According to some guy who thought we were all gonna die on Y2K, the skyrocketing price of oil may soon doom suburbia. In place of the sprawling suburban landscape will be a return to small towns situated around retail hubs with everything in walking or bicycle distance. You’ll travel between towns by trains powered by enslaved poor people, and you’ll never eat fruit out of season again.
Okay, so maybe this guy’s just a bit of a nut-job and the future of American society isn’t that grim (or hopeful, depending on how you view suburbia). But there’s no debating that today’s world of the 100-mile commute only came about thanks to gobs and gobs of dirt cheap oil. If anything ever happened to that cheap oil, a lot of things we take for granted today would become a thing of the past.
So what would super-expensive oil mean for your life? Well, if you buy into the end-of-the-world theory, then things would quiet down pretty quickly after an initial few months of rioting that would leave millions dead of violence or starvation. Those small towns I mentioned would start to form gradually with support from local farms and nearby light manufacturing. If your current career is physician, barber, handyman, or prostitute, you’d continue in your profession; otherwise, you’ll become a common laborer hopping from job to job.
The good news is that all of those environmental catastrophes that scientists are predicting for us would go away because nobody would be paying scientists to make those sort of predictions anymore. The air would become cleaner, people would get more exercise from walking and performing more physical work, and the average American’s quality of life would ultimately reach a new high. Eventually your town would put up one of those adorable signs that says “Name of Town, Population: Some Teeny Number.”
Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever end up like this because most people would probably shoot themselves before giving up their automobiles. Or perhaps science will invent us a way out of this with a cheaper, renewable alternative energy source that will be quickly adopted and is already available in large quantities. And if not, when we’re lining up to exchange our office jobs for small-town work, I call blacksmith.