Energy 2015: economic crash, gas fires, nuclear explosions, massive floods and black-outs

The world has become addicted to energy and for the production of it we use mostly fossil fuels. This could lead to catastrophes and endanger the lives of many people, as can be seen in MSNBC’s documentary Future Earth: 2015 Addicted to power. Like it’s predecessor Future Earth 2025 this documentary again provides us with some fascinating visuals and five well-constructed scenarios

You can order this documentary online: Amazon or Itunes

The problem explained:

The consequences of our dependency on fossil fuels could lead to global disasters. We built an infrastructure and a set of habits based on an energy source that appeared abundant for some 200 years but is running out. In the next 20 years, we need 60% more power to satisfy the need of the emerging economies in the world. Fossil fuels might not be able to meet those needs. And besides the problem of running out of fossil fuels, it is also poisoning and warming our planet.

Scenario 1: Another oil-crisis

Oil, the black gold, is the fossil fuel that drives the world economy. Our reliance on oil makes it a potent political tool and it has been the driver of geopolitics and military policy for many countries. The first scenario depicts what happens if in 2015 terrorists, with anti-western sympathies, would run a suicide boat into a Russian oil tanker in the narrow shipping channel Bosporus (Turkey). The sunken tanker would block the Bosporus, one of the six worldwide ‘choke points’ for transporting oil, to all traffic. This news would reach the oil market immediately and prices would rise instantly. Than, the scenario continues, Nigerian militants capitalize on this Bosporus oil market collapse by disrupting oil wells. These occurrences in Nigeria and Turkey would lead to a 12% global supply loss and prices would spiral out of control. It would take four weeks to re-open the Bosporus and the world economy would plunge into a global recession.

Scenario 2: Gas fire

Photo credit:MSNBC Future Earth

Natural gas is a fossil fuel that is fairly cheap and also plentiful. It’s becoming a more and more interesting source of energy. But in its gassy state it’s difficult to transport. Therefore we transport in its liquid state, called LNG. A tanker transporting LNG is highly explosive and therefor a likely target for terrorist attacks. In the US, Boston is one out of eleven ports that handle LNG tankers. The Boston city centre is nearby. In this scenario, in 2015, a radicalised suicidal crewmember of a LNG tanker plants a bomb next to one of the tanks on board. The bomb splits one side of the tanker and LNG spills out and ignites. A cascade failure of the tanks occurs. As thousands of tons of liquid gas pours in the water, it vapourizes and the wind carries the vapour cloud into downtown Boston. The cloud erupts in a fireball a thousand feet high. The gas would only burn for 15 minutes, but that is enough to devastate the city.

Scenario 3: Nuclear explosion

In the search for a cleaner energy, nuclear power is reconsidered as an alternative by governments and scientists. It is estimated that in 2025 over 500 nuclear power plants will be in operation worldwide. The problem with nuclear energy remains the back end of the nuclear process: disposal of nuclear waste. Nuclear fuel rods can remain lethal for centuries. They are transported in special designed flasks, designed to survive a 100m/h train collision or a temperature of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. However, in this scenario, in 2015, a train transporting nuclear waste derails in a train tunnel in the London city centre. Another freight train, transporting oil, prows head on into the derailed train and a spark ignites the spilled fuel. The tunnel walls act like a furnace and temperature rises. Nuclear particle are broken up and released into the atmosphere. Even though only 1% of the radioactive fuel is likely to be released, it would release a deadly fume over London. Depending on the weather, up to 700.000 people could be exposed. During the next 50 years Londoners are at risk of dying as a result of the radioactive elements leading to cancers. Some areas could be contaminated for thousands of years.

Scenario 4: Massive floods

Photo credit:MSNBC Future Earth

Hydro-electric power combines water with gravity as a cheap source of energy. The giant dams needed to contain the water have an environmental cost, however. It reduces river flows and damages ecosystems downstream. But in this scenario, in 2015, a disaster occurs when in China a dam breaks. The cause: global warming has led to unpredictable weatherpatterns and a category typhoon strikes the area, unleashing 80 inches of rain in just 24 hours. Debris carried by the rising water blocks the dam’s spill way. The water level rises rapidly and a landslide crashes the reservoir. The dam overflows, sending a massive wave towards the villages downstream. Another seven dams are breached and whole communities are washed away.

Scenario 5: Black out

Photo credit:MSNBC Future Earth

In this scenario we take a look at the US power grid, which was build over a hundred years ago. The grid is now old and prone to failure, but the demand for energy is ever growing. As a result of global warming, in this scenario in 2015 a blistering heat wave and a rise in energy demand causes transmission lines to overheat. This leads to power outages across the grid. One line failing causes a cascade effect and the overload jumps from circuit to circuit until the entire system crashes. New york is hit first: Elevators stop, subways come to a hold. 4 million commuters are stranded in the darkness. Petrol stations can’t pump fuel. Food rots without refrigeration. On day 3 in the stifling heat millions are forced to abandon their homes. On day 4, hospitals patients die as back up generators run out of fuel. Food and water is rationed. Panic takes hold. Looting breaks out.

Luckily, not all is lost, as we can see as the documentary ends on a positive note with some insights on scientists search for new, clean and safe energy production. For example wind energy, sun energy and nuclear fusion. And lets not forget the option to change our ‘bad habits’ and become more energy efficient. A documentary definitely worth watching both at home and in the classroom.

About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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