Your Questions About Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air

Helen asks…

What do you think of this story? What would your response to it be?

This story was made in1977.

The Nightmare Life Without Fuel

Americans are so used to limitless energy supplies that they can hardly imagine what life might be like when the fuel really starts to run out. So TIME asked Science Writer Isaac Asimov for his vision of an energy-poor society that might exist at the end of the 20th century. The following portrait, Asimov noted, “need not prove to be accurate. It is a picture of the worst, of waste continuing, of oil running out, of nothing in its place, of world population continuing to rise. But then, that could happen, couldn’t it?”

So it’s 1997, and it’s raining, and you’ll have to walk to work again. The subways are crowded, and any given train breaks down one morning out of five. The buses are gone, and on a day like today the bicycles slosh and slide. Besides, you have only a mile and a half to go, and you have boots, raincoat and rain hat. And it’s not a very cold rain, so why not?

Lucky you have a job in demolition too. It’s steady work.

Slow and dirty, but steady. The fading structures of a decaying city are the great mineral mines and hardware shops of the nation. Break them down and re-use the parts. Coal is too difficult to dig up and transport to give us energy in the amounts we need, nuclear fission is judged to be too dangerous, the technical breakthrough toward nuclear fusion that we hoped for never took place, and solar batteries are too expensive to maintain on the earth’s surface in sufficient quantity.

Anyone older than ten can remember automobiles. They dwindled. At first the price of gasoline climbed—way up. Finally only the well-to-do drove, and that was too clear an indication that they were filthy rich, so any automobile that dared show itself on a city street was overturned and burned. Rationing was introduced to “equalize sacrifice,” but every three months the ration was reduced. The cars just vanished and became part of the metal resource.

There are many advantages, if you want to look for them. Our 1997 newspapers continually point them out. The air is cleaner and there seem to be fewer colds. Against most predictions, the crime rate has dropped. With the police car too expensive (and too easy a target), policemen are back on their beats. More important, the streets are full. Legs are king in the cities of 1997, and people walk everywhere far into the night. Even the parks are full, and there is mutual protection in crowds.

If the weather isn’t too cold, people sit out front. If it is hot, the open air is the only air conditioning they get. And at least the street lights still burn. Indoors, electricity is scarce, and few people can afford to keep lights burning after supper.

As for the winter—well, it is inconvenient to be cold, with most of what furnace fuel is allowed hoarded for the dawn; but sweaters are popular indoor wear and showers are not an everyday luxury. Lukewarm sponge baths will do, and if the air is not always very fragrant in the human vicinity, the automobile fumes are gone.

There is some consolation in the city that it is worse in the suburbs. The suburbs were born with the auto, lived with the auto, and are dying with the auto. One way out for the suburbanites is to form associations that assign turns to the procurement and distribution of food. Pushcarts creak from house to house along the posh suburban roads, and every bad snowstorm is a disaster. It isn’t easy to hoard enough food to last till the roads are open. There is not much in the way of refrigeration except for the snowbanks, and then the dogs must be fought off.

What energy is left cannot be directed into personal comfort. The nation must survive until new energy sources are found, so it is the railroads and subways that are receiving major attention. The railroads must move the coal that is the immediate hope, and the subways can best move the people.

And then, of course, energy must be conserved for agriculture. The great car factories make trucks and farm machinery almost exclusively. We can huddle together when there is a lack of warmth, fan ourselves should there be no cooling breezes, sleep or make love at such times as there is a lack of light—but nothing will for long ameliorate a lack of food. The American population isn’t going up much any more, but the food supply must be kept high even though the prices and difficulty of distribution force each American to eat less. Food is needed for export so that we can pay for some trickle of oil and for other resources.

The rest of the world, of course, is not as lucky as we are.

Some cynics say that it is the knowledge of this that helps keep America from despair. They’re starving out there, because earth’s population has continued to go up. The population on earth is 5.5 billion, and outside the United States and Europe, not more than one in five has enough to eat at any given time.

All the statistics point to a rapidly declining rate of population increase, but that is coming about chiefly through a high infant mortality; the first and most helpless victims of starvation are babies, after their mothers have gone dry. A strong current of American opinion, as reflected in the newspapers (some of which still produce their daily eight pages of bad news), holds that it is just as well. It serves to reduce the population, doesn’t it?

Others point out that it’s more than just starvation. There are those who manage to survive on barely enough to keep the body working, and that proves to be not enough for the brain. It is estimated that there are now nearly 2 billion people in the world who are alive but who are permanently braindamaged by undernutrition, and the number is growing year by year. It has already occurred to some that it would be “realistic” to wipe them out quietly and rid the earth of an encumbering menace. The American newspapers of 1997 do not report that this is actually being done anywhere, but some travelers bring back horror tales.

At least the armies are gone—no one can afford to keep those expensive, energy-gobbling monstrosities. Some soldiers in uniform and with rifles are present in almost every still functioning nation, but only the United States and the Soviet Union can maintain a few tanks, planes and ships—which they dare not move for fear of biting into limited fuel reserves.

Energy continues to decline, and machines must be replaced by human muscle and beasts of burden. People are working longer hours and there is less leisure; but then, with electric lighting restricted, television for only three hours a night, movies three evenings a week, new books few and printed in small editions, what is there to do with leisure? Work, sleep and eating are the great trinity of 1997, and only the first two are guaranteed.

Where will it end? It must end in a return to the days before 1800, to the days before the fossil fuels powered a vast machine industry and technology. It must end in subsistence farming and in a world population reduced by starvation, disease and violence to less than a billion.

And what can we do to prevent all this now?

Now? Almost nothing.

If we had started 20 years ago, that might have been another matter. If we had only started 50 years ago, it would have been easy.

admin answers:

I think it is a very mild projection i would have thought i might be much worse .

The aspects of a global nuclear war or the full effects of Global warming have not been included.

Such as rising seas ,which could displace millions of people ,moving them further in land ,to fight it out with the residents already there causing wide spread public violence.

Also global food and potable water shortage ,and we have since come up with many alternatives to producing power ,why did he leave out solar or wind power.

But then this story was from 1977,and even so Asimov is a master at imagining future happenings
I wonder what he would see today ,it will be a different story.
The solution to a world devoid of energy is to think backwards and improve upon it .This is what Permaculture is all about sustainable ideas from the past (only in the past can prove of sustainability be found )

So my response is teach the people about PERMACULTURE a way of life using ingenuity and innovation with limited technology or dependence on Government energy sources,derived from a collection of sustainable ideas from around the world coupled to present level of knowledge
ideally suited for those who want to get back to the country and build a auto sufficient situation for themselves and the family or a community .

People plant rather for the quality of life and to feed their families, than for the market ,so the motivation and the manner are totally different from ordinary agriculture .

Although the basic concept of Permaculture also applies to Organic and sustainable farming,

Utilizing soil management ,and mulching

The utilization of space is more concentrated ,thinking in cubic and vertical terms instead or merely horizontal on the plain ,

Having many principle to follow such as utilizing all resources and following and enhancing energy flows ,
for example the ditch around the house catches the rain water and leads it through the chicken house where it cleans and picks up the manure to deposit it in the vegetable patch

Permaculture means permanent agriculture
a concept put forward by Bill Mollison in the 60`s

Which offers practical solutions for energy systems ,infrastructure ,intelligent design in housing,
animal shelter ,water systems and sustainable agricultural practices.
With the world and it`s history as it`s source
From the chinampas of Mexico to the terraced gardens of the Andes.
From the dessert wadis to the steppes of Russia.
Covering all climatic conditions temporal, dessert, humid and dry tropics.
With chapters on soil ,Water harvesting and land design,Bio diversity
Earth working ,Spirals in nature,Trees and water ,utilizing energy flows,
Strategy for an alternative nation

including gardening tips,bio-gas,companion planting and ideas for structures ,how to cool down houses in hot climates ,how to warm up houses in cold climates with out using technology but rather by design.
The Permaculture designers manual by Bill Mollison,which cost about 40 dollars.
And is the best all round book you can get,on Environmental design,.(tagiari publishing,

Some other writers that are on the Internet are
David Homegrown
Larry Santoyo
Kirk Hanson

Masanobu Fukuaka has written ,
One-Straw Revolution
The Road Back to Nature
The Natural Way of Farming
Simon Henderson
and Bill Molisson.
There is a Permaculture Institute in Australia
there is also a Dry land strategy Institute in North America

Links to previous relevant answers
bio diversity;_ylt=AoHkf4Mao.pJn3xHi6xV1Pnsy6IX?qid=20070728220706AAmTdlT
organic pest control;_ylt=AhfcBgXmgqLHJDS.1hZOVA3sy6IX?qid=20070609070008AA35IZ5
growing your own;_ylt=AqLpdYrdelPnP0HiyH2wurjsy6IX?qid=20070528180353AAxQuAm
water harvesting;_ylt=AlhND.Nc1wg2D5AyfZU9NzDsy6IX?qid=20070504150425AAAwVwA
the rippling effect;_ylt=AvwaHVtzogdsI8MrfMcvhaHsy6IX?qid=20070706214424AAjgbuz
choosing a site;_ylt=An5GAG03Te7IFEFaD1XTwkfsy6IX?qid=20070711193404AAGQlW7
alternative solutions to Urban sprawl;_ylt=AksobeRFQTAnaaAr4FEBAiMAAAAA;_ylv=3?qid=20071013043017AA6wcWX

Jenny asks…

Power Wastage Question?

If you leave a power charger in the power socket and have the switch switched on, will it waste power even though nothing’s plugged in at the other end?

For example, you have a phone charger cord plugged in and switched on, but no phone is attached, is power wasted?
No… i don’t think you understand. There is no electrical device plugged in. Just a cord
the charger doesn’t get hot

admin answers:

Almost every electronic device uses some electricity just by being plugged in. In fact, phone chargers often come up in articles about saving energy and such.

David MacKay, a professor at the University of Cambridge, to the rescue. Dr. MacKay has published an online tome “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” (free PDF download here) which relies on Kilowatt-Hours to quantify these decisions. It’s incredibly comprehensive – 409 pages – and provides the apples-to-apples that points you in the right direction.

Case in point – cell phone chargers. David performs some tests and concludes that these chargers use maybe 0.01-0.05 kWh per day; over a year, that’s the equivalent of a skipping a single bath (5 kWh per pop), or driving 6 minutes less annually (average driver being 40 kWh per day). David makes the point that all else being equal, you should of course unplug the charger. On balance though, better to go stinky for one day or lose a convenience store run. :: Without Hot Air

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