I Saw the Future of Europe… In India

11 min readApr 22, 2024
Photo by Mitchell Ng Liang an on Unsplash

This is definitely not going to be an article what the title may suggest. At least not for those who still believe in the mainstream paradigm, according to which “everything can only get better with time”. This is also not going to be an article on the subcontinent’s culture or policies. No, this one is about something entirely different, something totally contraintuitive to the technutopist narrative.

I have an admission to make: I do enjoy browsing and watching YouTube videos without any particular goal in mind. You know, just gazing at “random” suggestions from the Home page of the application. Of course, these are neither random, nor unintended recommendations: the algorithm knows full well who I am, what I’m interested in, what type of videos I watch during the day, and what close to bedtime. Nevertheless, I still find it fun to play along, and indulge in watching some of the suggested videos from time to time. As a person involved heavily in dealing with manufacturing and supply chain issues as his daily job, I’m do interested in how stuff is made, and yes, sometimes enjoy watching complex machinery doing their work. (Yes, I’m fully aware that all of these technologies are wholly unsustainable, however that fact alone was unable to slain my fascination towards engineering ingenuity.)

I don’t know how or why, but after watching quite a number of videos featuring high tech manufacturing processes, the algorithm managed to surprise me with a few recordings on how some of the stuff is actually made in India. Let me tell you in advance, that I’ve been traveling extensively on business the past few decades, from North America to China, and saw quite interesting things in both places. I’ve also been to Vietnam, and Morocco (among many other places in Europe from Lisbon to Moscow), and experienced first-hand how products are made in high end factories as well as in open air workshops, or while sitting on the curbside.

Although I’ve not been to India yet, what I saw in these videos was above and beyond anything I experienced before. With that said I’m not suggesting that this is how everything is made there, I’m just pointing out the stark contrasts seen across the world. Maybe for some people, who are not trained in personal safety, environmental protection, manufacturing standards etc. this is not going to be as surprising or shocking as it was for me. Nevertheless I find it revelating to see what a lack of resources can bring forth from people. So, before you start watching, I want you to read and at least try to keep some of these aspects in mind:

  • What was done to prevent harm to the workers and the environment? (Any personal protective gear, floors preventing spills — or at least making it easy to clean things up — ventilation, air filtering, etc..?)
  • What is the source of raw materials used? What measures are taken to ensure the consistency and quality of the substances? Are the metals used, for example, of the same origin, type, alloy, shape or form?
  • What energy source is being used? Is there electricity involved?
  • How much of the work is automated and assisted with machinery? What measures are taken to ensure repeatability of each process step, and to prevent human error, or other inconsistencies?

I could go on for a while, but that should be enough to think about. Now onto the videos. (If you find them too long, feel free to just jump scenes and review the major steps only.)

After the first shock, I have to say, I felt terribly sorry for those poor workers. They clearly put their very health at risk every day, and do not seem to be particularly happy about it. Especially the first guy (restoring the lead acid battery): for me it looked like he was doing this for quite some time now, and after finishing the product, he didn’t seemed to be filled with joy — not even the slightest. (Needless to say, lead is very very bad for your health. Working with it without any protective gear whatsoever, and breathing in its fumes virtually guarantees bad gut and mental health.)

With that said, however, there are a ton of things to be learned here. First and foremost take notice how energy efficient these methods are. If you are a western trained engineer you might feel royally pissed at this point, but consider the following. There are no expensive manufacturing halls. No air conditioning, no lighting. No forklifts, no heavy machinery. No conveyor belts, no automated production lines. Yes, there is a ton of human labor, but no expensive (and energy intensive to make) shopfloors filled with even more energy intensive to make and operate machinery. Everything is done by hand and with muscle power, except for providing process heat. The latter is derived from fossil fuels, which is many times more energy efficient in the grand scheme of things than building power plants, transmission lines, transformers, switchgear etc. to generate and forward the megawatts of electricity needed to run an arc furnace. In the end you still get the “same” giant cogwheel — at a fraction of the energy input compared to building, tooling and running a modern factory and all its related infrastructure.

That brings us to our next topic: quality. Yes, there are all sorts of scrap metals used, made from all sorts of who-knows-what-kind of alloys. Yes, I’m sure that the end product is chuck full of impurities, and might last only half the time compared to a high tech product made under the rigorous supervision of an ISO certified quality control system. But (and this is a very big but) which one of these manufacturing processes would survive under the severe stress of various raw material and energy shortages? One missing component could stop an entire modern manufacturing supply chain — let alone a range of shortages and price spikes from natural gas to electricity. Not this guys, though. They will keep merrily producing their cogs and reworked batteries, even if the entire Western civilization would fall into ruins. A thing to ponder on.

Another aspect of manufacturing, apart from the energy intensity of the actual process itself, is the energy demand of workers. India is a hot country, there is no need for heating, although the rapidly increasing number and severity of heat waves will make such work even more dangerous, if not outright impossible. But what about Europe? A tolerably high number of workers here commute by car, and every one of them has to heat their homes for three to six month in a row. If you look at the big picture (shopfloor, workers, cars, homes, infrastructure etc., and all their related energy demand), the Indian economy makes a giant cog at the fraction of the energy and fossil fuel use compared to Europe.

Now that the continent is rapidly losing its heavy industries due to sustained high energy prices, and to the many policy failures produced by its supranational government, Europe is in the process of simply being outcompeted. And without adequate energy inputs to uphold this complex society and its economy, what is a more likely future for Europe: a high tech one, or the one seen in India?

“Renewables” and nuclear are simply unable to perform the same role as fossil fuels for a number of technical reasons, and their manufacturing still requires high heat (fossil fuels), as well as mining and transportation done via diesel engines. Just like nuclear: as energy and resources get scarcer, eventually it will be impossible to finance such projects requiring a huge upfront material, energy and financial investment. The following headlines worth more than another thousand words on the topic:

Hydro has been all but maxed out, and with climate change bringing on ever longer and ever more severe droughts, it is going to be ever less a dependable source of electricity. Europe is already busy removing its ageing dams anyway, and with record high cement prices this trend is unlikely to turn around. (Another cause and effect relationship: without burning ever more expensive fossil fuels at high heat to make massive amounts of cement, there is no building of dams either…)

Hydrogen remains to be a spectacular way of wasting energy — all throughout generation, storage and end use — thus it only acts to further deteriorate the net energy picture. (Last time I checked, the billions of Euros dumped on hydrogen projects has failed to change the underlying physical principles, at least so far.)

Europe has burned through its easy to access, high quality fossil fuel reserves (coal), and has sparked two world wars to get hold of Caspian and Middle-Eastern oil. It failed. Now, this once prosperous continent will be the first developed region in the world to experience a permanent decline in its access to energy, and the consequent fall in standards of living. Once again, this is perfectly normal. Finite resources do have a terrible track record when it comes to supporting infinite growth…

The industrial revolution was never more than a flash in the pan, something which is not panning out well for its place of origin. With that said, Europe is not an exception, just the first one to go.

I suspect we don’t have to wait long for workshops like the ones depicted above to pop up like mushrooms after a summer rain. First it will start small. A tiny (presumably illegal) shack here and there. A repair shop specializing in making old diesel engines work again. Or reworking lead acid batteries. Or making spare parts from metal scraps. Junk yards, “recycling” old appliances. People making (some small) money out of leeching out the gold from used electronic stuff — often at the cost of their own health. Then welding together the chassis of a bus and truck to provide local transport. Or breeding horses to pull a cart. (No kidding, take a look at this article below.)

Mind you, I don’t like this analysis, but it is what it is. Sure, it would be great if exponential growth could go on forever, and the relentless rise in the energy cost of energy, or resource depletion, were just a bad dream. It would be even better if all the pollution released during mining, manufacturing and consumption had not started to kill the biosphere or wreck the climate. But it has. This current lifestyle of ours (especially in Europe and North America) is utterly unsustainable; both from a resource and an environmental perspective. With or without carbon emissions. And that which is unsustainable will eventually stop.

What happens then? What happens when the energy industry (both fossil fuels, and “alternative” sources) start to cannibalize the very energy they produce, taking it away from other uses, just to keep the lights on? What happens when manufacturing companies can no longer afford energy or raw materials, and can no longer pass on price increases on customers beset by a persistent cost of living crisis (much for the same reasons, by the way)? For how long can a high tech future be maintained without energy?

I don’t think it is particularly difficult to guess what happens then… Factories manufacturing non-essentials will simply lay off workers and declare bankruptcy. Trucks, combine harvesters, buses and trains, however, will still have to run then, so we will see every attempt to keep them running despite all the spare part shortages due to factory closures. Sure there will be some replacement parts available (made elsewhere), but at an increasingly unaffordable price. Electronics preventing repair thus will be stripped away, or replaced with cheap “fake” ones made in a garage.

Human ingenuity must never be underestimated when it comes to repairing essential stuff.

Yes, things requiring a ton of energy to maintain, like bridges, tunnels, roads or the electric grid will continue to degrade, then fall apart into ever shrinking islands of modernity, centered around rich neighborhoods. The fall of industrial civilization in Europe, and later everywhere else, is not going to be a uniform process. There will be luckier and less luckier regions. Perhaps you hit the jackpot, and will be barely affected by the long decline for a decade or more. Or perhaps you will lose your home or belongings in the coming financial meltdown... Maybe you will be forced or chose to migrate from one place to another (countries with ample fossil fuel — especially oil — reserves might be a good option (1)).

One thing is for sure, though: the only possession which you will always have with you is the knowledge and skills you master. So watch these videos as if they were sneak peeks into the not so distant future, and an invaluable source of ideas. Learn what can be done using manual labor alone, or by using some simple tools and minimal resources. Collect low-tech ideas — or even better — experiment with them at home or in your local community. Learn how to make water filtration equipment, or how to turn a generator from a car, some plywood and a lead acid battery into a mobile phone charging station, or a source of electricity to light up your home at night. Experiment with parts sourced from a scrap yard and pride yourself in finding a new use to them.

Besides all that, the knowledge we gathered during the past decades as industrial nations — like safe manufacturing practices reducing accidents to a bare minimum — could be used to transform our unsustainable, energy and raw material intensive lives to a much more fulfilling, and dare I say: rewarding life. A low-tech, low-energy future could not only help reducing emissions but also increasing resilience, and perhaps imbuing our lives with a new reason to live for. Inventor types will have an especially fun time, while simultaneously taking care of their local communities. Collapse is not all doom and gloom, and not something which happens overnight. It is a long process which will take at least a century to fully unfold (2), and who knows, in the end it might land us in a not so inhospitable place.

Until next time,



(1) Perhaps the biggest irony in the deindustrialization and the low tech future of the West is, that modernity will be preserved in places snubbed at the most by our ruling elite. At least for a couple of decades more, till even those vast resources start to run low, and deindustrialization begins there as well.

(2) While I’m sure that there will be sudden shocks, like the complete collapse of the western financial system, or critical shortages of just about anything, the dismantling and recycling of the massive material wealth accumulated over the past two centuries in the West will still take quite some time.

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A critic of modern times - offering ideas for honest contemplation. Also on Substack: https://thehonestsorcerer.substack.com/