A Human History Without Oil: A Speculative Ramble

So again, the blog is a bookmark to bits in other places.

I jotted down some thoughts at the end of days-long “what if” mind play about how civilization, technology and culture might be today had Earth events not delivered to us various forms of carbon, packaged in mass quantities underground, ostensibly for the eventual discovery by homo sapiens and use of human genius, to drive what we have come to know as modern civilization.

Click the blue bar to read the whole piece at medium.com or just read as long as you can stand it in this blog post to get the flavor of the thing.

Carbon slaves have powered the Industrial Revolution, the Green Revolution, the Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene, and the Population Explosion of the past two hundred years.

This is just an exercise. It is not a Luddite dream of how things would have been “better” without oil and all of the technologies that have been powered by it.

I, for  one, have been the beneficiary of cheap energy, modern medicine and ample food to eat, gifted to me by the energy slaves of our time. I just wish we could have managed our appetites with more temperance and justice in our zeal to prosper and grow.

This head-game assumes we still would have had an “Enlightenment” and a “Scientific Revolution” but not the familiar tools to do the work that oil has done.

The genie can’t be put back into the lamp, at any rate.  We live with the good and bad consequences of oil, a tiny side-note in the long narrative that remains ahead of life on Earth.

We WILL some day–within a very small number of generations, I believe–live in a world where use of carbon energy is practically non-existant for the ordinary person, other than wood.

We can and should be thinking about some of those “smaller footprint” ways of living in the future that would have been the historical norm, had the Carboniferous never happened.

I’d be interested in but do not necessarily expect to hear your thoughts.


About fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

3 comments:

  1. The groundswell toward green energy is happening now. It’s slow, but human conviction, when it takes hold, can be very powerful. Let’s hope the idea of living carbon-free reaches a critical mass—and soon.

  2. Green energy (as we currently understand it) is better than fossil fuel dependence. But it will not bridge us to a sustainable future anything like the one upon which the modern era has been built and which is so soon to disappear from the history books. The raw materials (metals, rare earths, and energy) for giant windmills and solar farms is a high cost going forward, especially if numbers and resource footprint continues to climb.

    Also, we are dependent (our machines are designed to use) liquid fuels, which are storable and shippable. Without them, air travel and 2000 mile food footprints are a thing of the past.

    Again, all this can foster renewed thinking about cradle to cradle, conservation, appropriate technology and other benefits of “downsizing” humankind. Then (somehow, with justice and good sense) we need to downsize humankind’s numbers.

    We have to make this transition with a certain degree of grace. I’m not sure we are thinking far enough ahead to pull this off. We could conceivably do it, but I am skeptical, particularly given the global swing towards ME HERE NOW mentality where only profitability and efficiency are high priorities for those in power in the “first world.”

  3. The resistance to downsizing will remain insurmountable until our various crises are horrendous, I believe. We will not make this massive transition without great pain and suffering, I also believe. No optimism here.

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