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How do my PA civilizations rebuild after a depletion of the planet’s natural fuels?

Even with a wealth of information to rebuild, would civilization still be permanently stunted due to being unable to become industrialized?

Post Apocalypse

Somehow, all the information to rebuild civilization is preserved within a newly discovered vault archive, which is discovered three thousand years later. Of course, throughout the years numerous vault archives were discovered. Each vault was made to have an AI, a “Librarian/Interactive Encyclopedia” of sorts. This AI can translate PA world languages given a short time, then communicate a reply. The vault also contains both an extensive digital and physical library. It can 3D print read more reading materials, albeit, in limited supply. Though it can recycle certain kinds of organic matter to process more.

Most archives were brought to ruin and some had their data stores corrupted. Only one, as far as if known, had an AI which was intact, but the most of its data still corrupted. All vaults were run on a geothermal energy source.

Pre-Apocalypse in my Earth-like Sci-Fantasy World

In my story, civilization reached an Early Space Age, and depleted most of the world’s natural fuel resources. Of course, during this time it was able to find and harvest alternatives fuels (solar, geothermal, asteroid mining, etc). This Early Space Age technology was still in its infancy, and being reliant upon such technology made it extremely vulnerable.

Space Technologies Do not know if this is very relevant… I may expand more if there is need for more information or clarification.

STL Travel - It relied on slower than light speed travel.

Androids (unknown by common people to be genetically modified Lab-Grown Humans) – Used for colonization. Still this was a failed attempt to create a subservient labor force that could perform actions that current mechanical robots could not. Major cultural implications but irrelevant to topic…

Generation Ships – This technology was unreliable. These were manufactured by private corporations. Most that went were impoverished or oppressed minorities (such as the androids) to colonize distant star systems. These were practically desperate attempts to colonize other Earth-like worlds in distant star systems.

My Reasoning

Story-wise I am hoping to stunt the technological growth of my civilization to the High Middle Ages/ Renaissance period. Still some Early Space Age gadgets survived and are not completely understood and are unable to be created, but able to be maintained to persist. The apocalypse occurs during an Early Space Age. Three thousand years after the apocalypse most machines are not functional, except for the vaults (more on those further on). There are plenty of raw materials able to be scrapped from ruins. It is my reasoning that, even with all the information on hand, one would need to rebuild civilization in technological stages, like a pyramid.

NOTE The civilization technology wise, in the story, is in a Medieval Period, and human populations are now reflective of that period. The highest population in a country is estimated at 10 million.

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  • $\begingroup$ There is no way for human civilization to run out of coal. It is imaginable (unlikely, but imaginable) that we will exhaust all or most easily accessible petroleum, but coal is aplenty and its use is already decreasing. And anyway, since they have access to knowledge what is keeping them from developing hydroelectric power plants? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 22 '18 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Did some research and looked into it. I suppose coal would work. Still it would have to be processed into gas on an industrial scale. How long would that set back my medieval civilizations? Once converted tools and machinery can then be used to construct, operate, and maintain a hydroelectric power plant. I suppose then the question is, if there are rich enough mines with that can support the endeavor. Maybe they have the knowledge and simply choose not to use it? Perhaps there being no impetus for current societies to jump-start an industrial revolution. $\endgroup$ – MrCheddar Apr 22 '18 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ Why would it "have to be processed into gas"? Do you mean coal gas for illumination and domestic use? Steam locomotives work just fine on brown coal. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 22 '18 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ I imagine you need gasoline for the motorized vehicles, drills, and generators for the handheld power tools, etc. to construct a hydroelectric power plant. The area would have to be prepared with construction vehicles and cranes. So you would already need an alternative source of electricity, before the said power plant. Once again I am not knowledgeable on fuels. Steam could certainly be used in the world, but I don't know how one goes from steam to the HE Power Plant. I just imagine refining oil is much better and efficient than refining and processing coal. That's why we do it today. $\endgroup$ – MrCheddar Apr 23 '18 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ The first Niagara Falls hydroelectric power station was built in 1881. In 1881 they did not have much in the way of powered construction equipment. Electric power generators were turned by plain steam engines for a long time, up to the middle of the 20th century when turbines took over. Petroleum is really not necessary at all to lift a civilization out of the Middle Ages; in real history widespread use of petroleum began well into the 20th century, between the world wars. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 23 '18 at 0:19
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How do my PA civilizations rebuild after a depletion of the planet’s natural fuels?

Given knowledge, you can make new coal from wood, and several plastics from such common substances as milk, vegetable oils, and grapes. Glass is also still available.

From there, you can start recycling whatever materials are available from fossil waste dumps and old ruins - copper, steel, lead.

From there, you can progress reasonably quickly to a 1800-like civilization. With the help of an encyclopedic AI you could build a small technological enclave. And here the problems start: they have precious, coveted technology, but they aren't militarily stronger than all of their neighbours, who might suspect the enclave is eventually going to become stronger than them. So the rebuilders must become clever and skilled politicians very, very quickly. Maybe they might be inspired by the AI cache of ancient time literature, among which a copy of Asimov's First Foundation lurks...

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! This sounds like an excellent idea to work into my story. I do have one militaristic order that secretly has found one vault with an active AI yet most of the data was corrupted. Still this gives me lots of ideas and I'm liking where this can go! $\endgroup$ – MrCheddar Apr 23 '18 at 0:12
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I think that solar powered boilers are more likely PA source of mechanical power, and wind/water electricity generation is easy in the small scale. Then, with a stable power source, all the rest of technology is relatively easy to bootstrap .. without any need for a burnable fuel.

That said .. methane and alcohol can both be produced in sufficient quantity to provide alternate burnable energy sources.

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Yes, it can using charcoal. Brazil creates large amounts of charcoal for its steel mills.

https://aeon.co/essays/could-we-reboot-a-modern-civilisation-without-fossil-fuels

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