A Fuel Depleted Economy?

Discussion in 'Business & Economics' started by Carcano, Dec 9, 2012.

  1. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    This is a thread about what a typical western city would (or will) look like under conditions of severe fossil fuel depletion. By that I mean very high prices for oil and natural gas...but not for electricity.

    The first thing that will happen is an ideological shift away from personal economic liberty (or the right to do whatever you want with what you have) towards a strategy geared towards the survival and flourishing of the society over all.

    1. The government will create a list of food products allowed to sold, effectively banning anything else that doesnt appear on the list.

    The list will include all grains, vegetables, nuts, milk products, eggs and meat...but exclude approx. 80% of current products available processed from those basic ingredients and the multitude of chemical additives. No more oreos or cheese doodles.

    2. The government will ban the construction of commercial buildings without an integration of a set percentage of residential space under one roof. This will encourage people to live where they work. Remember that transportation costs are currently second only to housing costs for the average citizen.

    3. As cities contract in area, they will NOT rise to higher heights as you might expect. Laws will establish a maximum of five stories as you see in many parts of Europe. City centers will also be established as car-free zones, a la Copenhagen.

    4. Taxis will be subsidized and become very affordable, while personal vehicle ownership will become very expensive for non-commercial use.

    What are some other ways a city can survive a fuel depleted environment...assuming we will not see vastly improved batteries (10 fold energy density) for the next century?
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2012
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  3. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    ...although no one has any idea when that might happen, and what other resources will be in use to compensate.

    Or: a dramatic rise in the importance of self-sufficiency leads to flight from the cities back to the countryside, where folks can harvest their own energy under an ideology of greater economic liberty and lack of concern for society over all.

    Or: Rural fight leads to the demise of agribusiness as truck farms sprout up all over the world. (Presumably the whole world runs out of fossil fuels at the same time.)

    Back to home baked cookies and bread, Mom's authentic Sicilian cuisine, Uncle Joe's tofu-burgers, and the girl next door's blackened catfish, harvested in her own pond.

    Or: rural flight leads to ingenious construction methods, such as geodesic domes and earth homes, that sprout up in co-operative enclaves, where "shipping" amounts to hauling a bag of wheat home from the miller's in a wheelbarrow. Transportation may include a horse, plus a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle for trips to the next village, in an era, of course, when common folks will be able to make their own electrodes the way frontiersman could master blacksmithing. People are ingenious, and will go to great lengths to carve out a path of least resistance.

    Or: skyscrapers, abandoned after rural flight, are gutted and transformed into hydroponic gardens, henhouses, etc. , where cityfolk can grow their own grub.

    Or: the government will subsidize EVs (as today) but moreso, and the abundance of cheap electricity and breakthroughs in fuel cell and battery technology will help drive petro-economics into obsolescence.

    Not fuel depleted altogether, just fossil fuels. Cities are already wired for electrical distribution, although the addition of millions vehicle power cells to an urban grid might require some buildout. So this will probably take place first. More nukes will probably be built, and wind, solar and geothermal collection will probably mushroom. Cities would have to decline a lot in order to cause a younger generation to move away, in the reverse of the past trend. So the scenario for the demise of the city, although somewhat fatalistic, bodes well for the farming communities that might replace them.
     
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  5. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    The distances between locations are too great in the countryside...unless you are assuming an Amish lifestyle where horses are used for transport.

    Even still, I doubt many people would want such a boring life without all the possibilities that cities provide.

    I can imagine that even farm tractors and combines will have to run on electric powerlines like trolley cars.
     
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  7. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    This is an interesting idea...skyscrapers would have to be orientated to the south, and have very high floor to ceiling windows to transform each floor into a green house environment, where even citrus fruit can be grown.
     
  8. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    Geodesic domes are a terrible waste of space...as are earth sheltered homes. A condo surrounded on five sides by other condos within a single building will use less space and energy than an earth sheltered single family home.
     
  9. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    Speaking of greenhouses, I think it would be wonderful to live in a large five story condo building with a greenhouse on the roof for raising goats and chickens.

    You would come home on the electric street car, and before checking in you would take the elevator to the greenhouse and come back with 6 eggs and a liter of goat's milk.

    Theres nothing better than feta cheese made with goat's milk people.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVGHtJcHuxo
     
  10. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    Btw, this is a picture of Siena in Italy...the only car-free city in Europe I know of.
    Some commercial trucks are allowed in the morning to bring in supplies.
    Also skyscraper-free! Venice doesnt count because it uses boats instead.


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  11. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    That would change as city folks began heading for the hills. In the fuel-depleted economy, city residences are too densely packed. Apartments, zero-lot lines and densely packed sub-acre homes lack the area to set up windmills and solar collectors.
    There may be a few holdouts for primitive living and thinking, but I was addressing the future generations, and their application to creative solutions to fossil fuel depletion. A horse is a logical choice for off-road transport and to help with chores. It's a likely outcome because it will be too expensive to pave the trails and backroads of the future, and it will detract from the appeal of living there, as now.

    You were painting a picture of a stark future in which cities would fall into decay, held up by government austerity measures. That gave me the impression that the night life etc. had long evaporated. People driven away and forced to become self sufficient would likely relax to the comfort of local breweries and wineries and new music and art that kindles the fire of self-determination. Troubadors, traveling artisans, and maybe a Vegas on wheels would spring up, sustained by high turnout in such towns.
    Or: large farms go belly up, sell out, and 90% of homeowners end up on 4-acre lots with their own windmills, solar collectors, and a garden to amply feed the family.
     
  12. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    I was thinking of existing buildings, the ones still standing when they are no longer sustainable. Presumably they could be gutted and used for gardens - wherever the light is abundant. But the dark interiors might be used as water towers, grain elevators, even barns and chicken coops. Old broken down and abandoned homes would probably be razed and converted back to gardens and hothouses.
     
  13. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    New Orleans may resemble Venice in that regard if the French Quarter should ever be inundated by rising oceans. Here's an auto free zone in the Guanabara Bay, a place called Ilha de Paquetá. Folks ferry over from Rio to hang out and to go cycling.

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  14. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    The problem in this scenario is not lack of electricity, so small personal windmills and solar panels are not relevant. The problem is lack of oil and gas.

    Heading for the hills and living in the hills requires far too much fuel...compared to city living.
     
  15. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    In this scenario it is the suburbs and countryside that will fall into residential decay. They will of course still be used for production of food, lumber and electricity for the cities.
     
  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Energy needs are far lower per person for people in cities due to:

    -reduced energy needs for commuting
    -reduced energy needs for heating/cooling
    -reduced energy needs for shipping bulk materials (far cheaper to ship ten tons of food to one city store than 1 ton of food each to 10 suburban stores)

    Also cities are typically next to shipping avenues (rail, river, harbor) that allows much cheaper shipping of bulk materials.

    Horses pulling carts do better on paved roads. Indeed, 4 wheel drive vehicles can handle much rougher roads than loaded draft animals can.

    It's tempting to think of the past (with all its associated lack of technology) as idyllic, but in general advances have happened because they were useful to people.
     
  17. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    I was operating under the assumption that 90% of city dwellers would be driven to the country to set up their own wind and solar farms. I was assuming they would be living self-sufficiently with no particular need to commute.

    I was assuming they would use geothermal methods, such as berm homes, that sort of thing.

    It's not clear to me how self-sufficient living fits into this. Perhaps a train service of some kind would suffice to transport whatever bulk materials are worth transporting in the fuel-deprived future.

    I was operating under the assumption that existing harbors were under water, shipping was all but extinct, and the populace of existing port cities had headed for the higher ground and open spaces.

    I wasn't particularly thinking of loaded draft animals, but perhaps a horse with a cart for hauling seed, tools or supplies. The horse would be useful going through woods or on narrow trails, and for pulling a plow. If any of this ever actually happened, I imagine people would gravitate back to some partial reliance on horses, but they would also keep an EV that they would perhaps use sparingly, to conserve their private energy stores. Presumably, if energy were abundant, the horse would be moot.

    Sure. I'm thinking about how future generations might respond to austerity measures, such as rationing. I was assuming they'd go harvest their own renewable energy (those who would be fit enough to do the work) by spreading out, perhaps a few acres per homestead. I wasn't thinking idyllic so much as a rough life, by today's standards, especially getting started. But a lot of antiquated solutions have the practical advantage of being well-suited to the proposed fuel-deprived world, which is why it would seem plausible to find a hybrid of new and old ideas working in tandem there. For example, a horse may turn a turnstile to help drill a geothermal well. Some other antiquated device, like a wood-fired kiln, might be useful to make a ceramic insulator for a homemade electrolytic fuel cell. And so on.
     
  18. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, and that's the problem. Trains are excellent at serving population centers but lousy at serving low population density areas.

    Well, harbors are sort of underwater by definition . . .

    But even if the sea level rises 3 feet (absolute worst case prediction by the IPCC) you're not going to lose any of the current US harbors, although they will certainly be reshaped a bit. And in a scenario where there is no more oil to burn, CO2 levels will be lower, meaning lower sea level rises.

    Yes, that's what I mean. Once you add wheels you have all the same problems that any other wheeled vehicle has.

    Keep in mind that energy is not synonymous with oil, and oil is not synonymous with vehicles. We have plenty of natural gas vehicles on the road today (mainly buses and taxis, a few cars) and they will run on pig waste methane as well as they will on the fossil variety. Any oil shock will result in a massive change to our economy, to be sure. But when I mean "massive" I mean Fedex going out of business and BNSF Rail taking their place. No more overnight delivery to your doorstep; now there will be 5 day delivery to the local depot, and you'll have to go to pick it up. No more strawberries or tomatoes in winter.

    In terms of population changes cities won't change much; they are already well adapted to low energy consumption. Electrical sources won't change much, and thus what powers cities will largely remain the same. Suburbs will see major changes as people can no longer easily commute to work, and will have to live closer to either mass transit or the work itself.

    I don't see the need for individual solar or wind farms. If we lose oil we lose cars and airplanes. If we lose oil and natural gas we lose cars, airplanes and some electrical generation. If we lose coal (can't see how that would happen but let's say) _then_ we lose a lot of our electrical capacity. But people don't really need electricity to live in cities; they didn't for centuries. To me it is more likely that people living in cities would adapt to lower electrical supplies than start energy/food homesteading, which is difficult, expensive and low ROI.

    At the same time you'd see massive wind and solar farms in the places that are ideal for them; these would supply the grid with power for the cities. Part of the adaptation the city dwellers will have to make is the less-reliable delivery of power; thus you'd expect reduced train service, reduced services like air conditioning and street lighting and disconnection of things like electric water heaters during periods of low power generation.

    I don't know if a 1HP drill is all that useful when it comes to drilling a geothermal well . . . I think it would be more likely that you'd use a generator to power a modern drill run by:

    -natural gas
    -coal gas if there's no natural gas
    -wood gas if there's no coal

    That's a romantic vision but I think not that likely.
     
  19. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, and that's the problem. Trains are excellent at serving population centers but lousy at serving low population density areas.

    Well, harbors are sort of underwater by definition . . .

    But even if the sea level rises 3 feet (absolute worst case prediction by the IPCC) you're not going to lose any of the current US harbors, although they will certainly be reshaped a bit. And in a scenario where there is no more oil to burn, CO2 levels will be lower, meaning lower sea level rises.

    Yes, that's what I mean. Once you add wheels you have all the same problems that any other wheeled vehicle has.

    Keep in mind that energy is not synonymous with oil, and oil is not synonymous with vehicles. We have plenty of natural gas vehicles on the road today (mainly buses and taxis, a few cars) and they will run on pig waste methane as well as they will on the fossil variety. Any oil shock will result in a massive change to our economy, to be sure. But when I mean "massive" I mean Fedex going out of business and BNSF Rail taking their place. No more overnight delivery to your doorstep; now there will be 5 day delivery to the local depot, and you'll have to go to pick it up. No more strawberries or tomatoes in winter.

    In terms of population changes cities won't change much; they are already well adapted to low energy consumption. Electrical sources won't change much, and thus what powers cities will largely remain the same. Suburbs will see major changes as people can no longer easily commute to work, and will have to live closer to either mass transit or the work itself.

    I don't see the need for individual solar or wind farms. If we lose oil we lose cars and airplanes. If we lose oil and natural gas we lose cars, airplanes and some electrical generation. If we lose coal (can't see how that would happen but let's say) _then_ we lose a lot of our electrical capacity. But people don't really need electricity to live in cities; they didn't for centuries. To me it is more likely that people living in cities would adapt to lower electrical supplies than start energy/food homesteading, which is difficult, expensive and low ROI.

    At the same time you'd see massive wind and solar farms in the places that are ideal for them; these would supply the grid with power for the cities. Part of the adaptation the city dwellers will have to make is the less-reliable delivery of power; thus you'd expect reduced train service, reduced services like air conditioning and street lighting and disconnection of things like electric water heaters during periods of low power generation.

    I don't know if a 1HP drill is all that useful when it comes to drilling a geothermal well . . . I think it would be more likely that you'd use a generator to power a modern drill run by:

    -natural gas
    -coal gas if there's no natural gas
    -wood gas if there's no coal

    That's a romantic vision but I think not that likely.
     
  20. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    I don't know how the scenario of a highly self-sufficient society relates to mass transportation or the transit of bulk goods. Your guess is as good as mine. Trains could serve some ancillary function, I suppose. The existing system of loading and unloading silos at small town sidings comes to mind.

    This is a hypothetical scenario. One assumption (pure speculation) is that cities would fall into decay and people would flee. I added the scenario of flooding where boats currently dock, which I further speculated would contribute to the demise of shipping, along with the near end of demand for goods as we currently know it.

    Could be. I threw that in as a worst case scenario, to aggravate the case in which people might flee the cities.

    I wonder. After "all the gas and oil" is burned what will really happen? Again, I was assuming a nightmare scenario.

    Got that. The horse drawn cart certainly has limitations. On the other hand I was assuming there wouldn't be much need to push the envelope.

    (A school buddy of mine rebuilt a road-oil tanker to run on chicken droppings. He could generate just enough to methane to get back to town, with just enough to get back to the chicken farm for a refill.) Back to the scenario: I was operating under the assumption that all fossil fuels were depleted.

    That's consistent with my assumptions about what the OP suggests. I suppose a lot of folks would figure out how to raise tomatoes and strawberries out of season. In any case, they'd most likely be growing their own food, and I suppose there would not be much demand for mail, for deliveries, and for interstate trucking in general.

    I supposed they would leave to avoid any more dependency on the grid and to escape the austerity and the heavy hand of government in the OP.

    I guess I was assuming coal would play out, though not specifically mentioned. I took it that energy and commodities would be in such short supply that the world was effectively in a state of martial law. To me, that would drive folks away. Further, I was assuming that renewable electrical sources would rise and replace a lot of what was depleted, and presumably nuclear plants would remain as they are, without the political will to build more.

    It's not clear to me what industry means any more under the scenario given. I was assuming there was all kinds of dead industry and little incentive to stay.

    The cities before electricity were not sprawling metroplexes with so much infrastructure that depends on the grid. For example water towers today are pumped by electric pumps. All the lighting, the traffic signals, elevators, commuter trains, and so on. No doubt people can survive without all of this. My assumption is that harvesting renewable energy will be considered a life skill in this fictitious future, and that the incentive to strike out and make it work would overcome all other objections.

    By today's standards. I was looking at the scenario where there might be an urban exodus based on the austerity and the desire to cut loose from the infrastructure as it collapses. I'm also expecting people will still be adventurous and creative enough to pull it off.

    Could be. I would think so, especially in the places and climates where that works. It's another reason that the scenario in the OP is not likely. I think it would be preempted by huge projects all over the world to build out the renewable plants and have an orderly handover when Doomsday comes. My suggestion of urban flight is maybe Plan B.

    That's getting pretty close to living self-sufficiently; it would present a tradeoff for them to consider, in which Plan B wouldn't necessarily be that unattractive.

    No doubt. But if you had no more than an auger, some tools and supplies and a horse, even 1HP would save you the backbreaking task of doing it by hand. Similarly, I suppose a horse could help you build a berm house. So these are some ways people might respond to the scenario in the OP. Obviously I made a lot of assumptions.

    I was thinking more of a nightmare scenario, but one in which people struggle and overcome the ravages of nature, this time exploiting it with a lot better information than was available at the dawn of the Industrial Age. Under this scenario, they might have mastered the basics of the electrolytic cell in 5th grade and, by the 6th grade, able to calculate the maximum torque for a windmill of a given design, in a wind of a given speed. All while learning how to take care of a horse and some fundamentals of gardening. I was thinking of a hybrid scenario, a fusion between two worlds, before and after the age of fossil fuels. I do believe that people will increasingly become smarter, more adaptive, and as ingenious as ever. I was factoring for that, too.
     
  21. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    OK. I guess we're talking about three scenarios then:

    1) The OP's statement that we see "very high prices for oil and gas." This is a fairly likely scenario in which both are still available but become pricey. In this scenario not much changes; cars and trucks use different fuels and different fuel mixes. Suburbs shrink a bit, shipping takes a hit. The economy takes a hit but recovers once alternatives are on line.

    2) The OP's suggestion that we are "fuel depleted" and that includes all fossil fuels. A larger contraction takes place. EV's take up some of the slack but long distance trucking and aviation take big hits. Nuclear, wind and solar see massive buildouts to try to make up for the loss of coal. Traffic moves to mass transit, cities condense, suburbs are abandoned as housing clusters around employment. The economy tanks.

    3) The nightmare scenario where we lose _all_ sources of power (renewables, nuclear, hydro etc.) and simultaneously see natural disasters like sudden ocean level increases. Then we might see an exodus to smaller communities that can be self sufficient without transportation other than human or animal. The modern economy effectively ends, and is replaced by local subsistence economies.
     
  22. Carcano Valued Senior Member

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    The scenario I had in mind is stated in the first paragraph of the opening post, it has nothing to do with coal or even biofuels derived from agriculture. Although the price of coal will still rise as it must be mined and transported with liquid fuel.

    Now if biofuels are the ONLY fuel available for transportation..what forms of transportation will be hardest hit? Air travel possibly?

    And how much do transportation costs figure into the price of food?
     
  23. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Aviation definitely. Nothing else can compete right now with liquid hydrocarbon fuel for long range aviation.

    For ground applications natural gas will take over pretty quickly from oil/gas. We have a lot of it and it's not hard to transport/store. There are already cars, trucks and buses on the road using it. Side effect - reduced pollution and CO2 emissions. 10 years or so of economic damage from the conversion time, with most occurring in the first 2 years.

    Depends a great deal on the food. We get a lot of our food from local farms and transportation costs are very low for them. Out of season foods get hit hard; local crops do not.

    In 2011, a 20 percent increase in fuel costs pushed food prices 4% higher. So you can go from there. A 100% increase might mean a 20% increase in food prices, for example.
     

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