Predicting the future can be an express ticket to the Hall of Fools, but here’s my best shot based upon a lot of reading and just common sense. What the public certainly doesn't understand about the world energy situation is that we don't have to run out of oil and gas for life to turn upside down in this country. All you have to do is squeeze the supply, jerk the price, and all the systems and sub-systems we depend on will de-stabilize creating a domino effect that will clatter its way through our entire economy. I don’t believe you have to be a cynic or a "pessimist" to recognize this. It would appear patently obvious
Since our economy at any given moment consists of sixty million people scurrying to the next ‘blue light special” to buy goods on credit made by people 12,000 miles away, we can expect some pretty far-reaching consequences. From what I have read, we are going to have to give up suburbia, Wal-Mart, and industrial agriculture. We will have to live locally in a way that does not require us to drive cars all the time. We will have to grow more of our own food closer to home.
Small-town America will find themselves miles away from essential goods and looking forlornly over their shoulders in the direction of where Charley’s Hardware store used to be before Wal-Mart came to town. There will be an extravaganza of default and repossession of homes and property such as the world has never seen before. With the recent easy and low credit access, people have been induced to trade in the equity value of their homes for lump sums of cash to buy SUV’s and other “toys.” We can assume that some of them are already in trouble with credit card debt. Connect the dots.
We will need to downscale everything, especially agriculture. It will be one of the first systems to fall apart in a world of higher-priced and less reliably available energy, and when it goes down people are really going to suffer. We need to change directions in a big way; from competition to cooperation, and from profitability to sustainability. Think outside the box; try to think of ways to not use more resources. It seems that when the production of large sheet glass coincided with the availability of cheap energy, architects forgot where the sun was.
A lot of jobs and vocational niches are going to vanish—forever. Every “leisure oil use” activity and all their associated industries and jobs will disappear over night. It won’t be just about paying more for gas and using less as a lot of people think. Post-peak oil prices will start a pandemic that will spread throughout our economy like a wildfire fanned by a strong wind.
Expect large-scale unemployment and a drastic drop in wages. In China today, $.64/hr in a factory is about average compared to $21.00/hr in the US. Get used to the idea. In world of greater resource scarcity, the salvage of existing material is going to be a huge business. A lot of the retail of the future will consist of recycled refurbished goods. I can see the railroad system of the US replacing the long-haul trucking system; more efficient and you don’t need “tires.” We will look back at the 20th century as the “Age of Manufacture.”
The biggest question about these massive changes is how much disorder will attend them as nations jockey to contest resources. The downscaling of America is our agenda for survival in the 21st century. It implies a lot of difficult adjustments and even hardship, but we just may find a culture of quality and purpose in a world where a culture of quantity once ruled.