For one thing, our methods of transportation will change drastically. There is a lot of speculation out there about what “might” happen. A great book that gives some insight into the issues is World Made by Hand by James Howard-Kunstler. The book is fiction, but Howard-Kunstler has done a great deal of research on the subject and has published nonfiction books on the issue as well.
There is the possibility that American suburbs might become the “slums of the future, since life in the suburbs depends on cheap oil and the use of automobiles for easy transportation. When oil is exhausted, this lifestyle might not be sustainable enough to uphold, forcing people to find alternatives, either driving elctric cars, telecommuting,, or moving to more densely populayed areas where public transportation is readily available.
The most basic answer I can provide is that the current model of perpetual ‘growth’ that underlies the global economy will no longer be workable and our present dependence on economies of scale will have to give to economies that are more localized and focused primarily on subsidence, rather than profit margins. There’s a post on the Oil Drum Blog (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-dangerous-feedback-loop-between-peak-oil-and-peak-debt-2011-7) that explains this is much more detail and with much more precision than I can.
If all oil reserves are depleted – or otherwise inaccessible – there will be an instantaneous surge in the price of alternative energy sources. (This operates under the assumption that hydrogen, natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, and the like have advanced enough technologically for widespread use).
“A heavy push for sustainable tech such as renewable fuels could help push back the deadlines on the end of the fossil fuels, and insulate society from some of the worst disruptions caused by short supplies and skyrocketing prices.”
It’s an inevitable reality, economically and scientifically. Coal may fill the void for a century or so, but it’s a chimera to believe industrialized societies can function without transitioning to new fuels before it’s too late and there’s no contingency plan in place, and no way to gather the requisite resources.
Given that oil’s depletion will be gradual, and the rate of extraction will taper off instead of suddenly stopping, there’s a chance that, given ample time, we’ll figure out a way to adapt our oil-based infrastructure to other forms of energy, although there will no doubt be drastic changes, like oil titans toppling and the Middle East losing their influence.
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