A suggestion, for the sake of thought: If industrial civilization collapsed, it probably could not be rebuilt. Civilization would exist again, of course, but industry appears to be a one-time experiment. The astronomist Fred Hoyle, exaggerating slightly, writes:
It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing high intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.
Hoyle overstates all the limits we actually have to worry about, but there are enough to affirm his belief that industry is a “one-shot affair.” In other words, if industry collapsed then no matter how quickly scientific knowledge allows societies to progress, technical development will hit a wall because the builders will not have the needed materials. For example, much of the world’s land is not arable, and some of the land in use today is only productive because of industrial technics developed during the agricultural revolution in the 60s, technics heavily dependent on oil. Without the systems that sustain industrial agriculture much current farm land could not be farmed; agricultural civilizations cannot exist there, at least until the soil replenishes, if it replenishes.
And some resources required for industrial progress, like coal, simply are not feasibly accessible anymore. Tainter writes:
. . . major jumps in population, at around A.D. 1300, 1600, and in the late eighteenth century, each led to intensification in agriculture and industry. As the land in the late Middle Ages was increasingly deforested to provide fuel and agricultural space for a growing population, basic heating, cooking, and manufacturing needs could no longer be met by burning wood. A shift to reliance on coal began, gradually and with apparent reluctance. Coal was definitely a fuel source of secondary desirability, being more costly to obtain and distribute than wood, as well as being dirty and polluting. Coal was more restricted in its spatial distribution than wood, so that a whole new, costly distribution system had to be developed. Mining of coal from the ground was more costly than obtaining a quantity of wood equivalent in heating value, and became even more costly as the 54 most accessible reserves of this fuel were depleted. Mines had to be sunk ever deeper, until groundwater flooding became a serious problem.
Today, most easily accessible natural coal reserves are completely depleted. Thus, societies in the wake of our imagined collapse would not be able to develop fast enough to reach the underground coal.
As a result of these limits, rebuilding industry would take at least thousands of years — it took 10,000 years the first time around. By the time a civilization reached the point where it could do something about industrial scientific knowledge it probably would not have the knowledge anymore. It would have to develop its sciences and technologies on its own, resulting in patterns of development that would probably look similar to historical patterns. Technology today depends on levels of complexity that must proceed in chronological stages. Solar panels, for example, rely on transportation infrastructure, mining, and a regulated division of labor. And historically the process of developing into a global civilization includes numerous instances of technical regression. The natives of Tasmania, for example, went from a maritime society to one that didn’t fish, build boats, or make bows and arrows.
Rebuilding civilization would also be a bad idea. Most, who are exploited by rather than benefit from industry, would probably not view a rebuilding project as desirable. Even today, though citizens of first-world nations live physically comfortable lives, their lives are sustained by the worse off lives of the rest of the world. “Civilization . . . has operated two ways,” Paine writes, “to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.”
Consider the case of two societies in New Zealand, the Maori and the Moriori. Both are now believed to have originated out of the same mainland society. Most stayed and became the Maori we know, and some who became the Moriori people settled on the Chatham Islands in the 16th century. Largely due to a chief named Nunuku-whenua, the Moriori had a strict tradition of solving inter-tribal conflict peacefully and advocating a variant of passive resistance; war, cannibalism, and killing were completely outlawed. They also renounced their parent society’s agricultural mode of subsistence, relying heavily on hunting and gathering, and they controlled their population growth by castrating some male infants, so their impact on the non-human environment around them was minimal. In the meantime, the Maori continued to live agriculturally and developed into a populated, complex, hierarchical, and violent society. Eventually an Australian seal-hunting ship informed the Maori of the Moriori’s existence, and the Maori sailed to the Chathams to explore:
. . . over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. A Moriori survivor recalled, “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep . . . [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and eaten – men, women, and children indiscriminately.” A Maori conqueror explains, “We took possession . . . in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed, and others we killed – but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.”
Furthermore, we can deduce from the ubiquitous slavery in all the so-called “great civilizations” like Rome or Egypt that any attempt to rebuild a similar civilization will involve slavery. And to rebuild industry, something similar to colonization and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade would probably have to occur once again. After all, global chattel slavery enabled the industrial revolution by financing it, extracting resources to be accumulated at sites of production, and exporting products through infrastructure that slavery helped sustain.
So, if industrial society collapsed, who would be doing the rebuilding? Not anyone most people like. It is hard to get a man to willingly change his traditional way of life; even harder when his new life is going into mines. And though history demonstrates that acts like those of the Maori or slave traders are not beyond man’s will or ability, certainly most in industrial society today would not advocate going through the phases required to reach the industrial stage of development.