Recovering from an apocalypse...

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Sanjuricus
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Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Sanjuricus » Wed Oct 12, 2011 4:02 pm UTC

A bit of background first:
I was discussing with a friend of mine about some paleolithic find that his wife had published and eventually we got to discussing about the infrastructure that we depend on globally and how long it might take mankind as a whole to recover lost ground in the event of some sort of majorly catastrophic but non-extinction event. My estimates varied greatly dependant on the scenario discussed so I think it best if we limit this discussion to a "almost total wipeout" scenario otherwise we'll get bogged down in a hundred different possibilities.

So...

Approximately 98% of humanity has been wiped out by a nasty "I am Legend" type virus but without the photophobic "zombies" leaving a global population of around 150 million. Of the remaining population, around half suffered from almost total amnesia retaining memory only of who they are and the language they speak, they are however, capable of learning. Leaving about 75 million globally who are intact. Of those 75 million, only a tiny percentage were scientists, industry execs or specialists et al so the vast majority of knowledge has gone. The catastrophe impacted all nations of the world equally but urban survivors in those countries whose infrastructure was weakest suffered the most and in some of the worst cases, all urban populations were lost.

I've tried to give you some figures to work with but from the point of view of a distant observer to whom time is not an issue of concern, how long do you think it would take mankind to recover back up to late 20th Century levels of infrastructure and technology? What would the survivors need to do and in what order? What discoveries would they need to make once again in order to progress?....What insurmountable obstacles might they face?
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby curtis95112 » Thu Oct 13, 2011 5:57 am UTC

How many books are left?
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:09 am UTC

In no way is this an answer, but looking at the reconstruction of Germany after the 2nd World War and Japan should provide useful insight. Practically all infrastructure in those countries were completely destroyed and they got turned around almost completely in 2 decades? Less even? Although they did receive outside help and practically most of the population survived.

Clearly in a complete apocalypse scenario it would be a lot longer, but I think we could at least use 2 decades as a best case scenario.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Ulc » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:19 am UTC

These 150 millions will be spread out around the globe - and have very poor survival skills once the resources from our current civilization run out. I expect that over three net four or five generations the amount of people would dwindle even further while we slowly regain survival skills. By that point most knowledge will have been destroyed, most books are gone, and those humans left likely wouldn't be able to read anyway. Because who cares about teaching your kid to read, if it takes up time that could be spent finding food so that tomorrow happens at all.

From there? Anywhere from 4000 to 15000 years, depending on random chance. An iceage? Add some few thousand years. Basically mirroring the rise of civilisation as we've seen in our own history.

Battemoose, that in no way compares. They still had a lot of manpower, but if 98% of the population is dead, even finding other people is going to be a bit of challenge. And all communication networks will have broken down within weeks. Germany and Japan still had their population, they still had their knowledge and they had outside help. In the apocalypse scenario, there is about two people left that knows how to operate a powerplant, but the engineers that can repair it? None of those survived in this area. And they don't get fuel any more, because the worldwide supply net is gone.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:26 am UTC

Well, in your scenario, the world's population would drop to approximately the level that it was at in about 500 BCE. So, crudely, we might guess that it will take about 2500 years for the population to recover. While it is possible we might be able to do it faster, probably not significantly so because infant mortality, deaths due to treatable injuries/illnesses, and whatnot will probably go through the roof. I don't see it being that much better in terms of technology/infrastructure recovery. The first 50 or so years are critical. Once the first generation passes, probably anything that isn't up-and-running by that point is probably going to be lost. The artifacts from the old civilization might still be there, but they'll be damaged by age and looting and weather and whatever that they probably won't be usable for what they're supposed to be--bits and pieces might be salvaged for other purposes, I suppose.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:01 am UTC

The population would take a long time to recover, but small communities would be able to easily maintain an early 20th century standard of living by salvaging the remains of the mostly intact technology base.

Sure, there won't be enough people or expertise to run a full power plant, but energy demands in such a scenario would be minimal and extremely local. Small generators would be enough to power a small community for a period each day, and many facilities such as hospitals and large campuses maintain enough generating capacity to continuously power such a community.

Fuel availability may be an issue depending on how fast the plague worked. If underground storage tanks at gas stations etc. still have fuel in them, such supplies could realistically last a long time with rationing.
Even if those sources aren't available though, you can run a diesel generator on a wide variety of easy to produce flammables, and diesel engines are simpler to maintain anyway.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Sanjuricus » Thu Oct 13, 2011 9:55 am UTC

Ulc wrote:These 150 millions will be spread out around the globe - and have very poor survival skills once the resources from our current civilization run out. I expect that over three net four or five generations the amount of people would dwindle even further while we slowly regain survival skills. By that point most knowledge will have been destroyed, most books are gone, and those humans left likely wouldn't be able to read anyway. Because who cares about teaching your kid to read, if it takes up time that could be spent finding food so that tomorrow happens at all.

From there? Anywhere from 4000 to 15000 years, depending on random chance. An iceage? Add some few thousand years. Basically mirroring the rise of civilisation as we've seen in our own history.

Battemoose, that in no way compares. They still had a lot of manpower, but if 98% of the population is dead, even finding other people is going to be a bit of challenge. And all communication networks will have broken down within weeks. Germany and Japan still had their population, they still had their knowledge and they had outside help. In the apocalypse scenario, there is about two people left that knows how to operate a powerplant, but the engineers that can repair it? None of those survived in this area. And they don't get fuel any more, because the worldwide supply net is gone.

Thats almost exactly my opinion and quite frankly, put across much better than I would have. :) /doff hat
The only difference is that I think it would be accelerated slightly by cannibalisation (is that even a word?!!) of the remnants of existing infrastructure, there would be no need for a stone age or a bronze age as iron will be readily available (if somewhat rusty!!) My estimate puts it closer to 1500 to 3000 years assuming we get no Christian Dark Ages cropping up again. The only thing I think that might prove my estimates erroneous is population growth once a stable (if massively reduced) infrastructure is in place in a localised rather than global context.

I think its also worth speculating just how the global ecosystem might change once about 6 billion hungry consumers of finite resources are removed from the equation? Fish stocks may well recover rapidly...there might be some population explosions or something...
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby morriswalters » Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:43 am UTC

Energy might be the key. Think about how difficult it would be to power a civilization with no easy access to oil. Then consider how high a level of technology it requires to get oil now.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Ulc » Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:49 am UTC

Sanjuricus wrote:Thats almost exactly my opinion and quite frankly, put across much better than I would have. :) /doff hat
The only difference is that I think it would be accelerated slightly by cannibalisation (is that even a word?!!) of the remnants of existing infrastructure, there would be no need for a stone age or a bronze age as iron will be readily available (if somewhat rusty!!) My estimate puts it closer to 1500 to 3000 years assuming we get no Christian Dark Ages cropping up again. The only thing I think that might prove my estimates erroneous is population growth once a stable (if massively reduced) infrastructure is in place in a localised rather than global context.

I think its also worth speculating just how the global ecosystem might change once about 6 billion hungry consumers of finite resources are removed from the equation? Fish stocks may well recover rapidly...there might be some population explosions or something...


The thing is though, that scavanging only gets you so far. If you don't figure out how to mine iron ore properly, scavanging kitchen knives is something that happens for 50 years - maybe a 100 years, but that's about it. After that, we're stuck with what we can make (either because things are used up, or simply eroded).

And since my survival skills are piss poor, I'll be too busy surviving in the first place to think about reinventing iron working, even if I've read enough about it that I could probably do it in a couple of years hard work. And I probably wont have time to impart the knowledge in my kids for when society has recalmed and grown enough that spending those couple of years is feasible.

I expect that it would go something like this:
First year: Further 25 millions die off due to hunger, medicine dependency (diabetes and so on) and the first batch of winter diseases. Almost no survival skills are necessary, rather we depend on scavenging and surviving the chaos (there will be fighting for the resources, and there will be fighting for dominance)

second year: Gas, ammo, basic medicine (wound cleansing and so on) and canned food starts running out. Malnutrition starts to be widespread, and the fighting for the resources left become intense, coupled with the start of survival skills being necessary sees another 25 million dead.

First decade:
Scavanging the meagre resources left becomes a way of time - nature is finally starting to recover a bit and animal populations are growing rapidly, allowing people to start surviving from hunting and gathering. Winter diseases, hunger, chaos and infant mortality sees the population still slowly declining but the decline is slowly stabilising.

Second decade:
First generation of post-apocalypse births are starting to reach an age where they can be really useful, the population has stabilised - but no significant teaching is taking place, due to the whole "teaching is pointless compared to finding food so you can survive another day". Tribal societies that allow people to cooperate effectively are starting to emerge. The knowledge about non-survival skills imparted in the new generation is haphazard and random at best, non existent at worst. For tools people are still largely dependant on pre-apocalypse resources - melting down metal things to make new and taking care of knives and so on.

Third decade: Most of the initial survivors are dead by this point - animal populations have recovered a lot though, and survival skills are more or less relearned. The basic manufacturing skills are still gone however, and less and less about technology is passed on from generation to generation.

First century - scavenging cities are beginning to be impossible for resources, it's either gone or worn away from age, first and second post-apo generations are gone.

I can totally see a new stone age happening, the second generation wont have the faintest idea how to get iron, or even bronze without scavenging, hell, most of the world today wouldn't be have any ideas whatsoever on how to mine metals without technology. And reinventing it is more or less impossible if you have no idea where to start - reinventing stone tools on the other hand, is feasible, and in a situation where you need the tools now or you wont eat tomorrow, the quick option is often best.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby PeteP » Thu Oct 13, 2011 11:11 am UTC

Actually I wouldn't be that pessimistic. Though the 70 millions who forget everything are a problem. I will focus on the people in developed nations.
Regarding survival, it's important to remember that they don't have to survive in the wilderness, they have to survive in the remnants of our civilization. They still have buildings, unheated but it will be enough to survive. They can get modern weapons and enough ammo to last them for a while, wild animals aren't a big danger. Our communication network will quickly collapse but if there are a few people left who did amateur radio and if they find a generator that might be enough to contact other groups and there will be many owner-less cars which still have fuel left so it should be possible to form big groups.
So what about food? Food is the deciding factor if people can't get food Ulc's scenario might happen. At first people will plunder supermarkets which isn't a long term food source.
But our farmland is still there and maintaining it isn't trivial but it isn't rocket science either. With some luck someone will be in the group who knows what to do. But even if there isn't anybody, people will have a basic idea about farming and there will still be libraries full of books, I'm positive that at least one bigger group will manage to establish working farms. Sure modern farming machines will break down after a while even if you scavenge enough fuel to use them, but that will take a while.
The main danger I see for establishing a food source is inter human conflict.Which is a big danger. But if we manage to get a steady food supply, people will have time left and as long as there is time left people will teach others their non survival knowledge and they will start to reclaim technology.
Honestly I think that would be the main factor, will people figure out how to farm or will they struggle to find something to eat.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Dr. Diaphanous » Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:52 pm UTC

Although humanity would be in a bit of a pickle, I think we would be better off than we were in the Stone Age. For example, we still have:

Shelter: an effectively unlimited choice of comfortable homes (minus heating and electricity)

Food: raiding shops and warehouses would hopefully provide enough non-perishable food to see us through the first winter.

Goods: raiding cities provides a supply of all imaginable goods including knives, spades, hammers & nails, medicines, furniture, fuel (e.g. furniture), pots and pans, glasses (allowing the old to continue to do close work/read), and clothes (Huge amounts of women’s time was dedicated to making/mending clothes; also modern winter clothing must provide much better insulation/waterproofing without compromising movement).

Farming: our ancestors spent centuries clearing forest to clear the way for agriculture. We have wide open lands designed for crops, as well as stores of fertilizers, pesticides and reserves of seeds of plants selectively bred for maximum yield (however this is at the cost of increased dependence on irrigation and fertilizers). Even without machinery this is better than nothing.

Wisdom: Humanity has learned a lot that we take for granted. For the first new generations, and hopefully indefinitely, children in developed nations will be raised with ideas such as human rights, tolerance, democracy, education, scepticism, and the value of learning and technology implicit in the culture.

Books: We have an enormous body of knowledge enshrined in books, which will last at least a century with only moderate care (i.e. kept dry and away from fire). If children are not well-educated from the outset, those books are waiting for a renaissance similar to, but greater than, the Renaissance of the 15th century when Europe rediscovered the knowledge of the classical world.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Diemo » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:14 pm UTC

"teaching is pointless compared to finding food so you can survive another day".


I don't see why you assume this. Teaching people to read doesn't take too long, an hour or so every day is enough to do it. And you don't actually need a lot of reading matierial, people used to learn to read from the bible, etc, just by reading it over and over again.

Also, why would people let knowledge slip away? I mean for the first little while there would be enough food in the supermarkets that to survive. So, while people survive off that they can get the farming up and running. Highly educated people would be in a serious minority, but most people in the western world have gone through secondary school, which leaves you with a significant knowledge base, and also teaches you how to learn (well, some of us). And most importantly, they know that it is possible to have a much better standard of living with electricity, etc. so they will try to keep it. If books are left, it shouldn't be too hard to get an electrical generator up and running (all you need is fire, water and a magnet really. P:lus, in the cities there would be lots of electrical generators which work off humans in the cities.

With regards the chaos that would occur, one of the original postulations was that the urban populations were hit much harder than the populations in the countryside. So I would assume that a significant number of farmers would survive, and don't forget that the amount of food that is going to be used would drop significantly. These days one person with modern machinery can feed a lot! of people. The real question there is whether or not there was chaos while people were dying (I think you can assume that there was).

But when people know that they can have a much more comfortable life, I think that within a generation or so they would be able to get back to early 20th century technology. I mean, a petrol engine is not actually that complicated, and hunting is going to be much easier if you can drive (because sudenly you have a much wider range to hunt over, don't forget that most roads would still be fine for a goodly while (though they will slowly decay).

I think hat the bigest problem will be from people fighting each other. But hopefully they will cooperate instead ( though that is an optimistic viewpoint).
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:54 pm UTC

Diemo wrote:Also, why would people let knowledge slip away? I mean for the first little while there would be enough food in the supermarkets that to survive. So, while people survive off that they can get the farming up and running. Highly educated people would be in a serious minority, but most people in the western world have gone through secondary school, which leaves you with a significant knowledge base, and also teaches you how to learn (well, some of us). And most importantly, they know that it is possible to have a much better standard of living with electricity, etc. so they will try to keep it. If books are left, it shouldn't be too hard to get an electrical generator up and running (all you need is fire, water and a magnet really. P:lus, in the cities there would be lots of electrical generators which work off humans in the cities.


The knowledge base provided by secondary education isn't all that helpful in this situation. The skills that would be most desperately needed are fairly specialized. For most technology, the average (like 99%+) of the population understand how to use technology, but not necessarily how it works, or how to fix it, or how to build something from scratch. I mean, to take a very simple example: most people know how to use a key to open a door. Very few people know how to build a lock, or even how a lock works. And while you could probably find some books on this, I doubt that locksmithing is going to be a high priority task for people to add to their reading lists. How many people would know where to find an electrical generator in their city? Of those that do, how many would know how to actually get it working?

Diemo wrote:With regards the chaos that would occur, one of the original postulations was that the urban populations were hit much harder than the populations in the countryside. So I would assume that a significant number of farmers would survive, and don't forget that the amount of food that is going to be used would drop significantly. These days one person with modern machinery can feed a lot! of people. The real question there is whether or not there was chaos while people were dying (I think you can assume that there was).


Two problems. First, a lot of modern farming is mostly monoculture. Having access to 100 acres of wheat doesn't do you all that much good if you need vegetables or protein. Most farming is also done by large factory farms that have few workers and lots of very specialized machinery--family farms are pretty rare and supply only a small portion of the food supply. Getting these factory farms running would probably not be anywhere near as trivial as you might think. Second, how do you get this food to the people who need it? In the United States, for example, the population density is going to be ~0.3 people per square kilometer, and, based on the assumption about disproportionate losses in urban areas, most of those people will be widely scattered. How will farms transport their food to all of these people? How will they know how to find them if communication lines are down? What will happen once all of the refrigerated trucks break down? How safe will it be to do this sort of transportation of such a valuable good in the face of the inevitable groups of armed bandits who will happily steal such things?

Diemo wrote:I think hat the bigest problem will be from people fighting each other. But hopefully they will cooperate instead ( though that is an optimistic viewpoint).


Past precedents of civilization collapse suggest that widespread violence is almost certainly going to be the norm.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby morriswalters » Thu Oct 13, 2011 5:22 pm UTC

Why is there an assumption that we could recover to our current level?

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:32 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:I mean, to take a very simple example: most people know how to use a key to open a door. Very few people know how to build a lock, or even how a lock works. And while you could probably find some books on this, I doubt that locksmithing is going to be a high priority task for people to add to their reading lists. How many people would know where to find an electrical generator in their city? Of those that do, how many would know how to actually get it working?


A lock is an extremely poor example. Although most people interact with locks everyday, they are basically a 'black box' technology, there's very little reason to ever get into the innards of a lock. At the same time however, it is illustrative that a significant number of people have taken up lock-sport as a hobby, in addition to professional lock-smiths. Modern society has created an environment conducive to dilettantes who are not experts or professionals, but never-the-less enjoy a working knowledge of various modern technologies that would be enough to crudely replicate many techniques and technologies in a post-collapse scenario. More recently, you could look at the Maker movement as one that would be extremely valuable in reestablishing some basic level of technological civilization.

Although an engine or generator is much more complicated than a lock, it is also a technology that people have a much more involved and comprehensive relationship with. Many people are familiar with the maintenance requirements of their own vehicle simply as a matter of convenience and thrift, if not necessity, and that knowledge and experience would translate well to other engines, at least for basic maintenance and upkeep. And these are normal, 'every-day' people, not makers or hacker-dilettantes. In addition you have machinists etc. that may not be specialized in engine/automobile maintenance, but have professional skill and experience sets that are highly conducive to more specialized maintenance of engines. And that's not even discussing the actual professional mechanics and engine technicians who necessarily make up a large percentage of the population given the ubiquity of automobiles that need their services.

Finding generators will not be difficult either. An automobile can be readily converted to generate electricity already, many people have generators int heir homes for emergencies, out-door events and/or 'camping'. Additionally, facilities such as hospitals or large campuses that would have large back-up power generators would be prime targets for scavenging anyway. A university with on-campus housing is basically a ready-made community anyway.

Sanjuricus wrote: My estimate puts it closer to 1500 to 3000 years assuming we get no Christian Dark Ages cropping up again. The only thing I think that might prove my estimates erroneous is population growth once a stable (if massively reduced) infrastructure is in place in a localised rather than global context.

I think its also worth speculating just how the global ecosystem might change once about 6 billion hungry consumers of finite resources are removed from the equation? Fish stocks may well recover rapidly...there might be some population explosions or something...


The 'so-called' dark ages are a myth of euro-centric history. The rest of the world more than made up the 'slack' and even European civilization wasn't so stagnant as is popularly believed.

I think speculation of how the global ecosystem will behave in such a situation is worthwhile though. Humanity has spent millennia shaping the environment to be more supportive and livable. Large swaths of land has been cultivated, irrigated, and cleansed of predators and competitors for our food sources. The food sources themselves have been bred and genetically engineered to have higher yields and compete better with the environment. Even in Inner city environments you can find vegetable gardens and greenhouses.
At the same time, we're positing that the population will be brought down to hunter-gatherer levels from before the first agricultural revolution. Supporting such a small population on the remains of the current agricultural infrastructure would be practically effortless.

Ulc wrote:I expect that it would go something like this:
First year: Further 25 millions die off due to hunger, medicine dependency (diabetes and so on) and the first batch of winter diseases. Almost no survival skills are necessary, rather we depend on scavenging and surviving the chaos (there will be fighting for the resources, and there will be fighting for dominance)

second year: Gas, ammo, basic medicine (wound cleansing and so on) and canned food starts running out. Malnutrition starts to be widespread, and the fighting for the resources left become intense, coupled with the start of survival skills being necessary sees another 25 million dead.


Medicine dependencies, diseases and other health issues etc. will no doubt claim quite a few people early on. I don't think it will be quite that large a percent though (many of the people so thoroughly dependent on modern medical expertise and infrastructure have weakened immune systems or are otherwise unlikely to survive the initial collapse anyway)
Starvation is unlikely though. As a mentioned above, the current ecosystem supports a mind-boggling number of people. Although the infrastructure in place to support that yield will quickly succumb to neglect, the fields and pastures aren't going to spontaneously burst into flame or sink into the ground. Especially considering that the environment has been crafted to be less hostile to plants and animals we use as food, and the plants and animals have been crafted to be better suited to the environment. At hunter-gatherer population levels, even with the fields and pastures allowed to go wild, food will be abundant.

And, such a small population with access to such a large resource base, conflict will be unlikely. Sure there may be minor power struggles, but competition over resources or territory would be pointless. There will also be very little cultural conflict, anybody a survivor comes into contact with will almost certainly be from their local community.

morriswalters wrote:Energy might be the key. Think about how difficult it would be to power a civilization with no easy access to oil. Then consider how high a level of technology it requires to get oil now.


Gasoline engines likely won't last long. However, diesel engines that are mechanically simpler can also run on a wide range of flammable liquids. Biodiesels are easy to synthesize from fat and alcohol to run unmodified diesel engines, and simple modifications allow diesel engines to run on the fats and alcohols themselves. With the agricultural leftovers of seven billion people left to only a few million, the food/fuel division of resources problem ceases to exist.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:29 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:I mean, to take a very simple example: most people know how to use a key to open a door. Very few people know how to build a lock, or even how a lock works. And while you could probably find some books on this, I doubt that locksmithing is going to be a high priority task for people to add to their reading lists. How many people would know where to find an electrical generator in their city? Of those that do, how many would know how to actually get it working?


A lock is an extremely poor example. Although most people interact with locks everyday, they are basically a 'black box' technology, there's very little reason to ever get into the innards of a lock. At the same time however, it is illustrative that a significant number of people have taken up lock-sport as a hobby, in addition to professional lock-smiths. Modern society has created an environment conducive to dilettantes who are not experts or professionals, but never-the-less enjoy a working knowledge of various modern technologies that would be enough to crudely replicate many techniques and technologies in a post-collapse scenario. More recently, you could look at the Maker movement as one that would be extremely valuable in reestablishing some basic level of technological civilization.


No, that's the point. Almost all technology is "black box" technology for the vast, vast majority of the population. Yes, there are specialists and hobbyists who may have a very good understanding of how specific technologies work, but the vast majority of people are woefully ignorant of even the very basics of everyday technologies. There are far more people who don't know how to change a tire (AAA apparently gets 4 million calls a year for flat tires...) than there are people who can take an engine apart and put it back together, and most of the population will fall closer to the former than the latter. The same is true of almost any technology you pick, and the people who are likely to be experts in one particular type of technology are probably not going to be experts in some totally unrelated one. I think you are vastly overestimating the competency of the average person at understanding modern technology. I can't find a figure on this, but how many locksport enthusiasts are there in the world? Because if there's a million of them, that means that, under our current scenario, that means that there will be, assuming a uniform distribution of them, about 1000 competent lock hobbyists left for the entire United States. The 2008 Maker Faire had 65000 people in attendance. Assuming all of those were competent, you'd have 650 of them for the entire United States. Given that they had about 500 booths, you're probably looking at more like 1500 Makers, so you'd have maybe 15 left after the disaster.

EdgarJPublius wrote:Although an engine or generator is much more complicated than a lock, it is also a technology that people have a much more involved and comprehensive relationship with. Many people are familiar with the maintenance requirements of their own vehicle simply as a matter of convenience and thrift, if not necessity, and that knowledge and experience would translate well to other engines, at least for basic maintenance and upkeep. And these are normal, 'every-day' people, not makers or hacker-dilettantes.


If by "many people" you mean "a very small percentage of the population", then yes, this is true. I think you'll find that most drivers wouldn't have a clue how to change their oil, let alone do maintenance on their engine.

EdgarJPublius wrote:In addition you have machinists etc. that may not be specialized in engine/automobile maintenance, but have professional skill and experience sets that are highly conducive to more specialized maintenance of engines. And that's not even discussing the actual professional mechanics and engine technicians who necessarily make up a large percentage of the population given the ubiquity of automobiles that need their services.


There are 700000[/url professional mechanics in the United States and [url=http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos223.htm]400000 machinists. After the disaster, there'd be 7000 and 4000, respectively. Combined, they make up about 0.3% of the population. Your use of the words "large" and "many" are baffling to me.

EdgarJPublius wrote:At the same time, we're positing that the population will be brought down to hunter-gatherer levels from before the first agricultural revolution. Supporting such a small population on the remains of the current agricultural infrastructure would be practically effortless.


Except that most of the agricultural infrastructure relies on technology that most people don't know how to use, and takes advantage of transportation and communication networks and population densities that would no longer exist. A farm that can produce enough food to feed 10000 people can only do so if those people are all in one place. Feeding 10000 people scattered randomly across a huge country is another matter entirely. And again, that's assuming that the roads are being prowled by people with guns or leftover military hardware that won't happily destroy your food caravans--or just steal the farms themselves, or burn them to the ground because, well, that's what looters do.

EdgarJPublius wrote:Especially considering that the environment has been crafted to be less hostile to plants and animals we use as food, and the plants and animals have been crafted to be better suited to the environment. At hunter-gatherer population levels, even with the fields and pastures allowed to go wild, food will be abundant.


I'm not sure what you mean here. Pretty much all livestock would die, simply because they wouldn't be able to get out of the barns/factories/cages that the vast majority of them are housed in. Real free-range animals are pretty rare in agricultural settings these days. For that matter, even animals that were in the fields probably would mostly die pretty fast, because they wouldn't be able to escape the fences into the wild. Most food producing animals would die in the first winter, if not within the first few weeks. Most food producing plants similarly aren't terribly competitive in the wild because they've been bred to use most of their energy to producing maximum food output, and not toward beating out competitive species.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby aoeu » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:40 pm UTC

Losing 98% of the population would not be a total collapse in terms of quality of life. There would not be enough manpower to maintain all infrastructure, but there would be no need either. Production-wise mankind would be in good shape as the inefficient would be discarded in favor of the efficient. Survivors would get to cherry-pick. World electricity needs could be more than met by existing hydropower. (Oil) reserves sized to last for a few months would last for years. It would be possible to last until global trade recovers. A 2% survival rate means that any skill known to more than a few dozen people would continue to be available, and given the standard of living re-educating people would be affordable.

Another problem would be law and order. I'd imagine the rewards for working as a group would be high. If the catastrophe happened overnight it's plausible that anything requiring a high-level of pooling of resources (like maintaining the GPS) would not happen for a long time.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby PeteP » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:55 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote: In the United States, for example, the population density is going to be ~0.3 people per square kilometer, and, based on the assumption about disproportionate losses in urban areas, most of those people will be widely scattered.

Just two things. It's sufficient if the knowledge survives in 1 country so we can choose the one which works best. If the USA is too big, take another one like Germany. 229*0,02= 4,58 people per square inch and there are other countries with higher population densities. And sure people will be scattered in the beginning but they can move and gather. (And groups will mostly care about supporting said group, if bringing food to everyone in the whole country isn't possible bringing it to a group which lives in a much smaller area probably is.)

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby JamesP » Thu Oct 13, 2011 10:06 pm UTC

I think politics will be the most interesting part of an almost-apocalypse like this. In Britain, for example, London is densely populated and has a massive political corps and giant constabulary. Enough will survive out of the total survivors of 140'000, roughly, to maintain order. From this government can expand and re-establish authority. Military units will probably maintain communication on a small scale and can help local police until support arrives.

From here the government can consolidate the populace to urban areas for easier control and will crash-course anyone for industries lacking manpower. I'd see London, the Central Belt of Scotland and Birmingham/Manchester as hubs. The island nature of Britain means outside interference is unlikely and the state will survive.

I'd give it a year, maybe more, before the situation is stabilised and we can start looking to the future. And it's a bright future because, suddenly, Humanity isn't overpopulating the Earth anymore. Nature shall flourish and we can start again with the knowledge we already have.

Europe, the US, Africa et ali may fare worse because of the larger distances and differing cultures. Japan may survive, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan. Safety in isolation until they can regroup and continue.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby morriswalters » Fri Oct 14, 2011 12:30 am UTC

Is there any reason to believe that the people with the expertise will be where the expertise is needed. Preserving anything will become a return on investment calculation. There will be somewhere around 7 billion bodies decomposing, secondary infections as that happens and as water supplies deteriorate. According to the OP the remaining population of 150 million will be half useless, having no skills, just stomachs. The death rate will go though the roof. Anything the average person takes for granted today could kill you. Meaning any common medical problems, broken bones, cuts, allergies to name a few. Few dentists or doctors or nurses. Advanced medical care is gone. No flu vaccines or any other vaccines. At some point no antibiotics. Gasoline has a shelf life as I believe does any fuel that has volatiles. As major power plants fail of if they are shutdown to prevent catastrophic failure they may never restart even if in perfect condition. It requires quite a bit of power to restart them. And there will be no new parts. The global supply chain is gone. The point being that high technology requires quite a few hands. Lose too many people and you won't have it any longer.

Of the 7 million(est) people left in the US, half have no skills. All might be presumed to represent the population as a whole as it consisted before the pandemic, young, old, disabled. Spread out over 50 states. Somebody smarter than me can calculate the number of useful hands that you end up with. How much food will be on the shelf will be a function of how long it takes the pandemic to run its course. How did the supply chain fail? In any case anyone who wants to continue to eat better learn how to farm within say two years. No sats, no cellphones, no internet, no land lines. And none of the things you need appropriate to the state that you find yourself in.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby BattleMoose » Fri Oct 14, 2011 12:46 am UTC

The operation of large power plants, coal, oil, natural gas would be a near impossibility, the skills to operate them are intense and they are also highly dependent on a regular supply of fuel, so theoretically even if it could be made operational, it would only so until its fuel ran out, which should be in a week or less, assuming there are no functional mines which would be a very fair assumption.

Hydro power as has been mentioned could supply a near limitless amount of energy, providing the turbines could be kept operational, which, is not too unrealistic, if it is thought important, those engineers and machinists which are available could keep a hydropower plant operational. Specialist spare parts will be a problem, but for a time, those could be scavenged from other turbines in the same facility and there should certainly be a machine shop of some description within such a facility.

Perhaps that would be an ideal place for people to gather, hydro power plants. :P Limitless energy and a lake full of fish? And certainly plenty of water for agriculture and good hunting too. So, we have water, food, shelter could generally quite easily be established and some fairly technologically demanding infrastructure that would be maintained and for the younger generations to learn on. Yes, I think hydropower plants would be an ideal location for the rebirth of communities, assuming enough engineers machinists are available. And to get a barely operational hydropower plant, you would probably only need 1 engineer who really knows whats going on, a few other engineers and a several machinists, I think its a plausible possibility. Indeed, any mechanical or electrical engineer worth his salt should get a hydropower plant turbine, turning.

Also, what are we assuming about the 1000 odd operational nuclear reactors around the world? :-/

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby PAstrychef » Fri Oct 14, 2011 2:42 am UTC

"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Plenty of the survivors will now have a really good reason to learn some stuff they never thought they would need to know. If faced with the prospect of freezing to death, figuring out how to make a generator run may not seem so hard. Look at the kinds of stuff kid in Africa are building-wind turbines, airplanes, all from scrap and library books.
Whilst farming thousands of acres of a single crop can lead to using specialized equipment, most tractors come with interchangeable tools, and are not that hard to figure out.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Silas » Fri Oct 14, 2011 4:38 am UTC

Don't think about casualties and expertise lost, think about how you'd plan for the aftermath. There's gonna be somebody left alive and cogent with at least some theoretical authority*: what plan is he going to use his power toward?
*In the US, there are seventeen people in the Presidential line of succession at any given time, plus 533 other federal elected officials who could be added to the list overnight, if they agreed it needed to be done. Add to that a hundred governors and lieutenants, thirty or so significant mayors, plus about five hundred admirals and generals. Somebody's going to survive with his wits intact, and there's going to be a plan for giving him command of whatever's left of the armed forces.

Seems to me, the biggest problem is dispersal. So put out the word, have American survivors converge on, say, Houston, where they'll be assigned to towns in the area. This is a scenario that's tailor-made for a command economy: a few specific, concrete goals that can be reached through known means. We need to get a crop planted, stabilize and repair as much of the industrial equipment as we can, and plan defenses against any groups that didn't join up.

I like Houston for this, too: no one who makes it there will freeze to death, you'll probably be able to keep the Texas oil fields running (at a trickle), plus the refineries in the Gulf, and you're in an area that can support agriculture. There's decent infrastructure including good roads and a deep-water harbor, and because of the pre-catastrophe population, a lot of survivors are already in place.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby SummerGlauFan » Fri Oct 14, 2011 5:16 am UTC

Civilization would recover (in a sense of being stable, and not just focused on survival but looking to the future) before most people on this fora would die of old age. Knowledge is preserved in books and other forms, and humans have a tendency to form groups to make surviving easier. Worst case scenario is a series of city-states around the world. Likely, there will be official government in some regions in a very short period of time.

Making new things wouldn't be hard, either. You can make shotgun shells capable of firing in modern weapons with 18th/19th century technology, for example. Sure, you won't be having new supercomputers in your lifetime (probably), but we will hardly be thrown back to the stone age. Think early-20th century quality of life.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Hemmers » Fri Oct 14, 2011 10:26 am UTC

Ulc wrote:...but if 98% of the population is dead, even finding other people is going to be a bit of challenge. And all communication networks will have broken down within weeks.


Oh I don't know, 2% means in a town of 20,000 people you'll have 400 survivors, 200 of which have a memory and skills.

That's really quite a decent sized village. From 200, you'd hope to find at least one farmer, one electrician (or someone with enough high school physics to understand wiring, even if they're not following IEEE standards to the book, which is frankly a bit academic in such a scenario - so long as it works and doesn't burn the place down, who cares!), one person with medical training, whether a doctor, nurse or even vet.
In a garrison town you'll likely end up with a highly skilled set of survivors with survival skills, military engineers (civil and utility), medics, etc, etc.

They'd be able to set up a farm, some utilities, a machine-shop.
I'd have thought there would be enough legacy kit lying around for survivors to to maintain at least a 1950s level of sophistication (i.e. mostly electro-mechanical rather than electronic), but without big civil engineering projects and obviously everything would be rather rougher and make-do-and-mend rather than mass produced, injection moulded plastics, etc.

The biggest problem would be computers. They're not very tangible. You can't look at a chip and figure out how it works the same as you can with an engine. If it packs up you bin it and replace it. If you haven't got a few seriously skilled electronic and fabrication engineers, then chip and electronic fabs are going to rot. But that's what, half a century of development, so it's secondary to basic survival. The human race has gone from Colossus to the i7 in 60 years. Once you've got a sustainable community (which shouldn't take more than a few years), you can take your skilled electronics types and turn them over to what they were doing before. Of course there's far less manpower, so the electronics redevelopment will be taking far, far longer, but I don't envisage us slipping back into the dark ages.

People would hopefully develop their communities along more sustainable methods, such as growing their own biofuel, managing their power consumption to match locally-available supply, not coal shipped halfway round the world.

BattleMoose wrote:Also, what are we assuming about the 1000 odd operational nuclear reactors around the world? :-/

One would hope brought to a cold shutdown when it becomes apparent that keeping enough staff around to run it will be impossible (i.e. early days of the outbreak).
The scenario states an "I Am Legend" type virus, and as I recall, it takes some time to travel - not long obviously, but weeks to get around the world. That's time enough to shut stuff down provided there's no earthquakes or tsunami. They should be cold - if not properly secured and in hibernation - so the idea of 1000 reactors cooking off is improbable. What happens 50 years down the line when the equipment starts to rust is anyone's guess, and of course there's nothing to stop looting.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sun Oct 16, 2011 8:14 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
EdgarJPublius wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:I mean, to take a very simple example: most people know how to use a key to open a door. Very few people know how to build a lock, or even how a lock works. And while you could probably find some books on this, I doubt that locksmithing is going to be a high priority task for people to add to their reading lists. How many people would know where to find an electrical generator in their city? Of those that do, how many would know how to actually get it working?


A lock is an extremely poor example. Although most people interact with locks everyday, they are basically a 'black box' technology, there's very little reason to ever get into the innards of a lock. At the same time however, it is illustrative that a significant number of people have taken up lock-sport as a hobby, in addition to professional lock-smiths. Modern society has created an environment conducive to dilettantes who are not experts or professionals, but never-the-less enjoy a working knowledge of various modern technologies that would be enough to crudely replicate many techniques and technologies in a post-collapse scenario. More recently, you could look at the Maker movement as one that would be extremely valuable in reestablishing some basic level of technological civilization.


No, that's the point. Almost all technology is "black box" technology for the vast, vast majority of the population. Yes, there are specialists and hobbyists who may have a very good understanding of how specific technologies work, but the vast majority of people are woefully ignorant of even the very basics of everyday technologies. There are far more people who don't know how to change a tire (AAA apparently gets 4 million calls a year for flat tires...) than there are people who can take an engine apart and put it back together, and most of the population will fall closer to the former than the latter. The same is true of almost any technology you pick, and the people who are likely to be experts in one particular type of technology are probably not going to be experts in some totally unrelated one. I think you are vastly overestimating the competency of the average person at understanding modern technology. I can't find a figure on this, but how many locksport enthusiasts are there in the world? Because if there's a million of them, that means that, under our current scenario, that means that there will be, assuming a uniform distribution of them, about 1000 competent lock hobbyists left for the entire United States. The 2008 Maker Faire had 65000 people in attendance. Assuming all of those were competent, you'd have 650 of them for the entire United States. Given that they had about 500 booths, you're probably looking at more like 1500 Makers, so you'd have maybe 15 left after the disaster.


A black box technology isn't one that people are ignorant of, it is one that is designed to obscure or prevent access to its inner workings.
Technologies like engines that are widely used and subject to much wear and tear, can't be 'black-box'. There have been attempts to make black-box power-trains before and even the defense industry couldn't make it work.

As far as the Maker community, you are vastly, vastly underestimating the numbers. Attendance to Maker Faire is a horrible point to base an estimation off given that not even a large percentage of makers at the time likely had the means, opportunity and/or inclination to attend (I didn't even know Maker Faire 2007 was happening and it happened in my city)
heck, I am part of a moderately large and growing fast) maker community in Austin (ATX Hackerspace) which has ~eighty paying members, probably out a community of a hundred to a hundred and fifty Makers who are familiar with the space's existence and location. I know there are also several other (albeit smaller) maker communities in Austin, as well as quite a few artist/hobbyist coops, some of which are rather large, that incorporate similar interests/skills/knowledge but are otherwise unaffiliated with the maker community. I would say that 1500 would be a conservative guess a the population of hackers/makers in the Austin area, not the entire country.

If by "many people" you mean "a very small percentage of the population", then yes, this is true. I think you'll find that most drivers wouldn't have a clue how to change their oil, let alone do maintenance on their engine.

don't forget, a lot of people can't necessarily afford to take their car in to a shop every time there's a mechanical failure, many more are thrifty by nature, or against paying someone else to do something they are capable of on principle, and being able to repair and even rebuild an engine was until recently a big part of male culture and father-son bonding in the U.S.

Let alone that Shop class is often considered an 'easy grade' in high-school compared to alternatives like 'home ec' or 'finance' or whatever.


There are 700000[/url professional mechanics in the United States and [url=http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos223.htm]400000 machinists. After the disaster, there'd be 7000 and 4000, respectively. Combined, they make up about 0.3% of the population. Your use of the words "large" and "many" are baffling to me.


That list considers a very narrow subset of occupations. The related fields links (and related fields of the related fields) includes occupations like 'small engine mechanics', 'diesel service technicians and mechanics', 'Heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service technicians and mechanics', 'industrial mechanics' and a few others that I calculated out to about two million total currently working as of 2008, which doesn't include people who are no longer working in those fields, teaching and training into those fields, certification and inspection related to those fields and etc. Seems pretty adequately 'large' to me.
The page even acknowledges that many of the people currently employed in these fields got started in them as a hobby

I'm not sure what you mean here. Pretty much all livestock would die, simply because they wouldn't be able to get out of the barns/factories/cages that the vast majority of them are housed in. Real free-range animals are pretty rare in agricultural settings these days. For that matter, even animals that were in the fields probably would mostly die pretty fast, because they wouldn't be able to escape the fences into the wild.

Fences around livestock pastures require nearly continuous maintenance due to wear and tear from the environment, weather and the animals themselves. I would expect most pastured animals to be 'free' within days or weeks.
It's true that most if not all factory farmed animals would die, but again, the population that needs to be supported by the rest is miniscule in comparison to what the system was designed to sustain.


Most food producing animals would die in the first winter, if not within the first few weeks. Most food producing plants similarly aren't terribly competitive in the wild because they've been bred to use most of their energy to producing maximum food output, and not toward beating out competitive species.

Large, even massive, die-offs are fine considering the miniscule remaining population. Same with plants, although many plants have been bred/modified to resist disease, poison insects and deny nutrients to competing weeds. There have already been recorded instances of GMO crops 'going wild' and thriving, indicating that they are not nearly as fragile as you seem to believe.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby elasto » Sun Oct 16, 2011 11:16 am UTC

I think I'd come down on the optimistic side rather than the pessimistic. I think it would only take a couple of centuries at most to get back to where we are now.

I think it''s silly to think that knowledge would die out or that people wouldn't teach their children things like reading because there'd be no time. I think the opposite would be the case, that knowledge would be prized more than ever.

Yes, there would be looting and criminal gangs, but there would also be communities forming on the basis of mutual cooperation - communes if you like. And, no, specialist knowledge would not survive first hand (eg how a nuclear power station works), but books would survive. Ok, so most books would end up getting burnt for fuel, but, so long as civilisation stabilises anywhere in the world after a generation or two (and small, densely populated islands like the UK or Japan would be prime candidates for that), someone from that civilisation only has to find one copy of a book anywhere in the world for that knowledge to be rediscovered.

Probably a few thoughtful people will do things like print out crucial selected articles from wikipedia and place them somewhere safe where they can be rediscovered after time has passed. Lots of knowledge that puts us way ahead of humanity circa 500BC can be summarised in only a few short paragraphs. eg, check out this poster:

Image

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Nocta » Fri Oct 21, 2011 7:02 am UTC

You guys are awfully pessimistic. I highly doubt that civilization would take that long to recover, as no infrastructure would be destroyed. In my opinion, the first month is by far the most crucial, especially in low density or less developed countries. Information crucial to our society must be distributed to everyone, then turned into physical copies. With that, we can gradually learn how to function normally. In my opinion, it would take a developed country about 100 years at most to return to a highly specialized society, and a bit longer for less developed countries. Of course the population would take a lot longer to recover, but I highly doubt that it would take as much as thousands of years to rebuild society.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Danny Uncanny7 » Fri Oct 21, 2011 5:52 pm UTC

Consider the glut of having the stockpiles of the 50 people who died for each person alive. That means that there is a sudden huge abundance of available resources. Assuming that we currently have on hand enough resources (food, gas, etc) to keep things running for a week or so if all production stops. With only 2% of the population, those resources could now last for a year. A year of abundance is enough time to figure out how to resume sufficient production for the 2% of the population. I say that it would stall any advancement or progress for a long while, but create almost no setback at all.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Hemmers » Wed Oct 26, 2011 8:27 am UTC

Nocta wrote:You guys are awfully pessimistic. I highly doubt that civilization would take that long to recover, as no infrastructure would be destroyed.


Um, I don't think you appreciate how much maintenance industrial equipment requires. Oil rigs will not sit out in the ocean waiting for us to go out and turn them on again.

You're right of course in that there will be a lot of stuff left over that we won't have to reinvent, but equally there will be quite a lot of stuff that will either need a total overhaul and rebuilding. Depending on how fast a virus spread, it's possible gas terminals and the like might not be brought to full shutdown by the time the last engineer dies, leaving the place to potentially explode depending on how clever the safety systems are (and they'll almost certainly ask for some human input somewhere in the process, which won't come.

Steam engines and internal combustion engines are not very complex, and a 1950s level of automation seems fairly attainable. Provided you can somehow get things like oil and gas. And raw materials, which you will either have to mine and extract from ore, or recycle and purify from legacy scrap.

How many people here know metallurgy? This is perhaps the biggest problem - lots of people know how to use lathes and build engines and make stuff. But they are usually starting out with a supply of sheet metal or rod. How did that get there in the first place?

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Oct 27, 2011 1:36 am UTC

I was wondering where the idea that people would be burning books came from. They are highly inefficient as fuel, paper burning very fast and not that hot. With the nicely seasoned lumber around from empty buildings and extra furniture, not to mention trees that could be felled and dried, keeping books as books would be much more sensible.
And the infrastructure would be collapsing almost immediately, once constant maintenance was gone. The NYC subway would be flooding into the streets in less than an day once the pumps failed. Still, your average metal bridge would have enough steel in it to cover basic needs for years.
(so there I was, watching The day after tomorrow, and they are burning the books in the library, ignoring the three inch thick oak desks, the stair rails, the chairs... Survival is now a matter of figuring out what the fucking hell to do, and you destroy the source of information!? Freeze, idiots!)
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Enokh » Fri Oct 28, 2011 7:19 pm UTC

This is actually a pretty upbeat scenario as far as an Apocalypse goes, as there isn't widespread destruction like there'd be if there was a nuclear war, and there aren't zombies/whatever. The first things that leap to my mind:

1) How many of the survivors are going to be relatively sane? People are overcome with grief at losing a close relative, and these survivors likely just lost their parents,siblings, children etc., not to mention nearly everyone they know (if not everyone).

2) How many of the sane survivors are going to look at the Apocalypse and immediately kick into Civilization Recovery Mode? Even if I were sane and retained my memory, I could easily see myself holing up somewhere and just surviving, maybe going out to a nearby grocery store when I could (or maybe just ransacking neighboring houses/apartments). I'd hope I would immediately venture forth and try to find relatives/friends, but if all of them were dead I honestly don't know how well I would handle it.

3) I have a hard time wrapping my head around Mad Max bandits, but that's very likely going to be a thing. Between the Apocalypse and us killing each other, it could very easily turn the entire ordeal into a hard-ish reset for humanity. But, even then, that's just a 2-4 thousand years.

I can also, as an aside, easily see experts in certain fields raised to an almost King-like status. Doctors/nurses, engineers, etc. would all be so critically important to maintaining any semblance of the previous lifestyle that they'd likely be the most valuable commodity a group could have, which could potentially go in rather interesting cult-y directions.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:34 am UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:
I'm not sure what you mean here. Pretty much all livestock would die, simply because they wouldn't be able to get out of the barns/factories/cages that the vast majority of them are housed in. Real free-range animals are pretty rare in agricultural settings these days. For that matter, even animals that were in the fields probably would mostly die pretty fast, because they wouldn't be able to escape the fences into the wild.

Fences around livestock pastures require nearly continuous maintenance due to wear and tear from the environment, weather and the animals themselves. I would expect most pastured animals to be 'free' within days or weeks.
It's true that most if not all factory farmed animals would die, but again, the population that needs to be supported by the rest is miniscule in comparison to what the system was designed to sustain.


I actually know a little about livestock fencing, as I grew up on a very small ranch. It's true that fences require a lot more maintenance than most people realize, but they're less flimsy than you think. Some livestock can break through their fences (horses in particular are bad about this, because of their strong kicks), but livestock are trained from birth to be pretty passive and it's rare that they actually try to. So in this scenario, you're mostly looking at natural wear from time and weather. My parents have wood fences that lasted about 20 years with regular painting, the last five of those without any maintenance. Metal fences are attached to very large wooden posts and those can last for decades without maintenance, as you can see if you have any old, abandoned piers in your area. Pier posts are a little different, notably they're pretty heavily treated for water resistance, but a really big hunk of wood is surprisingly good at holding itself together. I don't know really know much about chain link fences, but they're metal and I've only ever seen them with metal posts held in with concrete, so I imagine they can easily last decades.

So, for the question of whether or not livestock would die quickly without farmhands, I'm going to say yes. The big issue is water. It's pretty rare to livestock with access to a natural source of water these days, so they need to escape and find a water source within a few days of this scenario. That's a pretty big task in itself, but the problem is most livestock aren't going to be able to break out of their fences. Fortunately, I've never seen desperately dehydrated livestock, but even if that does cause them to try and break their fences, keep in mind that they will not be doing this until they are already dehydrated and, depending on the size of their pasture (if they have any at all) probably already weak from hunger. In this particular scenario though, I find it likely that a significant number of herds would simply be released as their caretakers realize they can't be taken care of and it looks more and more like nearly every human will be dead.

I won't address this at anyone in particular, but I think some people here are, in general, underestimating how long equipment and infrastructure can hold out without maintenance. Subways will be boned pretty quickly due to flooding, yes, but bridges and roads will last a good number of years. Partially this is because most things need continual maintenance, unlike the Golden Gate Bridge's continuous painting, and partially because the amount of maintenance required is raised considerably by being used constantly. After an apocalypse, a bridge only needs to bear itself, not the weight of thousands of cars every day for the indefinite future.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Oct 31, 2011 7:30 am UTC

In my experience, it's not the posts that are the weak point in a fence. And it's doubtful that livestock pastured in any quantity have been 'trained' to be anything.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Mon Oct 31, 2011 8:24 am UTC

Would you prefer "conditioned", through a lifetime of being surrounded by fences and being herded? Also, as I said, fences are strong enough to keep most livestock in. Mostly disputing the idea that a few days of neglect are going to make the fences into wet noodles.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby morriswalters » Mon Oct 31, 2011 2:34 pm UTC

Actually fences and buildings would be the least of the worries. Some processes in common use aren't friendly if not shut down correctly. And I can't even guess at all of them.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Odd_nonposter » Mon Oct 31, 2011 5:09 pm UTC

However, diesel engines that are mechanically simpler can also run on a wide range of flammable liquids. Biodiesels are easy to synthesize from fat and alcohol to run unmodified diesel engines, and simple modifications allow diesel engines to run on the fats and alcohols themselves.


I think you're greatly underestimating the level of sophistication of modern diesel engines. What with emissions standards and all, a modern diesel engine is computer controlled, has all sorts of exhaust aftertreatment (the computer will shut the engine off without urea water and a functioning dpf), very stringent fuel quality standards (2-3 fuel filters are in the newer models, and lubricity adding treatments are now necessary to prevent injectors from seizing), extremely tight machining tolerances, and a whole host of other issues not easily solved by post-apocalyptic peoples scavenging knowledge from libraries and printed wikipedia articles.

That said, older engines are more like the mechanically simple beasts you portray them as. If you find an older, purely mechanical engine, such as one that could be scavenged from a legacy tractor, pickup, semi, or piece of construction equipment, then you're golden. There are probably engines still around that could burn used motor oil, since those things were built like brick shithouses to start with.

I guess I could say that the power generation capabilities of post-apocalyptia would depend heavily on the time our hypothetical virus swept through. In twenty years or so, those legacy engines are likely to have been trashed, and the electronic engines will have taken over. If the virus were to sweep through today, then diesel power generation could still be plausible.
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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby MrJohnnyBEE » Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:42 pm UTC

I think that citing the newer standards for Diesel engines is missing the point a tiny bit. Yes, electronics control the engines, ect., but the engine just has to run, it doesn't have to run well. Were not going to pull 150 kilowatts from it, even though if everything worked right it could, were going to pull maybe 10. So emission controls? Who cares, remove them. Everything is electric? Well the onboard computer is pretty much just a solid state chunk, it should work for awhile. Long enough to come up with alternatives. Also, while things might be different, I very much doubt we would just give up on educating our young. We have been educating out kids for thousands, if not millions of years, why would that change? We would just need one or two people in a community that know about a topic, and then they could pass it on to dozens. I also believe that people would start having many children, not just one or two. This would make sense on several fronts, first you would get more labor in just a few short years, and two, you would be repopulating the world. We're probably talking just a few generations to get back to the billion person mark, and in that time grandparents would still remember the world before.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby LaserGuy » Tue Nov 08, 2011 10:15 pm UTC

MrJohnnyBEE wrote:This would make sense on several fronts, first you would get more labor in just a few short years, and two, you would be repopulating the world. We're probably talking just a few generations to get back to the billion person mark, and in that time grandparents would still remember the world before.


I think you'd be surprised how long this would take. There are many countries in the world where people start having children at an average age of 20 or less, and have six children to a family. Those countries still aren't increasing at the rates you'd need to get an eightfold increase in population within 100 years. The world population, at the very fastest, has doubled in about 40 years. So if we're very lucky, we might be able to get back up to a billion people within 120 years. Given all of the other problems that might come about as a result of the disaster that will cause infant mortality to skyrocket, I think this is pretty unlikely. Again, the population is going to be reduced to the levels of 500 BCE.

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Re: Recovering from an apocalypse...

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Nov 08, 2011 10:45 pm UTC

And much more scattered than the population of 500 BC. By then major cities had formed and large farming communities around those, not to mention fairly stable trade networks connecting significant chunks of those. In this situation, most of the small towns will probably be abandoned and while some places will still have relatively close settlements, like Europe, China, parts of the middle east, the eastern seaboard of North America, India, and parts of South America, many other cities will suddenly be much smaller and quite remote.

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest of the US, there will be the remains of the cities of California, then Seattle, Portland, Boise, and Salt Lake City. Those last four being at least 200 miles away from each other with not much in between. Trade networks of that distance can work, even without modern vehicles, but you're talking something like a two week journey each way, while trying to carry whatever supplies might be traded. Since scavenging is likely to be very important and much cheaper, you probably won't see trade networks, much less regular contact, between the remains of cities in similarly spread out areas. So that's going to significantly retard economic growth, which will have some retardation of population growth.

On the other hand, if communities are lucky enough to have a good number of surviving doctors, a lot of medical technology and supplies will be just lying around for them to take advantage of. But the really good stuff won't last too long, I'd think. Advanced medical technology requires a lot of power and maintenance and medications do expire eventually.


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