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A world that looks like ours up to the renaissance period, did not create the industrial revolution as we know it. First of all, the inhabitants of this world did not adopt consumerism and chose a simple way of life. They did engage in healthy scientific and technological researches. They embraced agriculture, medicine, and eco-friendly architecture. Public transport is more prominent. They travel by cars much less often than us and their cities are designed accordingly. Their advanced agriculture attepts to minimize impact on the environment.

My assumption is they either never had fossil fuel, or chose not to use it at some time in the past. They harness renewable energy. Still, more labor and beasts of burden are needed to make-up for that. The result is sufficient cheap labor. Given their advanced technology, students often occupy those jobs in order to pay their tuition fees. Their studies will reward them with better-paying jobs in the future.

High-energy input is reserved to heavy industry (which is still needed). Much of its fuel is hydrogen from water and solar electrcity, natural gas from sewage treatent and biofuel from sugar cane and agricutural waste products. Even rocket fuel is provided for launching satellites and more. Travel by solar-powered airships is common over short distances.

Their way of life resembles that of a society which attepts to gain technological advances with limited resources and succeeds in doing so. A good example in our world is the Cuban model: The US embargo did not prevent Cuba from developing organic farming, its education system, and advances in medicine.

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    $\begingroup$ such a society would advance slower than ours and probably isn't stable simply because it would be too easy to corrupt. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Aug 9 '17 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ I would take the Cuban example with a pinch of salt; it was heavily subsidised by the Soviet Union (in the form of low-priced exports to Cuba and preferential purchasing of Cuban exports, especially sugar), and suffered hardship after its demise. Up until that point, they emphasised monoculture, focusing on sugar cane. The change to sustainable agriculture only occurred as a way to avoid famine in the resulting economic crisis. Most of the scientific and healthcare advances occurred before this period. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Period for some more details on the period. $\endgroup$ – Pak Aug 9 '17 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Consider Mennonite societies in Pennsylvania. They are not as strictly anti-tech as the Amish, but do live a minimally consumerist lifestyle. They'll own simple cars and drive them into the ground, they farm in a very responsible and sustainable fashion, and they do so by choice, unlike Cuba. $\endgroup$ – Emmett R. Aug 9 '17 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ without a large food surplus produced by industrial farming how are they supporting all these researchers and doctors, organic farming is very different than renewable or sustainable farming. Even better where are they getting the massive excess crops to make biofuels. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 9 '17 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ I think you have another flawed assumption here: the idea that these people are even going to HAVE cities, at least ones of significant size. Even more so than in our own world, urban living is going to be something done by the lowest socioeconomic class, by necessity. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Aug 10 '17 at 5:05
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The simple answer is "no."

The more complex answer is found within your last paragraph. Cuba made it work because Cuba was forced to make it work. They would never have developed that way by choice.

I humbly submit that it is impossible for the society you describe to exist simply by choice. You would need to come up with something that subdued (aka, forced) the negative elements like greed and arrogance. But it would also need to subdue positive things like the desire for greater convenience and the desire for greater and safer productivity.

Let's take plastic as an example. You bet, it was invented for greedy purposes, but it was also invented because it was easy to manufacture, was easy to manipulate and therefore made building things (like enclosures of any kind) cheaper and simpler. Plastic has advantages over glass for light control, and advantages over metal in terms of thermal insulation. It's used in cars to reduce weight, which saves gasoline, which lowers pollution. The negative effects on our oceans came decades and decades after its invention. But who would be willing to give up its positive values?

And that's my point, you would need to come up with a compelling reason why everybody would choose to not accept the benefits of development. You would also have to come up with a believable reason why society chooses to stop advancement of any particular kind. "We don't want that because it would lead to pollution" only works if society has the ability to foresee the polution.

And that's an important point. Had society in general been able to foresee the full extent and impact of the pollution created by the industrial revolution, it would have changed the nature of technological development entirely. But they couldn't And therefore technology developed as it did.

Finally, and for the purpose of full disclosure, you appear to be trying to (if you'll forgive me) crowbar an ideal eco-friendly view of what environmental activists think the world could be or should be... into the past. Hindsight is 20/20. Assuming people 120 years ago "should have been able" to see the consequences of their actions is, simply put, naive.

People are intrinsically selfish. Driving a car to work is far more important than keeping the air pollutant free. The first time someone was late for work you can bet the environment would come a distant second to losing their job. So long as nothing forces them into compliance, they will continue to use their car for time-saving purposes until the time comes when the simple, clean environment is no longer simple or clean.

That was a very long way of saying, if you don't force people to live "better" lives (in quotes because "better" is in the mind of the beholder), they will always choose to live convenient lives. Getting more money is convenient. Saving time is convenient. Saving bodily energy by using every possible electrical device is convenient. And so long as one person exists who will happliy profit from the desire for convenience, your society won't work --- unless they are compelled.


EDIT: If you want to see my point in action. Read about the development of the kitchen. Invention, invention, invention....

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One model to follow might be the American Indian. They had a very stable society, developed over centuries. They didn't have high technology, but they didn't need it.

Your society will start out with more toys. They see the benefit of proceeding with caution. They understand, better than those in our world, that greed is the root of all evil. They understand the need to put common goals ahead of individual goals. Yes, they will progress more slowly, not because they have fewer resources but because they choose to weigh their options carefully, stay in harmony with nature, maintain a sustainable economy, progress ethically, and avoid rapid shifts in infrastructure and supplies.

Their communities will be smaller but more numerous. Their politics will tend towards preventing problems rather than exacerbating them. They will revere the elderly for their wisdom. They will treasure the things they have rather than covet the things they don't.

Sounds boring, though, from a writer's point of view. Where's the conflict? Who are the villains? One answer is in your question. Someone decides pumping oil out of the ground is a great idea. It's gooey, it's explosive, it's poisonous, but it's a easy source of power.

There's your conflict. Someone wants power, and they're willing to upset the established order to get it. The best way to solve an addiction to petroleum is to never get hooked in the first place.

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