Lost: The Edge of Everything
As the Great Depression produced the dustbowl, the Second Depression has produced what economists call “The Two Scarcities” and the common people call “The Big Stuck.” And like the dustbowl exacerbated the economic woes it grew from, the Two Scarcities only make it more daunting to climb out of the Second Depression.
The actual scarcities themselves are a sudden and dramatic plummet in fossil fuels, and the subsequent drop in the viability of mobile communications. Thus, the Big Stuck. Travel and long-distance communication have both become far more difficult. What was once a very small, cozy, world has suddenly become much larger and more frightening.
Out of Fuel
The Second Depression really began as just a double-dip recession. The world economies shuddered and suffered, and no real effort was made to fix the root problems, but it was only slightly worse than the crisis of 2008.
Then China made its move, and the move was all wrong.
Used to brute-forcing its economy forward, the Chinese government saw the western economic collapse as the perfect time to assume its reign as primary world power. All at once, the tight controls on Chinese fossil fuel consumption were lifted, and a new middle class bigger than many first-world populations demanded oil, coal, and natural gas.
Every oil economy leapt at the chance to sell to the world’s largest populace. With skyrocketing demand came skyrocketing prices, and before long, few nations could afford gasoline at any reasonable rate. To make matters worse, India raised its demand and bidding threshold to compete with China.
Yet this wasn’t even the real crisis. To maintain the fossil fuel economy, almost everyone involved in those industries made a point to over-report supply. In effect, we were running out of dinosaur bones much faster than it seemed, and when the southeast Asian market exploded, fossil fuel supplies imploded.
With no serious strides made in renewable energy, the world is slowly powering down. Indeed, even those who want to invest into green energy have a hard time – there’s rarely enough gasoline to fuel the construction equipment, and established fossil fuel interests cling to power harder than ever.
Life without gas
What the world faces currently is not an immediate lack of all fossil fuels, but a dramatic scarcity. There is still enough gasoline to buy, if you have the money. At this rate, there is about 5-10 years left in worldwide oil reserves… assuming rationing holds.
Thus, the wealthy still drive around in cars, and cities keep about a fifth of their public transit running. However, commuter culture is quickly dying out. Even among middle-class cars owners, daily commutes are now far too expensive to justify a bridge-and-tunnel lifestyle.
Obviously, this contributes to joblessness, as those who cannot afford to drive must find work close to home.
For others, rail transport has suddenly become far more important. The aging and obsolete diesel engines of Caltrain still run, albeit with raised costs, and packed to the gills all the way. People have been knifed over seats, or simply died of asphyxiation or been trampled.
Freight trains and even 18-wheelers have sold cheap rides to commuters – these have all the same dangers as Caltrain, plus no protection from the blistering winds of high-speed travel.
Bicycles have become more and more popular, while those who can afford them use motorcycles. In rural areas, horses are even making a comeback.
Fossil fuel plants still run, though all have instituted mandatory black-outs during select hours, which means whenever people use the most electricity. A town experiencing a heat-wave might have its power shut down in the middle of the day, to avoid skyrocketing AC use. This is only slightly less true for heating during a cold snap. Once more people use wood for household heat, which puts the world’s forests in greater danger.
The switch to compact fluorescent bulbs did make indoor lightning sustainable in the US, though most power companies still institute a domestic lights-out policy after midnight and charge out the nose if anyone uses too much electricty. Parents now say “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” the same way they used to say “don’t max out my credit cards.” In general, the thousand, thousand lights of a city mirroring the starry sky is an image from the past.
And the things that go bump in the night? How do you think they might react when the night gets a lot darker.
Nobody Callin’ on the Phone
As a direct consequence of the energy crisis, internet and mobile phone culture quickly became untenable. There simply was not enough electricity to keep cell phones fully charged all the time, or for industries built around constant online computing.
The world has switched back to analog – many households now have a single home telephone, and every town has built phone booths of some sort for those who cannot even afford that much.
Personal computers with internet access still exist, but most small businesses are lucky to have one or the other.
The vast majority of cell phones, smart phones, blackberries, tablets, lap-tops, PCs, videogame consoles, and any other piece of non-essential electronics have been given up and recycled for their components. Apple and Google are both out of service, their high-tech HQs abandoned and overgrown.
Of course, all the technology still exists and is still in use. But a mobile phone is now a luxury item of the highest order. Flashing one around in the wrong neighborhood is just asking to get mugged or worse. Those few telecom companies that survived in any form did so by becoming luxury vendors.
Of course, there isn’t enough fuel to regularly launch new telecom satellites, or repair the ones currently in orbit. The first earthfall took place in 2017, with one or two more every year thereafter.