If electricity ceased to exist

Since a nice neat factual answer isn’t possible, let’s move this to Great Debates.

Also a forthcoming third volume, A Meeting at Corvallis. You can read sample chapters of all three novels here: http://www.smstirling.com/

The short of it is: About 9/10 of humanity dies within a few months of the Change, from starvation and/or disease, or by violence in the desperate struggling over the remaining food. The survivors eventually settle down into an agricultural way of life (but not quite like the Middle Ages, because people still have much better medical and scientific knowledge). Wars continue, and they have to be fought with pre-gunpowder weapons. The cause of the Change is not yet disclosed; the prevailing theory is “Alien Space Bats.”

The same thing that kicked Nantucket back to pre-history in the “Island In The Ocean of Time” trilogy is postulated to be the cause of The Change in the new trilogy. I recommend them. They are interesting reading.

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IIRC, in the books, the gamma ray burst ionized the atmosphere, which is what actually caused the EMP, and the ionization spread from the side of the earth that was visible from Alpha Centauri all over the upper atmosphere to the back side, so it affected the entire planet. It’s been awhile since I read the books, though, so I could have that wrong.

I do know that Alpha Centauri wasn’t visible in the sky of North America at the time (I think because it’s in the southern sky), and yet North America was completely affected, so the gamma ray burst affected the whole planet somehow. And I think Charles Sheffield was a physicist, so he probably wouldn’t have gotten that wrong…

Incidentally, those two books are really good. Full of all sorts of neat stuff including serial killers, attempts to save the earth, resurrecting the dead (or the nearly dead), etc. Charles Sheffield’s death was a great loss.

I think we’d get over it. There are many large cities (like Delhi) that do not have reliable electricity (you can expect the power to go out at least once a day for a few hours there). There are entire countries that only have electricity in their capitol cities.

We’d initially lose some people to medical problems and general unrest, but most of us would quickly relocate to places where food can grow and we’d convert more of our nation’s copious farmland to immediately useable food. We’d obviously have to change a lot about our way of life, but humans are adaptable, and we really haven’t lived this way all that long.

I remember an SF book that had this as a premise - there were “Mysterious Monoliths” spaced over the globe that did the electricity-stopping (I think it was flowing current only), and there was some thing about starting Diesel trucks with the sparker thingummy that starts fighter jet engines. Is this one of the book already mentioned, or something else?

We need electricity for our nerve networks, so without it 100% of us would flop down dead.

Electron flow, or ionic flows in aqueous solution? If it got to the level where there was no movement of any electrically-charged particles, well, the whole universe would stop working.

If man lost the ability to generate electricity, then it would the worst tragedy to befall the human race. The larger or more isolated a community, the more devastating it would be. (We’ll just note now that areas that are currently lacking steady power and that still use animals for transport would be largely unaffected.)

Start with the great metropolises, such as New York City. Millions of people. Even if you don’t throw in a couple of days for people to realize that the effect was permanent, you’ve still got uncountable numbers of people fleeing the city with increasing desperation, all of them constrained to the maximum speed of a bicycle. They would spread across the areas around the city like a plague of locusts, consuming everything edible as they went with there still not being enough for all. A few people would survive; most would starve, unable to reach a source of nonperishable food large enough to sustain the number of starving travelers that would arrive at it. Even cannibalisim would only prolong the inevitable.

Isolated cities would suffer a similar fate, just without bothering to leave town to do it. Deprived of shipments of food, much of the desert southwest would be faced with the options of starving at home or walking along deserted higways until they starved out there. In many cases there would be no survivors.

Even in the relatively few “civilized” areas where the population didn’t numerically overwhelm the amount of ready food in hiking/biking range, for every city where a rationing program was partition out the cattle for slaughter at a reasonable rate, many more would succumb to the effects of panic and mob mentality, consuming everything in their warehouses and fields long before some sort of orderly plan to ensure long-term survival could be established.

The relatively few areas that had a small enough population to be sustained by accesible food supplies would be effectively isolated; anywhere out-of-the-way enough to avoid being beset upon by starving mobs would be also too distant to contact other survivors. Rural communites would fare best with horses and other animals rapidly regaining the status they had in the past. Civilization would rapidly settle into a tool-starved rural/mid colonial state; a shortage of metalsmiths with the knowledge and skills would greatly slow the re-establishment of manufacture in metal. Steam power would be almost totally unavailable for this reason; few would be able to due to fashion the boilers and other parts.

I imagine that in time regional governments would re-emerge, in the areas that still contained people. There would probably be a fair amount of respect given to the old countries and governmental structures, though most of the actual government infrastructures would have fallen with the large cities. Even so, order could be maintined by terrifically well-armed footsoldiers until the bullets ran out.

I can see some interesting stories or movies being set in such an environment. Still though, it would be the worst apocolypse known to man.

Naw, the worst apocalypse known the man would surely affect more than 2/3 of mankind- two billion people don’t currently have access to electricity. There are plenty of modern states, even with fairly large cities, that do not have much electricity. It would be a hard transition with lots of death, but once we developed food and food distribution networks life would go on.

What, man has known any other apocalypses that offed more than half the world population and set the world technology level back a hundred years? What kind of bar are you setting here?

I’ll concede that I have only the vaguest awareness of how many people live in which places with what technology, but given that all current models of the internal combustion engine depend on functioning spark plugs to some small degree, I seriously doubt that a third of the people on the planet would be unaware of the loss of electricity. If a society uses anything more advanced than a horse-drawn cart to move supplies, the effect would be felt. Similarly, anyplace that uses combustion-powered pumps to raise water from their wells.

True, a city that already subsists on hand-pumped well water and foodstuffs brought weekly to market on wooden carts will shrug and carry on. Until the bullets run out their guns will even still work, presuming that striking sparks is still allowed. (If not… I think we just lost the ability to make fire, which I think will just about wipe out humanity.) Your average first-world nation, though, would feel this like nothing else.

After a moment’s thought, of course we’ll still be able to strike sparks; I don’t know what I was thinking. So there definitely still be plenty of people still around once all the dyin’s done.

I think you’re vastly overestimating the number that would die, but for your question, how about The Black Death?

Unlikely? I wouldn’t be shocked if it did.


Exactly watt do you mean? Many current theories suggest otherwise. You might want to think about making a switch.

My main issues, I guess, are

(i) that people talk about “city slickers” and their inability to grow a vegetable. They would surely not perish from physical debilitation, but would from…

(ii) the “toxic shock” that may would feel if their pension plans were rendered useless, along with their jobs, bank accounts, stock market investments, ownership of their property, platinum credit cards - all of which would be open to question, and their very claims to those rights, capable of being manipulated by bullies (sorry alpha males or nouveau riche), which would quickly dominate society (and take your wives and girlfriends for good measure - highly controversial, and I wish there were girls out there who would take an alternative view, but there is a survival instinct out there): (I am a loser in this equation, being, at best, on a good mirror day, alpha minus). But these obvious losers, the city boys, still might control enough assets to make it really uncomfortable for the alphas, and the fact is they are probably brighter.

I think the UK would suffer more than the USA, where a certain realism about guns and violence and an appreciation of societal values, couoled with a lot af arable space, would allow some society to prevail. The UK (and the rest of Europe, Japan) has already totally lost this sense of reality about fundamentals. When Rome falls through lack of interest and population, it will make the news, (but who will write it and who will read it?).

By the way, I travel the world extensively, mainly in the so called “third world” and I have not come across a society which would survive that long without electricity, coupled with the loss of transfers of wealth/ survivability that the West brings. The comments made by others about the 2/3rds population not notiicing just don’t stand up, in my experieince. Having electrictiy for only two hours a day (Dar es Salaam on a bad day - a good day is 22 hours), is not the same as no electricity at all. The difference, I would argue, is intense and fundamental.

In my opinion, the “third world” would suffer in equal numbers alongside those of our own (the “comfy sofa brigade”). No-one will be around to document this denoument. They will be too busy procreating or dying, is my guess. (I want to be a procreator, please, if you would be so kind !!!)



The same could be said for most citydwellers 150 years ago.

I don’t know about you, but I still have my bank and mortgage statements; I can still write a cheque. The deeds of my house are with my mortgage company. It’s all down on paper somewhere.

I recommend these books also. They held my interest from start to end. And if I was in that situation, I’d probably be dead.

I think the fact that transportation would be reduced to horses and bicycles would do an excellent job of killing off the citydwellers. Forget planting anything, you have to GET to a food source first. And one that won’t be wiped out by the hundred people who were hot on your heels.

Forget your bank statements; how much food do you have on you, and how much ammunition to hold back the hordes? The survivors will be the ones currently sitting on farms, far enough away from the city that the starving populace won’t shoot them and eat all the seedlings.