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Thread: A question for the geologists/scientists amongst you

  1. #11
    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    Some time back, when I was a more active participant in the forum (a thing that will occur again soon, I hope) I started a discussion along this vein. One of the things that kept coming up with the "need" for technological advancement. Simply put, if there is no need for a steam engine to drive a non-existent locomotive or ship, civilization likely wouldn't produce it. There was a great example made of a culture using canoes on the second or third page of the discussion. Thought it might be relevant here, or, at least, good reading.

    http://www.cartographersguild.com/sh...l-Advancements

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      feanaaro is offline
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    That is a useful topic Greason Wolfe. But amongst all these "solutions", I prefer those based on some "hard" physical fact, and amongst those, the lack of fossil fuels seems better than the alternative proposed – because those like the lack of metals or whatnot, would be too limiting, I want complex civilizations, just not able to reach an highly technological stage; but without metal, or without enough surplus food/work to produce some basic cultural and technical progresses, you would be stuck in the stone age, which is not advanced enough for my setting.
    I would just like to know if my idea –*younger planet, no fossil fuel – is at least remotely plausible in "scientific" terms.
    Last edited by feanaaro; 06-02-2012 at 01:09 PM.

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      Veldehar is offline
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    I think its simple enough to surmise that there are habitable planets out there without fossil fuels, while still having oils (from whale fat, for instance) whether they are old or young. No scientist could reasonably dismiss that as a possibility. All those planets, we have no real idea what the heck is out there for certain. The biggest question is whether you think it is plausible that this is what would hold back your world the way you want it held back. Then go forward. Steam power would eventually exist, and what might have been discovered if we didn't have fossil fuels? When would an engine burning ethanol-type fuels come along? ect etc.
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      feanaaro is offline
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    Veldehar, I am open to inputs in that respect too. But for now I stand by my hunch that lack of fossil fuels would be the simplest and surest way to limit technological progress.
    Concerning your specific points:
    •I am not sure about that, but I think that the true breakthrough with steam power came after widespread use of coal, and coal is a fossil fuel. I don't think that you could get mass-scale steam technology by burning wood. But correct me if I am wrong.
    • similarly, other possible combustibles, like animal or vegetable oil, can be good enough, but they are labour and/or soil intensive to retrieve (this is indeed true for wood too), therefore it is unlikely that they could be used to ignite a technological revolution like that we experienced after putting fossil fuels to use.
    •ethanol-type seems even more unlikely, because it should require some relatively advanced chemistry knowledge, which I think is unlikely to come by before a technological revolution (remember that every scientists still has to eat and consume various other things to eat, so if the economy produce only that much surplus, then you cannot have that many scientists to think of alternative ways of producing energy when you lack fossil fuels). Moreover, ethanol from plants require a lot of farmland to be produced, so in the absence of advanced farming technologies (which would require other abundant sources of energy, in one form or another) it could not be sustained for massive, society-changing, use.

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      moutarde is offline
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    Coal is a fossil fuel, but it can also be produced by burning wood in a specific manner. If you want to keep access to metals, I assume you would want to have forges to be able to work that metal, for which I believe you would almost certainly need coal.

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      feanaaro is offline
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    Sure, but if you have to burn wood to made coal, then you cannot use coal on the scale required to have a whole steam-powered economy. I am fine with coal for smelting metals and the like, just as I am fine with oil lamps or similar things. I might even be fine with clocks and other fine machineries. The important point is that it must be impossible to arrive at the widespread use of energy-intensive technology which would ruin the flavour of fantasy for my world.

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      Veldehar is offline
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    The better point is that you can do what you want and it is plausible. I was going off on tangents, LOL. An alternate evolution of technology would be interesting.
    Upon the Creation of the World the First Dragons cast their seed in the light of a Sun and a Thousand Suns, beneath the Moon and a Thousand Moons, on a World and a Thousand Worlds.

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  8. #18
    Guild Artisan Greason Wolfe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by feanaaro View Post
    That is a useful topic Greason Wolfe. But amongst all these "solutions", I prefer those based on some "hard" physical fact, and amongst those, the lack of fossil fuels seems better than the alternative proposed – because those like the lack of metals or whatnot, would be too limiting, I want complex civilizations, just not able to reach an highly technological stage; but without metal, or without enough surplus food/work to produce some basic cultural and technical progresses, you would be stuck in the stone age, which is not advanced enough for my setting.
    I would just like to know if my idea –*younger planet, no fossil fuel – is at least remotely plausible in "scientific" terms.
    Fair enough.

    Not being a scientist/geologist, I don't have any "hard fact" answers for you, but I suppose you could go with a younger world theory. Perhaps skipping a two or three eras/ages that happened on our own world. If, for instance, you started "human" development during the age of dinosaurs, the fossil fuels would be more limited as the dinosaurs appeared roughly 140 million years after the Carboniferous period (when most of the fossil fuels began to develop as I understand it) which, I suspect, wouldn't be much time in terms of fuel development. I could be way off base, though, but what you're aiming for doesn't seem completely impossible, just a bit tricky. A couple links that might help working out timelines for certain developmental events (as they relate to our world) are;

    http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter08.html

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timelin...istory_of_life

    Hope that helps some.

    GW
    When nothing is going right and you can't find someone else to blame, start beating your head against the wall, 'cause it'll feel so much better when you stop.

  9. #19
      thekonkoe is offline
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    I read through the thread and think I might be qualified to provide some of the hard physical facts people are looking for here. I've taken several classes on planetary formation and the geological history of life toward my degree. Someone might want to check my facts, but I'll stick with the scientific consensus and sure facts I remember off the top of my head to avoid mistakes.

    The easiest way to eliminate areas of intense biological activity in the past. Eliminating anything like the Carboniferous Period would help limit coal deposition greatly. Basically some level of fossil fuel creation is inevitable in a world that works anything like ours that has had life for times on the order of many millennia, but not much longer. If the time is short enough though much of this fossil fuel will still be lower in quality forms like lignite. Many peoples have burnt peat, an lignite is similar, but not much better. It might be poor enough to not incentivize mining for it. Most useful of all though would be a lack of plate tectonics. If you can give your fantasy world a timeless landscape then this becomes easier. Oil is usually the result of marine sediments so if those remain under the sea they will not be easily accessible.

    Heat is another major driver of the metamorphosis reactions, if this could be beat you wouldn't make fossil fuels. Unfortunately terrestrial planets have their temperature dominated by their star, and increased heat as you go deeper is inevitable assuming any ordinary internal structure. The young earth fix might also suffer slightly from the fact that primordial heat would make Earth's interior warmer. If we want to keep humans that are physiologically unchanged I can however offer some fixes.

    1) A twist on young world would be to simply accept life being created recently.

    2)Skip periods like the carboniferous where plant carbon creation outstrips animal carbon reprocessing.

    3) Low levels of tectonic activity, possibly with an outright "cold" core like Mars.

    4) Young universe. Carbon has not been produced in the same quantities by stars yet (this would also curtail metal production much more severely). With a lower carbon budget, life processes carbon efficiently and less is deposited.

    So yes its possible just not likely. Evolutionary development means that avoiding periods in 2 requires some luck. Planets like those in 3 present some problems for life, but might be surmountable. Case 4 has a host of problems but I thought I'd give it anyway.

    Having gone through the science, I thought I would go into some non-scientific explanations reiterating some of the stuff above.
    The industrial revolution was preceded by population growth and rises in standards of living, the hypothesis that it occurred to fill a demand is not only plausible, but has a deal of economic and demographic evidence for it. The very existence of magic might disincentivize such developments. Also for some examples of how some worlds are compatible with this explanation:

    JRR Tolkien. Middle Earth has extremely lo population density based on what can be gathered anecdotally. Whats more with the fall of Numenor, the flooding of Beleriland (sp?) and the ongong exodus of elves, its population may be contraction. This may be bad for innovation.

    GRR Martin. The Firstmen circa 10,000 years before the series have what sounds like stone age technology in many respects. The Andals while more advanced did not have technology as advanced as Westros does now. Valyria was an advanced civilization using some combination of magic and technology. Dragons aside the Targaryens did seem to bring other innovations with them. This latest event is only 300 years past, not wholly incompatible with the rate of development in RL. (Not having long lived races makes this easier).

  10. #20
      feanaaro is offline
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    Thanks, that is very helpful.
    I was suspecting that some creation of fossil fuels would be inevitable over any semi-realistic evolutionary timeframe. However, if that can be plausibly minimized as you describe, that could be good enough for me. After all is not the mere existence of coal or oil that is important, but also their relative abundance and ease of access.

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