past ones.
Let’s use our 24-hour timescale by way of comparison:
We won’t enter into the debate on benefits and flaws of civilization and progress. However, we can’t help asking the question “Where has all that led us?".
To conclude, here are a few key ideas that are at the root of these cogitations.
Because of the sheer amount and complexity of the knowledge accumulated, it is no longer possible to be a generalist in the same manner as Pascal in his time, who was both physicist and philosopher. We have all become specialists, and teaching is analytical rather than synthetic. To begin to understand what has happened to humans, you have to step back from the daily routine and consider the big picture in terms of time and space.
The human presence on Earth represents only about 1/2000th of the Earth’s lifetime.
Civilization represents about 1/1000th of the human presence on Earth.
The Earth’s climate is in constant evolution, and humans have gone through cold and hot periods. Since the start of civilization, the level of the oceans has risen by about 150 metres, and humans have had nothing to do with it. Only astrophysical phenomena have played a role.
There is always an equilibrium for a given population between the number of people and their capacity to procure enough food. When food lacks, the population shrinks. But when there is abundance, humans proliferate, just like bacteria.
The world’s population tripled during the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to the efficiency of the farm machinery and petrochemicals used to produce food. Reducing that efficiency through oil depletion will bring about a population decrease.
The age of metals came after sedentarization and civilization. But civilization would never have reached today’s degree of sophistication without metallurgy. Metal greatly increased the efficiency of tools.
The production of steel through the use of coke to reduce iron oxides was what enabled machinery and brought about the industrial era.
Coal is needed to produce steel. All the easily extraced coal is now gone, and extracting what is left requires the use of petroleum products. Also, recycling steel is an energy-consuming process in terms of recovery, transport and remelting.
Let’s summarize the sidetracks in Part 1:
The tertiary sector (services) can exist only if the primary and secondary sectors produce a surplus. To feed, clothe and shelter a civil servant, the farmer, weaver and mason have to produce more than for themselves alone. Note that from that point of view, children, students, retired people and players from the primary and secondary sectors who are on vacation also belong in the tertiary sector.
The notion of wealth and poverty is relative, not absolute. One is rich compared to someone poorer and vice versa.
There is no threshold above which one is rich and below which one is poor.
All activity deteriorates the system in which it takes place. All development is therefore a source of pollution.
Pollution is proportional to the wealth produced, and each individual is responsible for global pollution to the extent of his wealth.
The unit of measurement for energy is the Joule (J): a mass (kg) accelerated (m/s2) over a distance (m).
1 J = a mass of 1 kg accelerated by 1 m/s2 over a distance of 1 m.
J = kg x m2 / s2
1 kg of oil contains 45 MJ (megajoules) of energy.
1 kg of wood contains 12 MJ (megajoules) of energy.
Oil production started during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Peak discovery occurred around 1960.
Global oil production entered into depletion around 1980.
Peak production occurred around 2006-2007 with a rate of 24 Gb/year (billion barrels per year)
All we know of the industrial world is based on steel and oil. By “all”, I mean all extracted and exploited natural resources AND the service industry created by the surplus produced thanks to the extreme efficiency of petroleum products. A decline in industrial production will automatically bring about the decline of political democracy and the urban management that goes with it. Humans will have to regroup into small tribes before reaching the state of natural democracy where individual survival depends on the survival of the group. Executive power is wielded by the tribal chief, judicial power by the wise old man, and legislative power by the evening bull sessions.