The top of the oil peak is when 50% of the world’s oil is depleted. That does not mean that we are out of oil, but that it will become increasingly scarce, and therefore more expensive. Because of earth’s increasing population and dependence on oil, the “worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production” (http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/) in the years after the oil peak.
Graph from http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net:
The most obvious way to limit the effects of life after oil reaches its peak is to lower our dependence on oil as a resource. Coming up with other ways to fuel our economy and our lives may be necessary as the price of oil rises.
Many believe that when oil production decreases, modern technological society and our lifestyles will be forced to change drastically. This could be a good or bad thing. If we are able to develop and adopt effective alternatives, our economy and quality of life may be maintained and perhaps even improved. If we do not, products produced with oil (this includes fertilizers, plastics, and solvents) would become scarce and expensive.
There are a number of errors in the citation in one of the other answers (http://www.greatdreams.com/oil/peak_oil_consequences.htm). It says the main deposits of fuels are from the Carboniferous; that’s an important time for coal, but oil and natural gas come from many other time periods (in the US, largely Tertiary and Cretaceous as well as part of the Carboniferous).
It says half of the oil in the US is from California and the rest is from Alaska – nope, the leading states are Louisiana, Texas, Alaska, California, North Dakota. CA and Alaska put together only produce 23% of US domestic oil. Oil is produced in all but 19 of the states.
In any case, the oil that is used for plastics, fertilizer, etc. is a relatively tiny proportion of that which is used. In the US, 70% of oil consumption is in the transportation sector, and it is there that the high prices associated with peak oil will have their greatest and soonest impacts in the US.
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