How advanced could a post desaster civilization get in an environment where all accessible metal and fossil fuels have already been extracted?


The setting is soft sci-fi space opera, where refugees have to live on a world that has been depleted of concentrations of metal. The environment is stable, with plenty of life. People can live here, farm, hunt etc. Extracted metal and fuels have been taken off world, so are not available to this civ.

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    $\begingroup$ Where did the accessible metal go? Was it shipped off-world? If not, then it's still there, likely near the surface. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2017 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ There are many metals essential to human life, like potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and calcium. If there are no metals on the planet then life as we know it couldn't exist. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 30, 2017 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ There are already posts on subjects of the lack of metal due to innate composition, and on subsequent civilizations and natural resources. These are covered in great depth already. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Nov 30, 2017 at 6:05

2 Answers 2


If civilization had metals, but they are exhausted now - imagination is the limit.

I can think at least of:

-bioengineered life forms. Trees that grow in shape of buildings, leaving behimd a hard rock skeleton.

-hard ceramics

-hard plastics

It's a different problem from evolving civilization on a planet without metals


I'm going to make some assumptions by what you mean with your conditions. Some OPs leave out the details believing they're giving participants the greatest leeway for answers. It's likely to get your answer closed. Stack Exchange likes specific questions that lead to specific answers.


@NicolBolas is absolutely correct. Where did all the metal go?

  1. The missing metals are conductive metals, alloys, and carbon metals.
  2. The missing fossil fuels are combustable hydrocarbons and their principals (no oil, no grease, no John Tavolta — Olivia Newton-John, though, We'll let her stay).
  3. The elements were all either consumed/non-renewable or the planet was robbed (otherwise you could just go dump-diving to get everything you want).
  4. Thanks to the metal being gone, nobody can frac oil. Oil through fracturing may be limitless. There's a whole lot of planet out there.
  5. I'm going to assume you also mean no natural gas and no coal. I'm not sure it would mean that much if they were around. Without sealed pipes for the gas and trains for the coal, they would only have limited and very localized benefits.


  • No electricity
  • No engines (you'd think, "there's no fuel anyway," but you'd be wrong. There's plenty of ways to make fuel without hydrocarbons).
  • No metal ploughs, or even bits for the horses, which means highly limited farming (wait until you dig those irrigation ditches with wooden shovels. Yeah. You'll be standing in line to dig the next one. Youbetcha.)
  • Ceramics are too brittle and the knife-quality stuff requires more control than you can get out of a wood furnace.
  • plastic's made from hydrocarbons, so no plastics.
  • No advanced sciences exists. They all depend on metal in one way or another. The Tleilaxu may have had all-bio cloning... but it only came after the use of computers. (Sorry... no technology dichotomy's allowed....)

All you really have left is wood, pottery, glass, ... and chemistry.

While most of life would be a lot like the 1200s or earlier, there's the possibility that some chemistry knowledge was kept alive. That means poisons, acids, combustables, and a bazzillion other ways to kill your neighbor (oh, and a few good things like fertilizer, but since your horses only have wooden ploughs, there's only so much fertilizer can do for you) are still around. Glass etching would be high art.

If there is any advanced knowledge left over, chemistry will be it. Without it you won't even have the 1200s. You'll have the stone age with arrows. The western hemisphere tribal cultures long before conquest come to mind. Prepare for the AtlAtl tournament!


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