As bad as it may get, I don’t think it will get as bad as many people might fear — or at the very least, won’t be bad for long. To begin, America and Americans are happy to put off until tomorrow what ought to be done today, and this emphatically includes dealing with energy issues. However, when Americans are finally at a point where something has to be done, it gets done. . . And so with something like an oil peak; if America is looking down the barrel of ruin, it will suck it up and do what is necessary to persevere. It’s done so before within the last 100 years with WWI, the Depression and WWII. We are admittedly out of practice (a happy side effect of having dealt with the issue so well before), but we can and will do it again.
I agree with Scalzi that the Great Depression and the two World Wars are good examples of Americans dealing with difficult situations, but if Scalzi is also suggesting that the effect of diminishing availability of oil will be ‘no worse’ than those times, I have to take issue with him.
The Great Depression had a severe impact on the lives of many Americans–including rampant hunger, homelessness, etc. I certainly would not want to live through a comparable economic downturn. Likewise, most Americans had to make great personal sacrifices in order to mobilize for the second world war: food and fuel rationing, being strongly urged to put their savings in government bonds, etc.
If the coming economic situation rivals the Depression or World War II, then I would consider it pretty severe.