Post-apocalypse in real life: transformation of technologies

Discussion in 'General Discussion Forum' started by Fins, Jan 24, 2018.

  1. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    Ok, i bet everyone here knows about Brotherhood of Steel. Those folks don't just collect old tech and hoard it, they also create their own tech better suited for post-apocalypse times, like Brotherhood Armor in Fallout 2, Prydwen airship, their own design of power armor (T-60 etc), experimental crops, X-111 compound, etc.

    I've spent considerable amount of time considering real-world post-apocalypse situations, and for a long time already i am firmly convinced that most technologies in use today will not be appropriate, and in most cases - will not even be usable at all, in real-world post-apocalypse situation (further abbreviated to IRL PAS).

    Note: no matter whether one is sure or not that IRL PAS is inevitable in observable future, nobody can deny such a possibilty. After all, those dinosaurs got wiped out, who said similar kind of trouble couldn't happen once again.


    Which particular technologies which are in use today and are crucial to survival of societies - will need to be transformed or, perhaps, completely re-invented IRL PAS?

    What changes in them you think are the most important ones?

    How difficult and how long will it take to bring about such changes, and who, in particular, could be the people and institutions who could make it happen?

    Is it realistically possible to create IRL PAS technologies post-factum, or is it only possible through proper research and development effort beforehand?

    I'll start with giving one example of my own considerations of the sort: water purification.

    Most of the world today just uses tap water, which get purified using industrial-grade facilities. Those can only function as long as electrical grid is providing power, and long-term - only as long as spare parts, qualified personnel and consumable reactives are all readily provided, usually from far away places, to the facility.

    IRL PAS, those facilities will no doubt shut down. Water-borne diseases are quite unacceptable thing if we talk maintaining any stable civilized society. So, local forms of water purification will be required. Ones which do not require complex chemicals, industrial-scale facilities and highly qualified specialists.

    I guess it's very possible to do it, though! Whenever fire is used to cook and/or to heat people's homes, traditionally lots of energy goes away right through the smoke stack. Adding quite simple system of few pipes and heatable water reservoir close to the fire will allow better capture of fire energy for home heating - and if done right should also produce significant amounts of distilled water (through evaporation and recondensation). I think this can be created and maintained quite easily even after full scale of IRL PAS happen, but only if users have sufficient supply of matherials (primarily metals). In the long run, proper metal works will be needed to have this kind of water purification operational.

    Now metal works, i'm not sure about. Obviously scrap from existing global technological civilization can do for centuries - possibly longer, - for IRL PAS survivors (which will most likely be only a small fraction of present-day populations). But sooner or later it'll run out. Ores are not as rich as they were when industrial revolution started... Pretty much no almost pure-iron ingots anywhere around (back in 19th century, there were places with lots of those, very easy to collect and process without advanced machinery).

    Any metallurgists around here? =)
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2018
  2. Hassknecht

    Hassknecht I guess you're through, huh? Admin Orderite

    Aug 16, 2010
    It all depends on the easy availability of energy. This leads to several divergent situations.
    1. The collapse/apocalypse occured before easily available fossile fuels run out, and the reserves are enough to get back to a reasonable technological level before a switch has to occur. Humanity can basically get back up to our current and even further technological level without many issues, in the same way as they did before. It will take a while, but enclaves of society could prevail.
    2. The apocalypse hit before fossile fuels run out, but the reserves that are easily accessible run out before our current industrial society can be achieved again. Humanity will need to switch to non-fossile energy sources much quicker, which with the current state of renewable energies could be possible, but not without significant industrial downsizing and restructuring, which, due to the post-apocalyptic state of society, will take very long. If the existing infrastructure suffered a lot of damage (especially to renewable energies) it might be impossible. Otherwise the previous level of technology could be recovered within very few generations.
    3. The apocalypse hits after fossile fuels run out to a point that they're not easily accessible. Renewable and advanced energy sources (solar/wind and fusion, mostly) may be destroyed to some degree, but solar and wind could be recovered somewhat quickly (within generations). Fusion could be recovered from that.
    Basically, it all depends on how much non-fossile fuel energy sources we can employ before such apocalypse, how much knowledge we can preserve in whatever way possible, and how many enclaves of civilisations can survive.
    If all else fails it would be a true extinction event, sparking an evolutionary step. All bets are off when it comes to that, as this would then take thousands and millions of years, if ever, to get back to an industrial civilisation, if it would even occur, and for example focusing on biotechnology would make any prediction moot.
  3. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    I think we can rule out case #1 completely. Last i heard, readily available reserves of oil won't last even a single year. May be it'd be few years given population reduction and assuming strict policy of preserving those reserves for only most critically important tasks, but that's still not enough to reassemble any large scale (continental or global) industrial complex, much redesigned for IRL PAS conditions with that. Consider fossil fuel needs for essential farming and transportation being already too much for reserves to allow to maintain them for even a few years.

    Case #2 is more interesting, but you assume renewables can power up remains of global industrial complex. Not the case. Both solar and wind are highly intemittent, while most industrial facilities require continuous power to operate. This is called "baseload" power. Hydro power is the only kind of renewable which can provide some of that - by the way note how Fallout 3 features the dam being the center of remaining civilization. Yet hydro also won't do globally, for two major reasons.

    1st, it's relatively minor source - currently only some ~6...7% of global power generation is hydro, and expanding it to any much bigger scale is not possible - there are only so many rives around, all the best hydro power locations are already dammed and generate at capacity.

    2nd, IRL PAS will include major shift in precipitation patterns - this is known from PDSI research, Dai et al as well as other teams all conclude that under expected during IRL PAS temperature changes precipitation patterns will change dramatically (example). Note that some papers attempt to stick to warming scenarios and indicate expected PDSI change for particular years / decades, but in reality they usually use temperature change in celcius / kelvin to draw those pretty maps. Now +4C is the least possible very soon (few years) after IRL PAS starts, due to removal of most industrial particulates from the air (thus cancelling most of the global dimming, thus quickly increasing temperatures, especially over land - if you're not familiar with currently present global dimming, i highly recommend to at least see this one). All this means that several years after IRL PAS starts, most dams will stop to provide any much power: some will see water drying up (no power generated, at least seasonally), others will be destroyed by unprecedented floods, with their drainage systems overpowered by flood surges.

    Also, while some countries have relative abundance of hydro power, many others don't have any, even now. And some of those are critically important countries / regions for the currently existing global industrial complex.

    Other kinds of renewables are simply not to scale. Geothermal gen 1 is limited to under 1% of current world power generation (there are only that many sources of it), geothermal gen 2 is banned from use since it is proven using it on any large scale leads to tectonic hell (insane earthquakes), wave and tidal are even smaller scale than geothermal gen 1, and bio energy could potentially provide after some great deal of R&D but only in stable enough biosphere, which IRL PAS won't have at all.

    Way i see it, regional pockets of civilization might endure long enough to invent some future high-tech new energy sources. Some of them indeed around places lucky enough to still have operational hydro power in many cases. And may be some others without hydro, via falling back to wood and charcoal as their primary baseload power - in those few parts of the world where coniferous forests will manage to survive the inevitable rapid climate change of IRL PAS. Neo steam age for those places.

    Case #3. Solar and wind - see above. Can't be baseload power. Fusion - you talk about it so easy, but last i checked, we are totally not sure whether we'll ever get working fusion on industrial scale before IRL PAS hits. Physicists from ITER say we are some ~30 years from it right now even in very best case, and they also say so far there is no clear solution whether the problem of rapid destruction of inner reactor walls by fusion's unavoidable high-energy neutron flux could be anyhow solved.

    There is one more crucial thing you don't get to, though. Hydro, solar and wind - and fusion if we're supremely lucky to get to it before IRL PAS, - all those generate electrical power. Problem is, you can't fly on wire, you can't sail on wire, you can't drive a car on a wire (long-term, there is simply not enough lithium to replace whole mankind's cars and other internal-combustion vehicles by accumulator-driven EVs), and you can't pour electricity into your typical agriculture machinery fuel tanks. Fuels are needed. Now some hope big-time for bio-fuels, but i'm pessimistic here. For on top of above mentioned precipitation changes, there is also rapidly increasing problem of soil pollution and exhaustion (industrial agriculture tends to do that), and the whole thing efficiency is not high even while existing global civilization provides all the possible benefits for it - i doubt it'd remain any much above 1.0 IRL PAS.

    So, fuels is a big question here, you see. Currently, mankind still depends on oil for those - mainly. Liquid natural gas technologies to fuel all the machinery humans need - exists. I personally drove a car which uses luquified natural gas for fuel - from which i know this kind of engine is generally much more prone to malfunctions, gives way less torque, and requires special precautions due to involved high-pressure gas storage on-board. Then there is also existing technology to create gas from coal, that's what Hitler used to fuel his tank armies near the end of WW2 - but that one is messy and expensive.

    Thing is, extractable oil reserves are going to run out in a few decades. We're completely sure about it - based on how massively dropping amounts of oil are discovered last few decades by geological searches, but most importantly based on how expensive it gets to extract currently produced oil lately. It skyrockets, you see. So in terms of energy sector, my main concern is not even relative lack of baseload power - there, we at least have some hydro power expected to remain operational much into IRL PAS, perhaps some ~2%...4% of current total power generation of the world. But fuels? I don't see any renewable which IRL PAS remnant of the mankind could reliably count on.

    And as you can imagine, getting back to using animals for agriculture dramatically decreases agriculture's efficiency, and worse, means the need for large number of said animals available, - and those don't exactly grow on a tree. It'll take many decades, if not over a century, to get back to 19th century density of say horses "per capita". They just don't multiply that fast.

    May be i miss something? May be there is some solution for fuels which even now is proven to be easily available for at least some big regions of the world even during IRL PAS?

    For a change, i think your estimate about getting back to industrial technology in case of "everything failing" taking millions years, - is way too pessimistic. I am quite sure that if at least few thousand people survive through the "bottleneck" of any IRL PAS, - they'll manage to get back to industrial ways in mere centuries. However different their new civilization will end up being, it will still feature industries, automation, and high-tech devices of many sorts.

    Why so sure i am? Because once humans got to that stage, they won't ever forget the great 20th century, when for the 1st time huge machines sailed through the oceans, flew through the sky and space, managed to reach deepest of oceans and miles under mountains.

    Great underground cities which are already constructed - will certainly remain in use as ultimate shelters through harshest times. Those alone will always remind then-alive people how much can be done via using metallic machines to do things no amount of human teeth and nail, nor even no amount of hand-held hammers and pickaxes, could ever hope to achieve. From those reminders, and at very least from remnants of largest metallic structures of our present-day global civilization, new machines will soon be made. Even if the only available fuel source for those will remain wood - and i don't believe Earth will lose _all_ of its forests, because we know how resilient in general coniferous forests are, surviving dozens of millions of years as a whole.

    P.S. Say, got me interested what current public understanding is about running out of oil. Quick search on youtube got some few seemingly interesting results. Will check 'em out today once i'm at home. Will post later if i find any good ones among those. :)

    Update: turns out most of them are the same crappy "documentary", one which mentions that oil is in the food we eat in the start, and supposes all oil disappear in a blink of an eye. Crafted somewhat carefully to make an impression that it's a problem but not fatal problem, lots of unsupported claims, some are plain lies. There is yet another, same narrator voice, a bit better, but not much. Fortunately, still found one which is quite honest, although it's not only about oil, but more about whole picture. Also does complete if brief analysis of all renewables. Comes narrated by a voice actor who speaks very similar to Kasumi Goto (from Mass Effect games), as a neat bonus (she's sexy, eh ;) ). Enjoy.

    Last edited: Jan 26, 2018
  4. Eshanas

    Eshanas Look, Ma! Two Heads!

    Jul 6, 2016
    Ethanol will be utilized in lieu of oil/gas for cars; it's corn/sugar/booze.

    This of course demands that you have enough space to produce it; which can be a cause of potent conflict, especially in our desert Fallout world. Ditto tyres for the vehicles that'll be powered by such; natural rubber and all that....
  5. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    Watch the damn documentary, please. Ethanol is a fail global scale. Like they say in the film, mankind uses ~40% of Earth photosynthesis already - and while it may be possible to may be use 80%, it's quite unlikely we'll ever use 160%. World economy as a whole doubles nearly every 25 years or so. Ethanol won't last us even quarter century, considering post-peak oil and gas.
  6. Eshanas

    Eshanas Look, Ma! Two Heads!

    Jul 6, 2016
    Hey, read the damn title, please. Post-apocalypse.

    Are you adjusting your numbers for a post-massive die off world? 8 billion people may not suffice on Ethanol, but 8 billion people with our current systems in general can't suffice at all. But 100 million people? 500 million? A billion? A world where only militaries have cars for the most part? How about a world without massive private vehicle ownership? Surely then ethanol is more capable for the job.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2018
  7. Crni Vuk

    Crni Vuk M4A3 Oldfag oTO Orderite

    Nov 25, 2008
    Not sure, what do you mean?
  8. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    The group of people known under that name in Fallout games. Here's what mr. House thinks of them, by the way.

    P.S. This forum is much about Fallout games, didn't you know? I think you should have noticed that by now... Probably... I hope? =)

    Pardon my confusion, then. I already addressed bio-fuels post-apocalypse, in the post #3 paragraph #9 of this topic, and i assumed you've read it, thus assumed you meant pre-apocalypse with your later post, since it did not in any way reacted to what i said in the post #3.

    I can only repeat what i've said up there, if doing so will make it easier to spot this particular bit of my opinion for you. Here, self-quote...

    "Now some hope big-time for bio-fuels, but i'm pessimistic here. For on top of above mentioned precipitation changes, there is also rapidly increasing problem of soil pollution and exhaustion (industrial agriculture tends to do that), and the whole thing efficiency is not high even while existing global civilization provides all the possible benefits for it - i doubt it'd remain any much above 1.0 IRL PAS".
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2018
  9. YeeCop

    YeeCop Just a Sweet Irradiated Transvestite

    Jan 26, 2017
    Kind of echoing some of the points made above, but it all depends on how much resources and existing infrastructures manage to hold up post-apocalypse.
    Not just that, but the degree of the apocalypse.
    If we're talking nuclear apocalypse, yeah, no. Good luck on that.
    If it's an apocalypse brought by climate change, or something natural, then humanity could bring itself up to at least the Bronze Age.
  10. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    Strongly disagree about your saying "it all depends" on remaining resources and infrastructure. There's a kid's rhyme in my country which explains it quite well:

    Bobby found a neutron bomb
    Then he brought it to school
    Teachers were laughing a long time:
    School is intact, but there are no students

    Also, curious choice of words about "something natural". There is not much natural in say greatly mutated viruses which are only possible due to huge industrial-style farms and plenty very unnatural chemicals used there. Things like swine flu, bird flu, you know. If some such virus finally manages to get mankind real bad, - is it "natural" or not? In me book, it's not, but YMMV i guess.

    Anyhow, something like Earth 2100 describes would probably leave nearly all infrastructure intact, but that would not help any much, eh.

    P.S. Earth 2100 is this old documentary:
  11. Hassknecht

    Hassknecht I guess you're through, huh? Admin Orderite

    Aug 16, 2010
    I'd guess that depending on the amount of easily accessible resources and undamaged infrastructure at least smaller enclaves of high technology could possibly be preserved, although even those would not be flourishing. The problem is of course that high tech requires a lot of logistics that don't really work with only a small enclave of civilisation.
    Could they retain a certain level of knowledge to get back to postindustrial capacities? I kinda doubt it.
    It's kinda hard to predict some apocalypse when the "Apocalpyse How" trope is seriously vast. Stuff can go wrong is a billion ways; if a gamma ray burst fries the ozone layer so the Earth' surface gets drenched in UV light, yeah, we could probably survive that for a while, underground. An XBOXHUEG asteroid crashing into Earth? Less likely.
    Local/limted nuclear exchange? Could have lasting effect on climate, therefore potentially nasty, but generally not all that apocalyptic.
    Balls-out nuclear holocaust? Probably not.
    Global warming, pole caps melting, clathrate gun going off, that kind of stuff? Probably a lot of dead folks south of the equator and lot of famines around the world, but I guess the northern hemisphere could still be quite habitable depending on how it will actually play out (new ice age due to the Gulf Stream stopping? Tropical climate in Europe due to massive warming?).
    In any case, the effects will be multitude and very, very hard to predict.
    Humans can, however, survive in a lot of conditions, so unless it's total doomsday I'd think humans will keep going.
    Technology and high civilisation, however, are less likely to survive, and we'd have to be very lucky to get past pre-industrial levels again (if we actually fell that far).
  12. Fins

    Fins It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Dec 31, 2017
    Logistics - yes. Also important long-term, though, is education. You gotta afford to send people for several years to train as narrow professionals to maintain same levels of efficiency we are running at nowadays - that requires more than just "regional" higher education systems, i suspect.

    There is one thing about technology and high civilization surviving, though, which kind of makes me think some things opposite to your estimate (i mean last line of your post here). Consider: technology allowed humans to expand greatly, enabling them to survive in great numbers in harsh environments where previously no or times fewer people were able to live. Examples range from oil-based cities in the Gulf to the South Pole station, from many new "industrial" cities and towns in Siberia to the largest megapolis on the continent of North America (iirc) - Mexico. Would it be fair to say that losing much/all technological ability would in itself be a massive killer? I think so.

    Much more importantly, though, is all the nonsense i hear from some people who advocate going back to hunter-gatherer ways. They speak as if pristine environments which made such lifestyle happening - are still here. But in reality, they are not. They speak as if most modern humans still have traditions, skills and "lore" (if you will) which were all crucial in enabling their ancestors to survive and (sometimes) thrive via hunter-gatherer ways. But in reality, most of it (in some regions - all of it) is gone for good. How exactly do you expect humans to survive without technologies in the world humans themselves much killed? "Mother nature" won't be any much around to make it happen. More than half of trees since pre-industrial times - are gone; nearly half of plankton in the oceans - also gone; estimates for land species by the 2100, depending on source and kinds of species, list figures like 30% to 100% extinction.

    Nope, i really doubt humans are that durable all on their own - without technological supports most of them came to depend upon so much, lately. Quite the opposite, i think that at some point, only technological "enclaves" will manage to survive through what i term, for myself, as "thermal maximum of 22nd century". Their technologies will be very different and not "high-tech", most likely, - but very rugged and effective. Especially agriculture and housing. And i predict most, or even all of those enclaves will end up being substantially high above sea level - not some 200 or 300 meters, but some 1500 meters above sea level and higher. Perhaps permaculture elements will end up, out of nesessity, being the base for those new technologies. You're right it's extremely hard to predict how things will develop not knowing exact circumstances of global die-out, but on the other hand, certain knowledge we already have pretty much ensures certain elements and features of the collapse of existing global industrial complex. It'd be reckless not to attempt to apply such knowledge through attempts to model future development, i think.
  13. MutantScalper

    MutantScalper Dark side in da houssah

    Nov 22, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2018