Peak Oil may mean huge disruption to transportation, agriculture, and many industries, because of the broad dependence on fossil oil.
"What happens when the power runs out?" - That's a fear story that runs in the back of my mind. Oil is due to stop being available with a decline in production levels starting within the next 5-10 years. It is possible for the whole economic system to fail and for "power" (electricity, oil, etc) to completely stop being available. So what happens?
Someone will go to the video arcade with a stack of quarters. They think the quarters will be worthless because it was the electricity that gave those quarters value. They'll play game after game after game until the power plant is unable to make more power. One last blowout before everything changes. They might be contemplating suicide afterwards, or simply to wander sad over what has been lost to the world by the death of our society.
Another person will have bought a stack of solar panels and fortified their land against attack. They'll have built an underground shelter, stocked firearms, and if they've read Farnham's Freehold they know how to make a light duty explosive from household chemicals. They're expecting to see looting and rampages, and they want to survive it.
Another person will have bought land in the countryside, perhaps near a national forest. A place they can farm and live the simple life. They will have frequented the catalogs of olde-timey living supplies that don't require any power other than human leverage. Maybe their creed is nonviolence and they'll eschew the guns and underground shelters of the survivalists. They may have read Ecotopia and fallen in love with the forest dwellers and their intimate relationship with the land and trees. It goes without saying they will have also read several issues of Essential Whole Earth Catalog or Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities.
Another person will have stayed in town, determined to be a force for order and civil society no matter what. They may have read The Fifth Sacred Thing and remembered how the main protagonist inspired her city to take sledgehammers to the streets, because she recognized the vehicles would no longer be needed and therefore the streets would not be either. For under the streets is land, land which can be rehabilitated to make gardens. Buried under the streets and highways is enough land to grow sufficient crops to feed the people living in the city.
Any of these things may happen, and more. Each of us makes our own choice as we move forward through life, and if this event ever happens (the "power" running out) we'll each approach it in our own way. What I expect is that most will not even see the danger, and simply be swept up by events (such as the New Yorkers in Independence Day stuck in traffic and unable to save themselves as the Aliens destroy their city). The above people, and others, who see the danger and take proactive steps will be the ones who make the most interesting stories.
It's worth wondering, will this happen at all? What's the likelihood?
If we consider it logically that's separate from our emotional response. Emotions and logic live in separate worlds and it is often the emotions that are stronger. As we consider the likelihood, be aware of the feelings that arise. Those feelings may well obscure reason and lead to poor choices, and in any case you can only make a complete choice by having both logic and emotion working hand-in-hand with one another.
It's clear that the oil is due to "run out" in a manner of speaking. Production levels on oil are nearing a peak, and soon the world will experience a decline in oil production. The current price shock and oil supply difficulties due to the Iraq war and hurricanes will seem mild compared with what is to come. In todays situation we just have to repair some facilities and persuade the Saudi's to increase production and the oil supply and prices will return to "normal". But if the physical production capacity of the planet is surpassed, then what?
Declining oil reserves will inevitably lead to declined production capacity.
What then? Mad Max? Here's where fear and logic collide.
Most of the electricity is made from fuels other than oil. Natural gas, coal, solar, wind, hydroelectric and even nuclear are choices besides oil. Each of those sources have availability that last long beyond the production capacity of oil. It seems reasonable that society could rely on those resources as they continue to develop alternative technologies.
But goes fear, what if critical parts of the system are fueled by oil and it's insurmountably difficult to rework them to run on other fuels? Such as the cargo ships that carry liquified natural gas, those are powered by diesel fuel that may become hard to acquire. While they could be fueled by other fuels, does it make sense to do so?
The truth will be revealed as it happens. That leaves us here and now with fears to deal with. How are you dealing with yours?