Inexorable oil price rises probably began in this millennium's first decade; though downward fluctuations will still occur, the trendline is inexorably upward. (more 1). Fuel cell, electric or hydrogen cars will be more expensive for some time, especially opportunistically in a replacement rush, and the oil crisis victims of the present and future do and will possess the legacy petrol vehicles currently being produced and planned; which beginning with poorest users are progressively becoming unusable through expense, this can be alleviated by gas conversion until demand increases gas prices.
Oil supplies 95% of global transport & 40% of global energy, thus it moves almost everything and does almost half the work in the world, and 20thC economic growth has been built on this cheap energy. Alternative energy sources haven't grown quickly enough, or developed large enough net energy profit ratios, (note 1), for even exponential growth to avert an economic crisis (more 2). Shortsighted governments have bowed and will bow to political pressure from the car culture to subsidise oil, artificially holding prices down until the "dam bursts", so economic crisis could strike suddenly as a genuine crash and depression. Price rises will damage globalized, "old economy", or the ecologically delinquent but financially opportunistic "just-in-time", transport intensive corporations along with transport dependent industries like airlines and tourism, whose collapse will drag down banks (more 3).
So simultaneous with transport price rises will be recession and income decline, a double whammy with much potential for violence. Suffering and discord in suddenly immobile suburban outlands will move public transport provision, and support for car bans will be moved by the oldest political message, "returning prosperity". Some oil uses: fertilisers, agricultural production, aviation, shipping and rural transport can't be practically substituted and can't survive huge price rises and governments will move to reduce petrol demand and arrest the slide into a modern dark age, this could mean rationing, it could mean some dismal safety net to mass manage the large numbers knocked out of transport by prices, or it could bring overall restructure, where a car ban would be central. Personal urban cars are the biggest gratuitous oil demand, 25% of total oil production in 2000, growing from 17% in 1975 so are prime targets for regulation.
However public sector poverty will hamper remediation measures. The greatest danger is that all the resources required to cope with the ecological crises like water supply and global warming, will have been wasted in the profligate last years of the car culture and a return to prosperity will be delayed by a cascading succession of serious environmental crises requiring resource allocation. Thus provision of eco-critical infrastructure will then come at the cost of other government services leading to public disorder and in the event of knock-on effects of ecological crises exhausting response ability possibly civilization collapse. Under current car hegemony this scenario seems inevitable; but government action at any point from now to stop wasting resources on car infrastructure and use them in public transport and water supply, and to phase out the car and move to a car ban will mitigate and still largely obviate the worst case scenario.
Last Revised 2011-05-09 JM