Closeup of a tumbler of whiskey on the margin of a metal above-ground “portable” firepit, with a blazing fire

Energy → Technology → Culture

Published 2020-01-02

What if humanity didn’t have access to eons of solar energy stored in the form of fossil fuels? What if our technological progress were constrained entirely by the energy falling on its surface, and not buried beneath it?

I mean, besides the climate change thing.

First off, there would definitely be way fewer than seven billion of us.

We probably wouldn’t have had the industrial revolution. At least not as it happened. We wouldn’t have trade unions or Corporate personhood or assembly lines.

We probably wouldn’t have, in the Year of Our Lord Twenty-hundred and twenty, automobiles and airplanes and televisions and electronic computers.

Well, maybe we’d have computers. But maybe they’d be made bespoke and found mainly in libraries. Maybe the televisions would be radios and maybe we’d have to crank them to listen to them.

Maybe technology wouldn’t outpace culture, with all the whiplash displacement that’s brought, on an ever-accelerating cycle, for the last century and half. So we’d never have had fascism. Or feminism. Or universal suffrage. Or abolition.

Maybe we’d still have Kings. We’d probably be churchier, but church might not be so personally corrosive.

Maybe whales would be extinct, because whales’ bodies are the only places we could get oil. Maybe we’d have a lot fewer trees, because we needed the wood to make charcoal to make steel.

I’m pretty sure we’d still have bicycles, penicillin, and coral reefs.