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Preparing for the Post-Industrial Age
Cairns, John Jr.
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The Industrial Age has been made possible by cheap, abundant fossil fuels, primarily petroleum and coal. The life expectancy of an industrial civilization is about 100 years. Some forecasts estimate the critical period of the current age to be from 1930 to approximately 2030. A key to this range is peak oil, which may occur in 2007. After peak oil, a terminal decline will occur in the industrial civilization because replacement or substitute energy sources are not as attractive as petroleum. Coal is a poor replacement for petroleum and produces twice as many greenhouse gases and also is finite in reserves. Nuclear energy poses formidable radioactive waste disposal problems, and, in France and Spain, nuclear power plants had to shut down when the cooling water became too warm. Biofuels have serious problems, the worst of which is reducing the food supply. Predictions that the human population will reach 9 billion in 2050 means less per capita energy even if energy availability does not diminish and much less per capita if it does diminish as peak oil models predict. The post-industrial age is almost certain to be an age of scarcity with painful contrasts to the cornucopian Industrial Age. Alternative energy sources such as wind and solar are essential, but will not replace the "fossil sunlight" of the Industrial Age.