Say technology stagnates- at what level?

Inspired by the “Could We Go Back to the 1930s?” thread. Let’s assume a couple of things for the sake of discussion: [ul][]The end of cheap plentiful petroleum hits the world hard enough that the progress of technology is halted.[]At the same time, the world does not regress to a pre-industrial level.[]Governments and societies survive the transition, there is not a general breakdown of order.[]Advanced technology isn’t forgotten, it’s simply too expensive to implement in an energy-poor worldBreakthroughs in alternate energy are still persued, but progress is dramatically slowed due to the fact that without a thriving energy-intensive infrastructure in the first place, many of them are hopelessly uneconomic.[/ul] (And of course these presumptions may be debated).What would such a world look like? Would it be like a somewhat poorer version of our world today? Would we regress to a 1930s level? An 1890s level? Presumably there would be isolated instances of high tech where it would still be cheaper to operate them rather than fall back to more primitive tech, especially in the military- if you’re going to have planes at all, you’ll have a small elite squadron of jet fighters, not masses of biplanes. Maybe the world looks something like Firefly: the bulk of humanity lives at a near-selfsufficient level, with small but vital inputs of helpful high tech where it’s worth the cost.

I would question your first presumption. Not a likely scenario. If Peak Oil becomes reality, it will be over a reasonably long period of time. More than enough time, in fact, to switch to a myriad other sources of energy. There would be a restructuring, to be sure, but a regression? Not bloody likely. Transportation would still happen, just fueled by synthetics or electricity. As long as there is electricity, technology is here to stay and will continue to advance.

Well…first off I disagree that this is a likely scenario. However, if it did happen I would presume we would simply go to a steam/electrical technology base as there is still plenty of coal in them thar hills…and lots of nuclear, solar, geothermal, wind etc energy to be had as well.

Why people think that if the oil ran out (something not likely to happen) this would mean we’d forget all about all our other technologies is a mystery to me. The principals of steam power have been with us for over 2 centuries now…and we aren’t likely to forget all about electrical power either.


Yes! Let’s go steampunk! :smiley:

I’d say it would go pretty much the way it does in the Third World right now - the rich live in modern enclaves with all the mod-cons, the poor live as they have for millennia, getting by with man & animal power and scratching the dirt for a living, with the oddest injections of modern tech like bicycles (very valuable in rural Africa), small TVs and cellphones (ubiquitous nowadays - often as a commercial venture like payphones).

So yeah, pretty much like Firefly.

The Romans amongst others didn’t scratch the dirt for a living and had quite a comfortable and sophisticated society,also I disagree that not having cheep abundant oil would result in a regression in scientific development.

On the contrary I think that it would cause a surge in research not the least because we wouldn’t have the easy answer in our hands anymore.

I think there’ll be a significant blip as people transition from oil-based vehicles to ones based on other fuels - electricity, hydrogen, whatever. Unless someone comes up with a way to synthesise it. After all, it’s just a hydrocarbon. Whoever first patents that will become a billionaire if not a trillionaire.

I hope the transition would be not just from oil fuelled vehicles to vehicles with other fuel sources, not without a major rethink of the need to use vehicles the way we currently do. I mean, the way we use oil powered vehicles today is, I believe, extremely wasteful, unsustainable, and uneconomic without grossly undervalued oil. It’s insane that people will live long distances from their jobs and drive huge, empty vehicles back and forth every day. Likewise shipping things long distances when they could be produced locally. Oil = cheap transport. The economics on which our society is built hinges on cheap transport from oil.

If there is no oil and transport is more realistically valued, it changes the whole structure of society. That could be a positive thing, if it means better planning and less energy use overall. It would be a shame if we missed the opportunity and just went from “oil powered car dependant urban sprawl” to “coal fired hydrogen powered car dependant urban sprawl”. We need to admit that our current use of energy is woefully wasteful and address our bad habbits, not look for a way to keep the party rocking until the coal’s all gone too.

I disagree: it’s a simple cost / benefit analysis. Cheap fuel also provides the worker with great flexibility: how would you fee if every time you changed your job you had to move?

If it was cheaper and less taxing on the world’s finite resources to move me and all my stuff to a new home once every couple of years instead of moving me back and forth to and from work all the time, I’d feel pretty good. Not to mention the extra time I’d have for social and family life…

Unrealistic premises. If energy costs soar to such an extent, modern military forces will be unsustainable on their current scale, and manpower will rule the day. The US will utilize its permanent bases in the Middle East to grab Iran, Azerbaijan, and some others while it still can. India/Pakistan will clash. PRC will try to grab Siberia once manpower supersedes tech. At some point, nukes will fly.

Realistically, people will develop ways to live as they prefer by using new resources. The bed will be refitted to fit the person, not vice versa.

There are already dozens and dozens of ways of manufacturing liquid fuels from coal or biomass, everyone knows how the Germans synthesized fuel from coal during WWII.

We could do this tomorrow, except synthetic fuel from coal still costs more than $4.00/gallon gasoline. And expecting synthetic fuel to be cheaper than gasoline is kind of silly, because if a simple process existed that could synthesize cheap fuel, we’d already be using it rather than gasoline.

There are dozens of alternatives, but they aren’t going to return us to $0.99/gallon gas.

No, their slaves did the dirt-scratching. Mass plantation-style farms kept Rome fed. How comfortable and sophisticated do you think those slaves were?

But if someone were to find such a method…

True enough…the Romans most certainly used slave labor. That was one of their problems in fact…toward the end they actually needed to create make work problems (usually public works like road construction, maintenance, etc) to keep the actual citizens occupied since there were so many slaves. And they had several slave revolts IIRC…which kind of speaks to how comfortable they were.

But I don’t see why the world would NEED to go back to that level of technology. even if all the oil disappeared tomorrow we wouldn’t need to do so. At the absolute minimum we could easily go back to, say, a late 19th century technology base. And third world nations may actually be better off than they are today in such a situation (once they adjust)…after all, many of those countries used to be able to easily feed themselves but can’t today due to various factors.

Unless we had some kind of Dies the Fire type scenario I’m just not seeing we’d need to revert even to late 19th century technology base.


I didn’t say “the world” would go back to that level of tech - like I said, there will be enclaves (which would be cities and small countries, not little compounds) where modern, even future tech, will be available, and life will go on as before. But outside those, I think people will get used to less. Probably not at a medieval level, probably not even Steam Age, maybe 1960s level, like Cuba with all its old cars. And the AK is still the Third World’s weapon of choice…

Ok…I can agree with that somewhat. I think that many 3rd world countries may actually be better off actually once they adjust (and if the 1st and 2nd world nations are dealing with their own problems and leaving them alone). Though perhaps not.


But that’s not any more likely to happen than economical fusion power.

We use gasoline to fuel our cars because gasoline is the cheapest fuel in existance. Given enough energy we can convert just about any carbon rich feedstock into octane. But why would we expect synthetic octane to be $0.99/gallon?

In other words, we’re never going to live in a world of $20.00/gallon gasoline, because you can fuel your car with vodka from the liquor store for cheaper than that. But to expect an alternative fuel source to compete with $2.00/gallon is fanciful.

And technological stagnation is also fanciful. Computers don’t run on cheap oil. Telephones don’t run on cheap oil. Wikipedia doesn’t run on cheap oil. Electric lights don’t run on cheap oil. Cable televisions don’t run on cheap oil. Medicine doesn’t run on cheap oil. Cars and trucks and airplanes run on cheap oil.

It’s pretty easy to imagine a future where the cost of operating a car or a truck or an airplane is much higher. But look at Africa. People in Africa are getting cell phones even though they cannot hope to afford personal cars. And that “cell phone” is just going to get cheaper and more powerful. In 20 years a dirt cheap cell phone is going to be able to do everything your laptop computer can do today. And just about everyone in the third world will have one. And it doesn’t matter if the price of oil continues to spiral upwards. Maybe the fuel crisis means that Africans will never be able to afford cars. That doesn’t mean technological stagnation! They’ll be riding bicycles and scratching at the dirt on their subsistence farms, but watching videos on YouTube and contributing to Wikipedia in Swahili and Yoruba.

I don’t think we could support our current population levels nearly as easy.

First world farming supports it’s population levels with mechanized farming, and transport. Meat and diary will become pretty scarce and expensive I’d wager till alternate technology can be developed. You have to haul that stuff in refrigerated units before it expires.

Electric train infrastructure could solve the transportation problem, but you’re still left figuring out to fuel the tractors.