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VARIOUS TEXTS: LIFE WITHOUT FUEL (Isaac Asimov)

It's 1997, and it's raining, and you'll have to walk to work again. Any given subway train breaks down one morning out of five. The buses are gone, and on a day like today bicycles slosh and slide.
Lucky you have a job in demolition. It's slow and dirty work, but steady. The fading structures of a decaying city are the great mineral mines and hardware shops of the nation. Break them down and re-use the parts. Coal is too difficult to dig up and transport to give us energy in the amounts we need, nuclear fission is judged to be too dangerous, the hoped-for breakthrough toward nuclear fusion never took place, and solar batteries are too expensive to maintain in sufficient quantity.
Anyone older than ten can remember automobiles. At first the price of gasoline climbed - way up. Finally only the well-to-do drove, and that was too clear an indication that they were filthy rich, so any automobile that showed itself on a city street was overturned and burned. The cars vanished, becoming part of the metal resource.
There are advantages in 1997, if you want to look for them. The air is cleaner, and there seem to be fewer colds. The crime rate has dropped. With the police car too expensive, policemen are back on their beats. More important, the streets are full. Legs are king, and people walk everywhere far into the night. There is mutual protection in crowds.
If the weather isn't too cold, people sit out front. If it is hot, the open air is the only air conditioning they get. At least the street lights still burn. Indoors, few people can afford to keep lights burning after supper.
As for the winter - well, it is incovenient to be cold, with most of what furnace fuel is allowed hoarded for the dawn. But sweaters are popular indoor wear. Showers are not an everyday luxury. Lukewarm sponge baths must do and, if the air is not always fragrant in the human vicinity, the automobile fumes are gone.
It is worse in the suburbs, which were born with the auto. Suburbanites form associations that assign turns to the procurement and distribution of food. Pushcarts creak from house to house along the posh suburban roads, and every bad snowstorm is a disaster. It isn't easy to hoard enough food to last till the roads are open. There is not much refridgeration except for the snowbanks, and then the dogs must be fought off.
What energy is left must be conserved for agriculture. The great car factories make trucks and farm machinery almost exclusively. The American population isn't going up much anymore, but the food supply must be kept high even though the prices and difficulty of distribution force each American to eat less. Food is needed for export to pay for some trickle of oil and for other resources.
The rest of the world is not as lucky as we are. They're starving out there, because earth's population has continued to rise. The population on earth is 5.5 billion - up by 1.5 billion since 1977 - and, outside the United States and Europe, not more than one in five has enough to eat at any given time. There is a high infant mortality, but a strong current of American opinion holds that it is just as well. It serves to reduce the population, doesn't it?
It's more than just starvation, though. There are those who manage to survive on barely enough to keep the body working, and that proves to be not enough for the brain. It is estimated that nearly two billion people in the world are permanently brain-damaged by undernutrition, and the number is growing. It has already occurred to some that it would be 'realistic' to wipe them out quietly and rid the earth of an encumbering menace. The American newspapers of 1997 do not report that this is actually being done anywhere, but some travelers bring back horror tales. At leat the big armies have gone. Only the United States and the Soviet Union can maintain a few tanks, planes and ships - which they dare not move for fear of biting into limited fuel reserves.
Machines must be replaced by human muscle and beasts of burden. People are working longer hours, and - with lighting restricted, television only three hours a night, new books few and printed in small editions - what is there to do with leisure? Work, sleep and eating are the great trinity of 1997, and only the first two are guaranteed.
Where will it end? It must end in a return to the days before 1800, to the days before the fossil fuels powered a vast machine industry and technology. It must end in subsistence farming and in a world population reduced by starvation, disease and violence to less than a billion.
And what can we do to prevent all this now?
Now? In 1997? Almost nothing.
If we had started 20 years ago, that might have been another matter. If we had started 50 years ago, it would have been easy.

830 words
Adapted from TIME, the weekly newsmagazine.


Assignment:
1. Discuss why it would have been easy 50 years earlier (in 1947) to secure the world's future.
Consider the following aspects:
a. use of energy
b. use of raw materials
c. the social and economic consequences of urban growth
d. the increase in population


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