What if fossil fuel disappeared tomorrow?

Some of the more extreme climate and fossil fuel activists want all fossil fuel extraction to crease almost immediately – see Protest blockade and backlash.

What would happen to the world if they got their wish? A prediction for the USA:

What If Atlas Shrugged?

by David Deming

Atlas Shrugged is the title of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel in which the world grinds to a halt after the productive segment of society goes on strike. Tired of being demonized and exploited, the world’s innovators and entrepreneurs simply walk away.

What would happen to the US today if the fossil fuel industry went on a strike of indefinite duration? What would happen if we gave the environmentalists what they want?

Within 24 hours there would be long lines at service stations as people sought to purchase remaining stocks of gasoline. The same people who denounce oil companies would be desperately scrounging the last drops of available fuel for their SUVs. By the third day, all the gasoline would be gone.

With no diesel fuel, the trucking industry would grind to a halt. Almost all retail goods in the US are delivered by trucks. Grocery shelves would begin to empty. Food production at the most basic levels would also stop.

With no trains or trucks running there would be no way to deliver either raw materials or finished products. All industrial production and manufacturing would stop. Mass layoffs would ensue. At this point, it would hardly matter. With virtually all transportation systems out, the only people who could work would be those who owned horses or were capable of walking to their places of employment.

Owners of electric cars might smirk at first, but would soon be forced to the unpleasant reality that the vehicle they thought was “emission free” runs on coal. Forty-two percent of electric power in the US is produced by burning coal.

With natural gas also out of the picture, we would lose another 25 percent. The environmentalist’s favorite power sources, wind and solar, could not fill the gap. Wind power currently generates about 3 percent of our electricity and solar power accounts for a scant 0.04 percent. The only reliable power sources left would be hydroelectric and nuclear. But together these two sources could only power the grid at 27 percent of its normal capacity. With two-thirds of the electric power gone, the grid would shut down entirely.

And Anthony Watts adds:

  • After elevated tanks of municipal water systems were depleted of drinking water in a few days, there would be no more water supply. This would force people to start looking for alternate sources, and we’d be back to a time when water treatment was unknown. Disease and death would follow for many as tainted water spreads disease. People with water wells would have to tear out electric pumps and install hand pumps or windmills to get water.
  • Related to the first point, toilets would be useless without water to flush them. Fecal matter disposal becomes an issue as gravity fed sewage systems eventually clog, and eventually fecal matter will end up in streams and rivers contributing to the spread of diseases much like the Great Stink in old London.
  • Garbage collection becomes a thing of the past. Garbage will be piled high in the streets.
  • People that have grid tied solar power systems would be no better off than their neighbors, because the DC to AC inverters require an AC power grid presence signal. Otherwise they shut off for safety. Some people with electrical skills might be able to rewire them, but then they’d only have electricity during daytime.
  • People who may have working solar energy might be targeted by the have-nots. They might wish they had paid attention to the Second Amendment to protect their home based energy source. People who still have gasoline in their cars trying to escape cities might find themselves victims of mob attacks as the have-nots look for the last remaining bits of energy. Mad-Max world ensues.
  • Windmill farms (that also need grid presence to operate) will stand as icons of folly, unusable, and cursed by the populace since they can’t make use of them. Eventually they’ll all look like these wind farms or fall down.
  • Without air conditioning, city dwellers would truly experience the Urban Heat Island effect in the summer, that is when they weren’t scrounging for food and water, and fighting off the Mad-Maxer gangs who would take anything they could from them, including their life.
  • Wood burning to stay warm during the winter becomes all the rage again. Smoke pollution returns to cities, especially in winter.
  • Real climate refugees start streaming south from high latitude countries as people run out of fuel. Many towns in Alaska and Siberia that survive only because of regular supplies of heating oil and gasoline would be abandoned.
  • Global warming, environmentalism, politics;  all would be a thing of the past, since survival trumps everything.

From Life After Energy: What if fossil fuels disappeared tomorrow?

This illustrates a major world problem – fossil fuels have serious downsides like pollution and climate change, but we are extremely reliant on them to function as heavily populated societies.

New Zealand is nowhere near as reliant on fossil fuels as some counties (like the US and Australia) but we are very reliant on fossil fueled transport.

Pulling the plug on fossil fuel use won’t happen because it would be catastrophic.  We have to reduce use and move to alternatives as quickly as possible, but that is probably going to take a long time.

42 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 18, 2016

    We are also very reliant on fossil-fuelled agriculture and horticulture and distribution of food. Very many millions would very soon starve to death.

  2. Gezza

     /  May 18, 2016

    And if climate refugees start paddling or sailing from Australia and all over the world to try and take over our hydro dams at the moment all we’ve got is a couple of patrol boats that won’t have any fuel, some LRV’s (same problem), some armed police & DF personnel but not enough fuel to truck them anywhere, farmers with shotguns, whatever we can scrounge off the gangs, Alan’s bonnet-mounted anti-campervan machine gun, & my RPG launcher with the one rocket with the bent fin.

    • Iceberg

       /  May 18, 2016

      We’d use the Greens as human shields.

      • Gezza

         /  May 18, 2016

        There’d be no need to. They’d be marching towards them in groups playing guitars and singing, with “Refugees Welcome” signs, olive branches, tofu burgers & wooden buckets of spring water.

        • David

           /  May 18, 2016

          Their superior intellects would be no match for our primitive weapons.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  May 18, 2016

            What are we going to make almost all appliances from ? Wood ? Try making a computer without oil. Silly asses. I was astonished when I read how many things are more or less made of oil.

            The Africans who had to stagger along with heavy, breakable containers of water but now use nice light plastic buckets would not want to give these up. Nor would I.I don’t want to have to weave reeds into baskets when I can use a vinyl handbag, and I don’t want to get soaked because I can’t wear a plastic coat.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  May 18, 2016

              My conscience is clear-I reuse, reduce, recycle to an extent that my actual rubbish is a supermarket bag full every two to three weeks. So I feel that I can use my nice light appliances without too much guilt. I bet that these people use computers and mobile phones-and cars, whose bodywork depends upon oil. The old all metal cars were far more dangerous in crashes, as the people inside took all the-can’t think of the right word, impact ?-whereas modern cars absorb this.

              We COULD do without oil-but I prefer not to go go back to the stone age.

            • Blazer

               /  May 18, 2016

              for gouards sake kitty there are many more alternatives for the things you mention.

            • Gezza

               /  May 18, 2016

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  May 18, 2016

              There may well be, I was writing a reply to a post, not a thesis, but they would require oil at some point of production. A gourd makes a handy water container, but it doesn’t hold much, and I imagine is awkward to carry without the water spilling out.

              I would like to know what the alternatives to appliances are and how a computer, television, microwave, radio or mobile phone could be made without oil. Anything waterproof is most unlikely not to have oil as a component.

              Even loos are dependent upon it-anything plastic is. We could go back to the old chain and overhead cistern, of course-I wouldn’t mind that. One would also have to have wooden loo seats.

              Wooden toothbrushes with hog bristles don’t greatly appeal, nor do cotton stockings and bras-or baggy cotton knickers. Or heavy, metal phones and other appliances. Dustmen probably wouldn’t like to go back to the old days of stinky dustbins.

            • Gezza

               /  May 18, 2016

              Dustmen probably wouldn’t like to go back to the old days of stinky dustbins.
              * Waste Removal Technicians.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  May 18, 2016

              Dustmen; an old and honoured title. I bet that they don’t call themselves technicians and they aren’t paid technicians’ wages. Ours will soon have to hoist bags of up to 20kg. I find this appalling and have told the council so.

  3. Blazer

     /  May 18, 2016

    Saw Ayn Rand and stopped reading….a party political broadcast on behalf of societys parasites…no doubt.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 18, 2016

      I can’t remember that, only that it was very dull and laboured the point (I have no intention of rereading it, so I may be quite wrong) and that spelling her name thus and pronouncing it as Ann seemed a real affectation.

  4. Hall

     /  May 18, 2016

    Many economies rely on fossil fuels in particular Saudi Arabia where Oil is 80% of GDP. We need fossil fuels to power vehicles like trucks, ships, and planes as we don’t have green technology to power big engines. We don’t need fossil fuels for cars, electricity, and heating as there is wind and solar to provide this. Now the petroleum industry gets most of their revenue from motorist so they do not want to lose that revenue to clean energy, because you can’t make money from the wind or the sun, and when your economy relies on Oil you have no chose but to sell Oil. So what do the Oil industry do? they deliberately over produce Oil to flood the market causing the price of Oil to go down. Why do they want the price of Oil to be cheap? well to make it more attractive to motorists, if gas is so cheap then motorists say to themselves why bother changing to clean energy when gas is so damn cheap. Also by lowering the price of Oil it cuts out the small players in the industry who are trying to take a piece of the pie. That’s why we won’t see electric cars anytime soon.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  May 18, 2016

      That is highly unlikely. Oil companies don’t want the price to go down, any more than farmers want the price of their products to do so, and they can’t MAKE oil .

      We are seeing electric cars now-and they are by no means a modern invention.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  May 18, 2016

        They were earlier than I thought-at least 130 years ago.

      • Gezza

         /  May 18, 2016

        Oil companies don’t mind the price of oil going down as long as they sell enough of it. Hall has an interesting argument above, but as has been discussed somewhere else today wind and solar are still unreliable as sources of power. And, heysoos, wind farms sure wreck the views.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  May 18, 2016

          Yes, but they won’t be doing it on purpose. They can absorb it, so to speak, but nobody wants to make less of a profit unless they’re trying to undercut the opposition.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  May 18, 2016

          Wind farms don’t wreck the view as much as I expected-they look quite sculptural. I was surprised at their size when I saw a wind generator being transported. No wonder people object to the noise when they are close to their houses, as we once saw on the news. This is another objection to them-if someone could make them silent, that would be wonderful.

          • Gezza

             /  May 18, 2016

            I suppose if they’re down in a valley somewhere like Welly’s Makara Wind Farm, they’re tolerable & most people won’t even know it’s there, but they’ve spoiled the otherwise pristine view of the Makara valley from the Skyline Walkway. They’re putting in another WF in Spicer Valley. That’ll spoil the view for hikers too, but again most people won’t notice it – and on the whole I have to accept it’s stupid not to make use of Wellington’s constant gentle zephyrs.

      • Hall

         /  May 18, 2016

        This explains the oil and clean energy situation.

        • Gezza

           /  May 18, 2016

          Excellent explanation of the reasons for the low oil prices and of the rise of the non-Opec country oil suppliers & exporters, Hall. Thanks for that. ⭐

        • Gezza

           /  May 18, 2016

          And the other thing about wind and solar power Hall is, don’t they both require prodigious amounts of fossil fuels to be expended to extract, refine, manufacture, assemble, service, and replace all the components?

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 18, 2016

      Yeah right. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela etc deliberately wreck their economies to stop Tesla selling 1% of new cars. Likewise 60 US oil companies bankrupt themselves for the same noble purpose: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-shale-telecoms-idUSKCN0XV07V

      Honestly, the things the loony Left manage to believe.

      • Blazer

         /  May 18, 2016

        you are making a real tit of yourself today Al.Its the Saudis who are pumping so that supply overshoots demand.Their price of extraction is way lower than frackers and their competitors,so they can stymie competition in the long run by ensuring prices that do not justify production .

      • Hall

         /  May 18, 2016

        No, just Saudi Arabia because they’re wealthy and powerful that they’re the only country who can still make a profit off lower prices because they don’t have the debt to pay off like Venezuela or smaller companies. The reason others have gone under is because they have needed the price of oil to stay high around the $1oo/barrel to stay in Bussiness and service their debt. Saudi Arabia is doing what all monopolies do in capitalism that is to squeeze out the competition by whatever means, even if it means taking a loss now in order to reap the rewards later. Small countries like Venezuela don’t have any influence in OPEC so they are at the mercy of the most powerful nations, also the elite wanted to teach them a lesson about turning their back on capitalism.

  5. Yes, Alan, once again I agree. I do think however that for New Zealand we should maximise our use of electrical vehicles for transport use. We should try and leave as much of our coal and oil/gas reserves in the ground to allow a continuation of a pharmaceutical industry to survive, as well as our plastics. We must continue to produce food for as many as we can so we will have to balance the negatives of agriculture with the forestry and non-fossil fuels alternatives we have. We should also exploit the billions of litres of fresh water which is going out to sea, especially in the South Island. Potable water is essential to human survival. Our main deficiency is in the lack of rare metals needed for batteries. We need research and development now to identify practical methods of storing energy in a form where it is readily available to be used for all of the uses we have for energy. We perhaps also need to think the unthinkable and use fusion/fission production for energy. The biggest problem is that we do not have an agreed strategic plan for our future and a commitment by the people to put it into place. Where are the leaders for this? I hope they are at University now getting the skills needed for the future because I see no sign of them amongst our past or present politicians, nor do I believe the MSM have the native wit to recognize the inevitable and provide support for the policies needed. We have a great little country here, a land of milk and honey and fruits and meats and fisheries to survive, with a practical approach to protecting what we have by reducing the contamination which we all have contributed to. I also believe that neither the tangata whenua nor the Greens have a monopoly on the guardianship of all elements of our environment, we all have to play our part.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  May 18, 2016

      The earth has many centuries of coal reserves and vast methane hydrate stores under the sea. I don’t think there is any fear of running short of hydrocarbons for plastic and pharmaceutical needs. Neither do I think we need any paranoid focus on self-sufficiency beyond reasonable efficiency. We have efficient energy storage in the form of lakes and battery technology is a global issue. Wave and tide energy is continuous and surrounds us – successful utilization of that would be valuable.

  6. Blazer

     /  May 18, 2016

    nice post BJ.

  7. patupaiarehe

     /  May 18, 2016

    Earth will never run out of oil, ‘peak oil’ refers to ‘peak extraction’, which is the point where it can’t be extracted fast enough to meet demand….

    • Gezza

       /  May 18, 2016

      Ae … and economically/safely enough to meet demand as well. Deep wells in dangerous waters, wells in Arctic environments, they’re all too risky & challenging still.

  8. Brown

     /  May 18, 2016

    If you want to know about the future of Saudi Arabia read “Twilight in the Desert”. Their days are numbered (like us) but we have alternatives to postpone the day.

  9. jamie

     /  May 19, 2016

    The article is a very good description of the world we’ll be living in when we run out of affordable fossil fuels if we DON’T divest as soon as possible.

    • jamie

       /  May 19, 2016

      ps obviously a lot of it doesn’t apply to NZ specifically as we aren’t reliant on burning coal, oil and gas for most of our electricity generation. Until we need to repair a turbine of course 😉