Blackouts happen all the time locally, but what would the implications of a world-wide, indefinite blackout be?

Here is a spark from the fire of what could happen:

  • (obviously) lights go out

  • no air conditioning, heating

  • refrigeration, microwaves, toasters, ovens... stop working

  • factories shut down

  • the Internet goes down

  • cellular devices (and towers) stop working

  • electronic banking, online booking

  • hyperinflation

  • you won't be able to have air

How long could the human race sustain without electricity? How reliant are we on electricity to sustain ourselves?

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    $\begingroup$ I imagine that all the teenagers in the world would revolt $\endgroup$
    – TrEs-2b
    Jan 21, 2016 at 1:40
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    $\begingroup$ S.M Stirling wrote an entire series of books based on that premise; The Emberverse series. Very entertaining, since it forces the entire Earth back to the dark ages. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jan 21, 2016 at 1:52
  • $\begingroup$ So, you're thinking an electromagnetic pulse, except on a world-wide level and affecting all electronics. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2016 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, why is inextricably linked to what. If you just stopped having electricity, you stop seeing rust or lightning, too. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Jan 21, 2016 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b Teenagers are revolting? I think we already know that! $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 21, 2016 at 9:06

6 Answers 6


The implications are actually very easy to see. While our culture is very very very dependent on electricity, and would rapidly collapse, not all cultures are that way. Consider that there exists, today, many peoples in 3rd world nations whose lives are completely independent of electricity. In fact, many have never even heard of the concept. These cultures would continue completely oblivious to the havoc the loss of electricity would have on "civilized" cultures near them.

Mind you it would not be pretty. Our society is not designed to withstand such a sudden massive shock. It would buck and fold. For example, all building materials would cease: steel and aluminum and glass production are all substantially dependent on electricity. Wood could, in theory, still be harvested, but it would take a while to jury rig all of the saw mills (depending on how the electricity goes out).

Civilized humanity would suffer massive starvation and population reduction. There would be war and suffering. We may remember how we lived before electricity (we didn't really have electricity until the late 1800s). Or we may die off.

Either way, the Pirahã are almost certainly going to continue doing what they have done for thousands of years, before their introduction to civilization. As will the Sentinelese.

  • $\begingroup$ And the Amish. I'm sure there are plenty more, though. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 21, 2016 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre - the Amish would be screwed by their proximity to the desperate masses. They don't embrace violence, while the rest of us aren't phased by it. In the event of a societal collapse survivors would flock to those places still capable of providing them with food. Amish communities would be an obvious target. Some would integrate and learn from the Amish while helping them. But one community would only sustain so many. What do you do with the thousands you can't feed? What do they do when they realize they're not getting any food? What do the people with guns have to say? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jan 21, 2016 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ The fall wouldn't stop at the 1800s--the ore we could get with 1800's tech is gone. As the already-mined resources got used beyond recovery we would fall further and further, only stopping when we were at the point of resources that could be obtained: Early stone age. $\endgroup$ May 14, 2016 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, one of the reasons the fall would be very bad for humans is that we don't keep much of the older technologies around in quickly usable form. For example, we still have horses and oxen, but not nearly enough to farm with. We have steam engines, but mostly in museums -- and not enough boiler-makers anymore. I think this scenario get very bad, very quickly -- and for at least a generation (while the lucky ones with horses and oxen bread their herds up.) $\endgroup$
    – Catalyst
    Nov 29, 2016 at 13:33

I think the key to answering this question properly is off in OP's comment here to Hanko Tanks' answer, empasis original:

I meant the implications, as in the long-term results of no electricity – AMACB 2016-01-21 02:43:43Z

Because neural transmission uses electrical impulses, brain activity is based on electrical impulses (compare EEG), and muscle activity is at least influenced by (and I think directly dependent on) electrical impulses, the simple result of removing electricity from our world becomes basically:

No biological activity.

In other words, magic occurs, and then we all collapse and die.

Sounds like it makes for a pretty dull world. At this point, lack of air conditioning would be the least of my concerns. Not that I'd have many concerns at all at that point, when the brain has shut down.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, that's an interesting point. $\endgroup$
    – AMACB
    Jan 21, 2016 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Not a very interesting answer, but the correct one. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2016 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes the correct answer isn't the one you hope to get. And in this case I think especially in the comment the OP was quite clear. @Manu $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 22, 2016 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ I truly do not think that this is what the question was asking. It was asking about culture and electrical generation and transmission, not brain and muscle cells. $\endgroup$
    – user17228
    Jun 16, 2016 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ Neural transmission does not depend on electrical impulses. Certainly not electrical impulses like electrical current in wires. Neural signals are more chemical in nature with ions passing in and out of membranes. The Carrington event of 1859 disrupted electrical transmission, but it didn't interfere with biological activity. You're coming close to assuming the abolition of electromagnetism (probably, not exactly that, this is shorthand for shutting down all electrical activity). A repeat of Carrington sized mass coronal ejections will destroy our world. Lucky so far. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Jul 31, 2016 at 13:28

One of the major implications of a global-scale electricity-loss disaster somewhat depends on in what way did we lose the electricity and if we even can get it back.

For example, TV-series Revolution plot relies on a premise that humanity not only in a span of minutes lost the ability to use electricity, there is no way to get the power running even using diesel generators, as all electricity is sucked out.

What that means is that humanity loses its communication capabilities, it loses nearly all of the machinery and most of conveniences.

It also means that for humanity staying in large (>1mil population) cities is detrimental, as you can't really get resources there, except for the resources already stored there. That means that these cities become a modern version of a dungeon where you go looking for loot and where you can find a whole lot of trouble.

It also means that we get thrown back to renaissance-ish period. By that I mean that the world will return to its feudal roots while having much better firearms than in the old-days. We lose our battleships, planes and submarines to some extent, as there are no means of communication.

Given that we are also running low on oil and we can't use nature's renewable sources, we might go in the direction of steampunk-ish technology mixed with modern things that will wither fairly soon.

We also lose space, confining us on this planet.

All of the satellites that aren't geostationary will fall sooner or later.

If we do get electricity back at some point afterwards, I'm sure we could get up to speed in some five-fifteen years, depending on the location and how much we pillaged in the power-less years, as most tech can survive for a long time if it's locked in a safe room with the right conditions.

By the way, I doubt hyperinflation would be possible in western world, as we would be in huge trouble when suddenly most databases, that are on the tech you can't use, turns to nothing. Banks are down, medical records are mostly down, so are police records. First years would be complete chaos coated with anarchy, except in some very specific states that are ready for cataclysms of such capabilities. For example, seems to me that Switzerland could survive mostly intact, given the long-running military traditions there.

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    $\begingroup$ Geostationary (or more generally, geosynchronous) does not determine whether the orbit is stable. It simply says "the orbit of this satellite matches the Earth's rotation", such that the satellite always appears to be in the same place in the sky from a given location on ground. This is useful, but not required, even for things we normally use geostationary satellites for (such as TV or communication satellites). The Moon isn't in a geostationary orbit, but has been around for quite a long while already and isn't in any great rush to go anywhere else. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 21, 2016 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Yeah, I did mess up there, might edit it out later-on. The other part of the point still stands though, satellites will fall at some point because of various reasons, which will most certainly look pretty. $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2016 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ ...and there's always the Space Jetta. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 21, 2016 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I think Nikita Akopjans is correct about geostationary satellites, for two different reasons. First, the moon is slowly drifting away from the Earth, converting Earth's angular momentum into it's own orbital angular momentum, because of tidal forces; those forces have the opposite effect on anything closer than geostationary. Second, low orbits (in the order of a few hundred km and well below geostationary, but there aren't many between those altitudes) still have noticeable drag over many years in orbit, because the air doesn't just suddenly stop. $\endgroup$
    – BenRW
    Jan 14, 2017 at 1:00

If we lose electricity, Rednecks win.

Larger population centers will devolve into massive chaos very very quickly. as soon as deliveries coming into the city stop, food scarcity will set in very fast. Two major problems will be the loss of refrigeration along with the loss of the ability to cook anything. No Electricity to cook, and as soon as the gas pressure fails, those folks are screwed. Two or three days and just about everything except the prepackaged stuff will start to spoil and your typical city dweller won't have any idea how to take steps to prevent it. After a few more days the prepackaged stuff is gone and then what? I assume that any security measures on warehouses of shelf stable food are going to be overwhelmed very fast by those who are hungry and have not yet been weakened by starvation.

Contrast this with Rednecks. Many are able to fulfill many of the basics of survival without major difficulty. They know how to grow food and how to hunt. They will also be familiar with many edibles that grow wild, like blackberries and such. they will probably know the land, and where nearby water sources are. Chances of having livestock are high. The knowledge of how to cut trees for fuel and how to start a fire is very widespread. Meat preservation, in the form of Smokers is a highly advanced art among rednecks.

A big advantage for rednecks is going to be one of philosophy, though. Most rednecks are strong believers in the second amendment and will probably have more than one firearm. Having been firearm enthusiasts, they will either have, or know someone who has, reloading supplies. They will also probably know folks with archery supplies. That's practical outcome of part of the philosophy, which is in the appropriate use of Arms and of Force (both capitalized for a reason). Another part of the general redneck philosophy is a tendency toward Thrift. Rednecks fix things, and can make some pretty amazing stuff out of things city dwellers would have sent to the landfill. You may chuckle when you see someone in a heavy Alabama accent talks about the quaint practice of dehydrating corn, making jerky, and canning peaches, but how funny are those things when the excrement impacts the rotating blades? The final piece rests on the fact that in the US, an enormous chunk of the enlisted servicemen and women come from the southern states (where most of the rednecks are). They get the concept of Service, even if they can't or won't articulate it.

As crazy as rednecks are, there is a certain amount of discipline in many aspects of their lives. We don't see it, but the same guy who bolts a lawn chair to a board and then gets dragged behind a truck is also the same guy who got up before dawn, gathered eggs, milked cows etc. all before going to work, and he does that every single day.

The rednecks will fare far better than people in population centers. They won't lose as much as city dwellers will, and they will likely be able to hold off marauding bands of starving city-slickers. Those city slickers who are polite in how they ask for help will probably get fed and put to work.

New cities will grow, led by Bubba the great.

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    $\begingroup$ Half of this answer is alright, but the other half makes too many assumptions. "they will either have, or know someone who has, reloading supplies." That is doubtful. I would wager that most rednecks do not have nor know someone who has reloading supplies. A higher proportion of them might, compared to other people, but that does not mean "most." Also, change of having livestock is not high. High-er, than average at least, maybe, but not high. The sentence about smoking being "a highly advanced art among rednecks" is just silly... (cont) $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Apr 24, 2017 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ ... The qualities that you describe here would all be good qualities to have in the situation described by the question being answered here, yes; that much I agree with. These qualities might also be even more rare among city-dwellers than amongst non-city-dwellers. However, these qualities (especially having more than 2 of the qualities in the same person) is still the exception, not the rule, even amongst the "rednecks" you speak of. Also, I think your "city-slickers" will last longer than you think; I assume they will start eating each other eventually, and that's a lot of meat. $\endgroup$
    – Loduwijk
    Apr 24, 2017 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron, specifically to the reloading supplies...If you have ever hung out with Rednecks, particularly in the Southern US, you will find that most are firearm owners. Among any group that values firearms you will frequently find several that are either active reloaders or are learning how to do reloading. This is because Ammo is expensive. When you pull the trigger once and that just cost you $1 or more, you take a keen interest. Also, recent ammo shortages put reloading in the spotlight. Reloading cartridges for my rifle reduces the cost per shot to around .75 per round (cont) $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 25, 2017 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Almost all the "rednecks" I know are active firearms enthusiasts. Those that aren't enthusiasts still tend to own firearms. Out of this sample I would estimate 1 in 4 have reloading machinery and supplies. 2 in 4 have done reloading at some point. Almost all are familiar with the concept and if you gave them the dies and a press, could be using them in a matter of hours. For hunting and Archery, most of the rednecks I know are hunters. There are generally 2 seasons for hunting, one for rifles, one for archery, and a lot of rednecks will do both. outside hunting season, camping is fun $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 25, 2017 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron, finally, I tend to define a "redneck" as someone who values thrift, nature, and animals. They often know are related to some people who do farm and raise livestock. I know a few Aircraft engineers that leave work and go feed their horses and use vacation time to auction off cattle. I almost never run into a true "redneck" in an urban center. NOw for smoking meats....Have you ever been to Texas? or Kansas? or any town in the rural south? Kansas City Barbeque Society has 20,000 members, and that's just Kansas. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Apr 25, 2017 at 18:42

Back to the stone ages...

One of the main issues with the lack of electricity is the fact that all of the worlds communications (internet, satellite, even cables) require power on both ends.

Without communications, it would be very difficult for any organization or country to begin the process of getting the power back up. With the case of the EMP, as mentioned in the comments by @XandarTheZenon, we would have very little issue. A large amount of the world's servers are reliant on the throwaway part principle. This basically means the servers have a bunch of really cheap parts that, when they begin to show wear, can be thrown away easily.

Replacing the parts that were damaged by the EMP would be easy, we basically have warehouses upon warehouses full of the parts.

But back to the major issue...

Powers out. That means that need some way to get it back up. A fair amount of this is not a big issue, as we can essentially get minor appliances up with diesel generators. Most nuclear reactors require cold start generators, which would not be damaged by the blast. Cold starting a nuclear plant isn't the easiest thing, but that's for another question.

Onto the real issue

There was a time without electricity, as you probably know. We've done this before. Most likely is that humans would form tight knit communities that would be centralized to a certain area.

Cities have lots of food: HEB, plenty of non-perishable food items http://www.heb.com

And lots of supplies: Home Depot, plenty of supplies http://www.homedepot.com

In the long term, there is no reason not to develop agriculture on a large scale, the infrastructure is there, and in all honesty, small farmers will probably be continuing on with there ordinary routine.

Long term implications

Humanities at no risk of dying out. We have food for the short-term, and most of the supplies we need. But what will everyday life look like in the long term?


Small farms producing the easiest to grow plants that yield the most calories, such as potatoes. Reasons behind this are that the amount of space we can maintain without drones and advanced satellite imaging while still having a full yield is pretty small.


Humans will have been pretty cut off by this point. Assuming getting communications networks up and running will take upwards of a decade, we will have formed small villages composed of multiples and their relatives. Each person will have to pull their own weight at the advent of this catastrophe.


There is no reason as to why automobiles that don't rely mainly on computers will not work. Any standard will function as normal. We may be much more conservative with our fuel, as it would be more difficult to acquire

  • $\begingroup$ But what would the implications of such a world-wide disaster? How would we, say, get food on a large scale? $\endgroup$
    – AMACB
    Jan 21, 2016 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ @AMACB You're question concerned survival, and what might have been impacted by electricity going out. $\endgroup$
    – Quiquȅ
    Jan 21, 2016 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ I meant the implications, as in the long-term results of no electricity $\endgroup$
    – AMACB
    Jan 21, 2016 at 2:43
  • $\begingroup$ About the nuclear reactor; we actually discussed this. See Can Average Joe reboot the nuclear power plant?. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jan 21, 2016 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ "There is no reason as to why automobiles that don't rely mainly on computers will not work." Diesels, maybe, if you can somehow get fuel to the engine (what does that fuel pump run on again?). Gasoline cars are out, because with no electricity, spark plugs cannot work, and spark plugs is how the fuel is ignited in a gasoline internal combustion engine. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Feb 1, 2016 at 14:24

One unexpected side effect, apart from those already mentioned, is that many places (Such as New York, and London.) use pumps to continually empty sewers, subways, and other underground areas of water, some brought in by sewerage, but a lot by the tide. If these stop functioning, flooding can occur on various levels. You'd have to look at specifics for each city, but it can be surprisingly quick.

A nice side effect however is that due to the light pollution disappearing, the night sky would be very pretty for those not used to it.


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