What if there were no fossil fuels?
Maybe lignin-digesting bacteria evolved earlier, some antediluvian civilization burned up our oil reserves, or those damn Alien Space Bats vaporized them. Anyway, Earth doesn't have enough coal, gas, or oil to support an industrial revolution. How does that change history?
Things might look pretty similar to OTL history until the 1400's with the few pre-industrial uses of coal and petroleum being replaced by charcoal, peat, and pitch. We might expect glassblowers, blacksmiths, and the makers of lime to have trouble though as the forests of Europe began to run out. We might further expect a bigger timber industry in the New World, especially in the North. As its peat reserves ran out, Holland might also invest more in its American colonies as a source of fuel. France might also fight harder to keep Acadia. Rather than the Beaver Wars, we have the Lumber Wars.
The Lumber Wars aren't confined to the New World. The Russian Empire holds vast tracks of timberland, but lacks the power to hold them effectively. German states encourage local rebellions and pay tinpot dictators gold for their wood, while British ships bite chunks out of Russia's Pacific coast before turning around and swallowing up Japan, Korea, and Manchuria in the process.
By the mid-1700s, the confusingly and unoriginally named British colonies of America (actually the Atlantic coast of North America, minus French, Spanish, and Dutch claims), California (the Pacific coast from OTL *Oregon to *Alaska), and Pacifica (from the Japanese archipelago in the east to Lake Baikal and the Vitim River to the west) are the heart of a global trade network of manufactured goods, gaining population densities that European cities, lacking coal for heating, cannot attain.
But they are also starting to run out of trees. In the southern British Pacific lands and in British California, the bamboo-charcoal trade is booming, but in above about 40 degrees North, pine plantations cannot keep up with demand.
The accelerated deforestation in North America would result, ironically enough, in global warming. An eighteenth-century temperature and precipitation map (if there were anyone around with capacity to make one) would look like this
Desertification and extreme weather causes societal breakdowns in the Middle East, Northern Africa, India, and Central Asia, sending rampaging hordes into west into Europe and (for the first time) east into the British Pacific colonies. Lines are drawn. Then redrawn. Aid is called for and not given. A creaky little global conflict results in millions dead, and the collapse of contraction of the European colonial empires.
The big winners of the Storm Wars are the three new independent federal republics of America, California, and Pacifica. As a block, these countries form the world's dominant military and economic power, much to the dismay of their respective slaves, vassals, and serfs.
For chapter 2, visit: www.thekingdomsofevil.com/?p=4…