I've seen a lot of stuff saying researchers predict we'll run low on fossil fuels in 2050 and that pollution will be a big problem then. Does this mean that life will suck then?

What would things be like if we had almost no fossil fuels, in terms of day to day life?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jan Doggen, LShaver, Martin Tournoij, THelper Mar 20 at 8:16

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    Hi Bionson. You can always edit your question and make it "less vague". The StackExchange format is one that encourages specific questions that can attract specific answers. It's not designed to be a place where folks conduct broad-ranging conversations on general topics. – Tim Mar 1 at 2:35
  • "We" will not use up reasonable fossil fuel sources by 2050. One of many factors - The US is about the only area where fracking is used at this time; It has yet to be used in all other oil producing areas. The US has just recently reached the highest ever level of oil production primarily because of fracking. – blacksmith37 Mar 1 at 16:21

Fossil fuels are a finite, non-renewable resource. Finite, non-renewable resources eventually run out. That is inevitable. What happens in practice, though, is that as a non-renewable resource runs out, it becomes harder and harder (more and more expensive) to exploit. That drives up the cost of the resource for consumers. As the cost rises, consumers look for (and move to) cheaper alternatives. Eventually, the cost ends up so high, and the consumption rate so low, that all major commercial operations cease and the exploitation of the resource ends up an expensive, fringe activity that only hobbyists with deep pockets have anything to do with. The rest of society has moved on.

That is happening with oil. It's been happening for years. Whilst it looked like we reached peak oil production in 2005, since the Americans started fracking the crap out of the planet — with associated environmental disasters — oil production has risen again. So it seems like corporations and corrupt regimes are still willing to poison the planet as long as the bribes and profits keep flowing.

The US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord in 2017 is a clear indicator that the biggest polluter on the planet has no interest in changing its ways. It is thus logical that environmental pollution will keep occurring at approximately the current rate, CO₂ levels will continue to rise, energy flows will continue to increase, water tables will continue to be poisoned, and the current mass extinction event will continue.

These changes are happening slowly — or at least slowly as far as short-lived humans are concerned. The slide is already well under way. It started around the 1800s, rapidly accelerated in the 1900s, and now the rate of damage is so bad we can measure it on a yearly basis. If you think that "everything will stay the same until 2050 and then it will get bad" you've got a bit of self-education to do. It's already 'bad'. We're sliding towards 'worse'.

Climate change deniers will continue to live in denial until something happens that personally affects them. Only bushfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, floods, droughts, plagues and the like are capable of opening their eyes. By then it will be too late to avoid/undo the damage. My own calculations show that it is already too late.

Large parts of the planet are becoming less habitable by humans. Some parts will become uninhabitable by humans. The global human population will collapse. It's not all bad/one-way, though. Some parts of the planet will become more habitable — the Sahara Desert seems to be greening, for example.

What is globally true, however, is that the rate of climate change is increasing, the frequency of extreme weather events is increasing, and biological diversity is decreasing. None of that bodes well for western "business as normal" civilisation.

If you haven't noticed change where you live yet, the only questions to ask are a) how long until you do, and b) what are you going to do to prepare.

  • I believe that China is actually the biggest polluter, at least in terms of CO2 emissions, but yes, I agree that on the current trajectory the future looks pretty horrific. – John M Mar 14 at 11:45
  • @John M When an American buy a product manufactured in China, who is responsible for the pollution involved in its manufacture? The Chinese that make it, or the American that ordered and paid for it? The mere fact that Americans have off-shored the pollution (and exported the waste) doesn't absolve them of responsibility for it. US consumerism is still the largest cause of pollution on the planet. More generally, consumerism is what generates pollution. China's growing middle class should, however, consume more than America's in less than five years — so then it will be official. – Tim Mar 14 at 15:36
  • ... There are just too many damned people pursuing unsustainable western lifestyles. Doesn't really matter what country they live in. It's the lifestyle that is the problem. :( – Tim Mar 14 at 15:39

We have to first be honest with ourselves in that we do not really know how the future will unfold.

What we do know is that there are currently 1.5 billion people on the planet enjoying a high-energy consumption lifestyle and the rest are aspiring to become a part of the 1.5 billion.

As the cheap, easy to extract energy sources become depleted, temporary fracking notwithstanding, energy costs will begin to soar and sure we can print more money to pay for it, but we can't print more fish in the sea, we can't print more oil in the ground and wages have been stagnant for a couple of decades now.

So as we get to the point where we can't afford higher energy consumption, we slip into a recession, a permanent one, or the energy industry goes bankrupt, but something has to give.

So three possible futures to the year 2050:

  1. The system breaks as energy costs are beyond most consumer's reach.
  2. Debt continues to skyrocket beyond any means of servicing and the system breaks.
  3. Energy costs and debt soar sky high in tandem and the system breaks.

As a software developer I can tell you, unless Tesla becomes super affordable in the near future, no amount of technology will resolve the three possible outcomes outlined above. They brought the price down to $35k for the Model 3 now, but that price is going to have to continue to come down.

This is why I can only see a future where we adopt the philosophy of Degrowth, because its going to happen anyway, that is, our economy stagnating. So if we are all going to be making less income, we should start looking for ways to consume less and/or grow our own food, make our own clothes, ride bicycles everywhere, etcetera, you know live sustainably.

  • @juhist, thanks, I just corrected it. – Daniel Mar 16 at 12:56

About pollution: there are two kinds of pollutants: local (carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter) and global (carbon dioxide, ozone-depleting substances).

Ozone depletion is a problem that has been successfully solved, thanks to the Montreal protocol. Thus, ozone layer will be even better in 2050 than it is today.

The maximum amount of increase in carbon dioxide is dictated by our ability to find new fossil fuel reserves, as old ones are quickly depleting. It could be anything, really, causing warming from 2 degrees Celsius to even 5 degrees Celsius. I can say the recent IPCC target of 1.5 degrees Celsius probably won't be achieved, as we're already at 1.0 degrees Celsius and there's only 0.5 degrees Celsius left. Fortunately, carbon dioxide is not directly harmful to human health in the levels it can achieve in 2050, so the main damages will be in the form of sea level rise, global warming and extreme weather events, which are admittedly caused by carbon dioxide, but indirectly, not directly.

That leaves local pollutants. They will NOT be a problem. The problem of gasoline pollutants was 99% solved through the introduction of the catalytic converter. Diesel was a problem until diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) utilizing urea were taken into use, and until WLTP test cycle made emission cheating in the style of Volkswagen impossible. Big power plants have been fitted with local pollutant controlling devices, as well. Air in 2050 will be due to improved technology much cleaner than air in 2019.

So, does the pollution increase? It will, if you consider carbon dioxide as a pollutant. As a forest owner who lives in very cold climate, I consider carbon dioxide an airborne fertilizer, although I understand the other viewpoints as well: some areas, unfortunately, become uninhabitable due to global warming.

Fossil fuels may or may not "run out" (if you mean by "running out" depleting so much that prices will skyrocket). The big question is whether fossil fuel use will be limited. If it will be limited, there will be a large carbon tax, making the price of fossil fuels extremely high for the user, yet extremely low for the producer. Stock investors should take a note of this: it may not make sense to invest in fossil fuel mining companies.

If fossil fuel use will not be limited, the price of fossil fuels will probably increase due to limited reserves. It will not be a total catastrophe, as new reserves will be found (apart from a climate catastrophe, obviously).

Some people see benefits, some people suffer. As somebody who lives in very cold climate, owns boreal forest in an even colder climate, and works as a software developer in weather service business, I will probably be in the list of people who see benefits. The climate where I live will become less extreme, my forest will see increased growth rates, and my employer will see increased business due to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

If the other path (limiting emissions) will be taken, I am prepared for that as well: I own 28000 kWh / year of clean carbon-free electricity production, 25.6 hectares of carbon-sequestering and bioenergy-producing forest, have a relatively efficient hybrid electric vehicle and the possibility to switch to an electric car because I have an electric car charging station. I also have significant investments in wind turbine manufacturers, solar cell and inverter manufacturers and hydrogen electrolyser manufacturers.

Will you be in the list of people who suffer or see benefits? It's your choice: you can choose where you live, where you work, what kind of house you have, what stocks you own, whether you choose to invest in forest, etc.

  • CO2 is a local pollutant as well as a global one - doi.org/10.1177%2F0143624418790129 – EnergyNumbers Mar 2 at 4:17
  • Unfortunately while many countries have banned CFCs many others have not effectively halted their production and sale and are rapidly industrializing, resulting in a recent increase in CFC emissions. Local air pollution from cars continues to be a problem -- look at Beijing, Delhi, Bangkok, etc. If cars reduce pollution by half, but then vehicle miles quadruple, the problem is still worse. – LShaver Mar 2 at 4:25
  • "It's your choice" - er, no. Those who will be worst affected by climate change are the poorest people in vulnerable parts of the developing world who have zero choice over the things you're talking about – John M Mar 18 at 12:12

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