The Zombie Apocalypse or a World Suddenly Deprived of Fossil Fuel


There are a number of activists that advocate the immediate cessation of the use of fossil fuel. They profess it is necessary to save the planet from some imagined future catastrophe. They either do not understand or do not care that an immediate and complete withdrawal would result in the end of almost all human life on the planet along with most other animal species much larger than insects. I have written about this before but I am going to present the viewpoint of a scientist whose writings I have great respect for. I feel he has a pretty good grip on our need for fossil fuel. It emphasizes the impossibility of an immediate withdrawal from fossil fuel and the likelihood of extreme hardship for many if we transition from it too quickly.

This is copied directly from a post in A Chemist from Langley. Written by Blair King it envisions a world if fossil fuel were to suddenly be withdrawn.

“I have written a lot about fossil fuels and renewable energy. In my posts, I have discussed how much  energy we use in B.C. and where that energy comes from . At my blog I have discussed the steps it will take to achieve a fossil fuel-free future and the recognition that this process has to be gradual and will take decades to achieve.

My pragmatic posts have been rebuffed by activists who claim that we are not weaning ourselves off fossil fuels quickly enough. Some claim we should do it immediately. I have explained that doing so is impossible but a lack of energy awareness in that community is not uncommon and energy arguments tend to be ignored.

Now to be clear, I agree that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as we can; but we need to do so in a controlled manner. To explain why, I created a little thought experiment. In this thought experiment we will assume that a mystical power has arrived on Earth and using some unknown technology eliminated all fossil fuels from the planet instantaneously. What would happen? Since I live in Langley, I’m going to consider this from the perspective of an inhabitant of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.

On day one without fossil fuels all transportation systems (except Skytrain and a few hundred electric vehicles) would immediately stop. Stores would cease to get new supplies as all supplies are transported from warehouses by transport trucks. No new supplies could get to the warehouses as the railway system depends on diesel; transport planes on aviation fuel; and container ships on bunker fuel or diesel. Soon the folks in the urban areas would be fighting over the remaining scraps in the stores and once those supplies were gone there would be nothing to replace them.

Starvation would not be the biggest concern though as potable water and electrical supplies are dependent on diesel for pumps and the electrical system is maintained by men and women with trucks. We in British Columbia pride ourselves on getting most of our electricity from non-fossil fuel sources but absent those pumps and those trucks within days (perhaps weeks if we didn’t have any storms) our electricity supply would be down as well. With no electricity and no diesel all the pumps would fail and Vancouverites would suddenly discover that living in a rain-forest means nothing if you don’t have access to clean, potable water.

Within a couple weeks, the city-centers would look like a scene from The Walking Dead, with corpses everywhere as the weakest folks lost out in the battles for the gradually diminishing supplies of food and water. Absent the sanitary system, the remaining folk would be fighting dysentery as human waste polluted the limited freshwater supplies. Anyone with the capacity to do so would be moving away from the city-centers as quickly as possible to forage as far as they could roam by foot and on the remaining bikes (the remaining electric vehicles having used their last charge after the electrical system failed).

In the Lower Mainland, the city folk would be streaming out towards the valley where they would discover that virtually everything edible (from plant to animal) had long since been eaten by the 300,000 people who formerly lived in the valley.

Within a few months over 90 per cent of our regional population would have succumbed to the lack of clean water and food leaving a small minority fighting it out over the few remaining crops.

Come winter, absent fossil fuels, the survivors would go back to burning wood for heat and in doing so would add to the ecological devastation wrought by the first wave of city folk cleansing the ecosystem of everything edible.

Certainly, in parts of the developing world, and in portions of the prairies, subsistence-level communities might remain intact but they would be re-building on a planet that had been systematically stripped of everything edible by the 7.4 billion souls who did their best to survive and in doing so wrought an ecological apocalypse.

In television shows like The Walking Dead, the zombie apocalypse addresses our population density before the billions of hungry humans have had a chance to devastate the planet. In a post-fossil fuel world, those 7.4 billion souls would be fighting tooth and nail for every scrap of food. Whatever small, large or mid-sized animals left behind would take hundreds of years to regenerate their populations. The ecosystem that regenerated would look very different than the ecosystem that existed before humans.

Climate change may represent a real threat to humanity, but absent fossil fuels it is likely that 7 billion or more people would pass away in the first six months in this post-fossil fuel world, as would virtually every edible large/mid-sized animal. That is why as a biologist, a humanist and a pragmatic environmentalist I seek a transition away from fossil fuels that is strong, steady and sustainable.”


What can/should we do about climate change.




Opinions vary from nothing to drastic action that would upset our entire social order and economic system. There are also two camps as to the type of action we should take, and to what degree. One side says to do everything we can to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and eliminate emissions. The other believes that is too costly and likely impossible anyway. They advocate adapting and preparing for a hotter climate, higher sea levels and possibly a higher incidence of severe weather.


There are those that envision an end of the world scenario but those are actually quite few. We have seen many predictions of catastrophe that have never come to pass. Of course, in some cases, they may just have had the date wrong.


A couple more recent, that you may remember, include the end of the Mayan calendar and the Y2K event.


  1. An interesting quote from after the Y2K non-event, “Some experts who argued that scaremongering was occurring, such as Ross Anderson, Professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, have since claimed that despite sending out hundreds of press releases about research results suggesting that the problem was not likely to be as big a problem as some had suggested, they were largely ignored by the media.”, from Wikipedia.


What if we just wait and see, for a while? We have been warned of a warming climate and its possible consequences for about thirty years now. Before that, there were concerns about a cooling planet.


So what has actually happened? It appears, not much of anything. The climate may have warmed a tiny bit, seas may have risen a tiny bit and it is possible the rate of change may have sped up a bit. It is also possible that there has been no warming in the last 15 years or so.


Have instances of extreme weather increased? Well, there are quite a few who would like to convince us of that, but there is precious little incontrovertible evidence. In fact, a warming climate should decrease temperature gradients across the globe and as a result reduce incidences of extreme weather.


One thing is certain. Those that advocate drastic action, are almost exclusively setting their sights on anthropogenic GHG gases, and in particular CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels.


I came across this quote “we know anthropogenic climate change is real because there is no other likely candidate cause, the CO2 rise is unquestionably the result of our activities”  attributed to Coby in Science Blogs


Who is Coby? I first thought this to be Coby Lubliner. “a professor of engineering science; I still have the title, with “emeritus” thrown in. My work involved primarily teaching, doing research in, and writing papers and books about the mechanics of solid bodies.”  I apologize profusely to Mr. Lubliner. I am now fairly certain the author is Coby Beck, a blogger from Vancouver, Canada with no scientific background whatsoever and as such can be excused for making such an unscientific statement.


I am having fun with quotes. I will include a couple more.


"Only two things are certain: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not certain about the universe."
-- Albert Einstein (1879-1955).


"That's how science works — you take what you think is right, and you go ahead and see if you can prove it's wrong” Jessica Madeleine Theodor -Associate Professor Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.


That is the point. There is nothing in science that is unquestionable and I would question the thought processes of any scientist that uses the word.



One more quote.

The force of gravity is relatively simple, and we can predict the position of the planets far in advance with great accuracy because gravity is just about the only force that needs to be considered in those calculations. But the complexity of the climate system, and especially how it varies, is orders of magnitude more difficult to understand. It currently exceeds our ability to usefully predict its future state.” – Dr. Roy Spencer


“Just because scientists work on a problem doesn’t mean they understand it.” – Dr. Roy Spencer

I recently came across a study where researchers ran a model out to the year 3000. Can you imagine all the possibilities for inaccuracies in a model trying to account for all the variables over 1000 years?

I have picked the following quote from an IPCC report but I find it many times in climate discussions. “Thus the climate is capable of producing long time-scale internal variations of considerable magnitude without any external influences.” Considerable magnitude? How do you calculate these variables into a model? Doesn’t the inference that external influences are not needed means that many things will be completely unpredictable? Does it mean, that almost anything can and will happen? I am completely at a loss as to how a model run out to the year 3000 could have any value whatsoever, You will have to read about it yourself and come to your own conclusions.  It appears to me to be a fun project by students, that is taken altogether too seriously by media.



What can we do about climate warming? Is there some possibility of slowing it, arresting it or reversing it?

Well, reversing the trend could be dangerous. The planet has done it on its own several times in the past, and the consequences have been kilometers deep ice on top of where many of us live.

Arresting it? Well, it appears that would require the end of almost all human activity on this earth as well as take action against all natural tendencies towards warming.

Slowing global warming is at least theoretically possible. Eliminating anthropogenic CO2  emission from the burning of fossil fuel may slow the increase in atmospheric CO2 and perhaps slow that portion of warming for which it is responsible. This is an indirect approach, that relies on the assumption, that human-produced greenhouse gases are a significant contributor to temperature rise. It also relies on the accuracy of predictions that see future temperature rises as a result of human activity.

There are other possible actions that could have some minimal effect.

How would we know what impact we were having on the climate? We probably would not have any evidence other than a possible decrease in atmospheric CO2  with an anthropogenic signature. Since we have no other planets to use as a control in this type of experiment, it would be nearly impossible to determine what part of any possible change we were responsible for.

That brings us all the way around. How do we know what proportion of perceived warming is a consequence of human activity? All we really have is a rather thin correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and planetary temperatures. How can we know what other factors would have come into play in the absence of human beings, or what factors may come into play in the future?

Right now, common sense and even personal observation would seem to indicate that we are having an effect on the earth's climate.

Common sense would also seem to indicate that we can do little about it without having many negative effects on individuals and society. We have to be careful that any policies we implement as cures are not worse than the disease.


Forget about government, What can you and I do.


Well, we won’t forget about government altogether. There are some excellent initiatives (like this one) by the government or by institutions supported by governments. What worries me is when governments take actions that discourage and punish rather than following a policy of encouragement. One example is taxes and penalties for carbon emitting. Many scientists advocate this route to reducing fossil fuel burning.

There are some areas where discouragement could do some good, such as higher taxes on needlessly large homes or vehicles or fines for the needless burning of anything.

Little consideration is given to collateral damage. The immediate impact of this carbon tax is to increase the cost of food, home heating and cooling and transportation in general. Of course, it is the poorest segment of the population that will feel the most effect. There will likely be little influence on the habits of the rich past a little complaining at the gas pump. It will, of course, increase the competitive position of alternative energy and transportation methods, but does not in itself encourage research and development of better and cheaper methods.

But what can we do as individuals or communities?

As has been indicated before, there are two basic choices, remediation or adaptation. Each individual or local group can only have a minuscule effect of remediation but the cumulative impact could make the effort worthwhile. Adaptation has its impact locally on local groups or individuals.



One of the more effective initiatives by individuals or groups is to convey ideas to governments. It is important not to convey ideas that will cause any significant harm to other segments of the population. They are difficult for governments to implement and have a tendency to make enemies for any movement. Activists tend to make this mistake and become absolute nuisances to the general populous. Their messages and solutions are lost because they are impractical to apply and would cause harm to many. This is partly what I mean by encouragement as opposed to discouragement.

Do not underestimate the importance of local governments and institutions. Collectively they can probably be more effective than national governments or institutions such as the United Nations.

What can I personally due to directly reduce my impact on the environment in general and on warming in particular? Well, guess what, almost every action you take to reduce your environmental impact also has the effect of lowering your contribution to global warming. It all comes down to less energy use.

It is time to be more specific. I will deal with remedial action first. Basically reduced energy consumption.

Personal transportation choices are among the most important. Choose to travel less and walk or bike where possible. When you replace a vehicle choose the most efficient that is practical but not replacing your car for a year or two longer will have even more impact. Choosing an electric or hybrid vehicle may be practical for you, and will at least reduce tailpipe emissions.

Installing solar panels or using other fuel free methods of energy production may be practical in your case. Remember that most manufacturing is energy intensive and careful consideration is needed. However, energy is the major cost of most products, so if it makes economic sense for you it will probably reduce your impact.

Growing as much of your own food as practical, and buying locally, reduces the need for transportation and can have economic and health benefits for you.

Depend on less prepared, heavily processed and packaged food. Cooking your own can be fun, healthier and much less costly.

Smaller, more efficient housing makes sense. Even going as far as net zero energy use.

Do your laundry in cold water. Take shorter showers instead of baths. Replace your incandescent bulbs with LED. Wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat. Don’t heat or cool rooms you aren’t using or the house when you are not there. Of course, in a cold climate, you must keep your house above freezing. Save rainwater from your roofs for garden and landscape.

Use less concrete and metal (concrete and metal are large sources of GHGs during their manufacture) and use more wood. Wood stores carbon for an extended period. Plant trees for the same reason. Fruit trees are a way to provide food for your family and wildlife, as well. Trees also provide shade and, through transpiration will cool the immediate area.



Reduce your lawn area and get rid of that smelly gas lawnmower.

Use reflective or light colored material for roofs and parking to reflect some heat back to space.

Work from home, if possible, or live closer to work to save commuting. Consider Internet shopping when a physical search takes excessive travel.

Recycle, re-purpose and reuse as much as possible.

Use toys with engines less.

I am sure you can think of myriad other ways to reduce your footprint, but consuming less energy, is the goal. All this may have an only minimal impact on a warming climate, but the benefit to the environment as a whole is extremely beneficial and worth the effort.

Let's deal briefly with adaptation.

The primary danger of a warming climate would seem to be rising sea levels. It seems that municipalities should control seaside development through building codes. Any likely sea level rise over the next couple of centuries should be considered. Preservation and remediation of seaside wetlands and forests should be encouraged to absorb the energy of storm surges. It is easy to see how a straight and leveled roadway, leading away from the coast, could funnel a storm surge far inland and into suburban developments. Leave a few barriers such as curves and hills. It is possible that some populations may have to be relocated, but by discouraging development, the process should follow naturally.

Although the evidence is very sketchy, another added danger may be extreme weather, and in particular precipitation events. The danger from this is always there, with or without climate change, and being prepared only makes sense. The obvious solutions are to build in safer places, above floodplains and away from landslide possibilities. In some cases, shelters may be appropriate. And in all cases, we need to build stronger. Build with high winds, hail events and heavy snowfalls in mind.

Will there be a reduced ability to produce food? I can see no reason to expect that, except in some local situations. If it is a real danger, then the solution has to be efforts to reduce global population growth. The only thing that seems to have that effect, is increasing wealth. That requires more energy consumption. And the merry-go-round goes round and round.