What if? – We had never discovered fossil fuels.

In the first chapter of our what if? series, we discuss what life would be like now in 2007 if we had never discovered fossil fuels.

There are two ways of looking at this particular “what if?” The first is from our current persepective looking backwards and the other is assuming that we had never discovered the dirty stuff in the first place.

Let’s adopt the latter approach as it’s more fun. Wikipedia defines fossil fuels as;

hydrocarbons, primarily coal and petroleum (fuel oil or natural gas), formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants and animals by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years.

The most optimistic estimates of how many years of fossil fuels we have are as follows;

* Oil: 1,277,702/77/365= 45 years
* Gas: 1,239,000/47/365= 72 years
* Coal: 4,786,000/52/365= 252 years

If we go back to say, the year 1800, just before fossil fuels were really starting to be exploited, the population of the world was 978 million people (of whom 635 million lived in Asia). Travel at this time was by horseback, horse drawn carriages and sailing vessels. The steam engine was discovered in the 1700’s but if we assume no coal, then these engines, being wood-burning,would probably never have become very efficient. Other later forms of transport, steamships, cars, airplanes etc. just wouldn’t have been invented.


The Industrial Revolution would probably have been a non-event. The emigration to the New World would have been a trickle. All of the petroleum-based products, textiles, medicines, paints, fertilisers we take for granted would just not have existed.

Fast Forward to 2007.

The World Population is now estimated at 6.6 Billion people (Asia 4 Billion). As you sit there looking at the computer monitor, look around you. Almost everything that you see around you contains petroleum-based products. NONE of them would be there. Is this a bad thing? We’d have no Global Warming, no over-population, no pollution. In fact, we probably wouldn’t even be here.

If the World Population had continued at the rate experienced in the 1700’s (ie 24% increase every 50 years) there would be only 2.3 Billion people around today.

I ask the question again, would this have been a bad thing?

Have a great weekend.



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