11/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Can You Survive Life After Cheap Oil? It May Be Time to Find Out

Do you know how to make shoes? Can you build a house? How about grow food? Do you have a doctor and a dentist in your circle of friends?

These are the questions that Andre Angelantoni thinks you should be able to answer in order to plan for the next 10 to 15 years. Angelantoni believes there are radical changes ahead for our society -- and no, it's not the rapture he sees coming, but a post-peak-oil world.

Simply put, peak oil is the point when the world hits the maximum rate of petroleum extraction, and after that, production begins to decline. Since the calculations of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, Ph.D., in 1956, there has been speculation about when (and for some, if) the world will hit its peak production of oil.

Angelantoni is among the crowd of geologists, oil-industry experts and numbers crunchers that believes we are at or near peak, and the way down will be a painful and bumpy ride.

A few years ago, Angelantoni left San Francisco's dot-com (or dot-bomb, as he says) rat race to start a business helping people prepare for life after cheap oil. He offers an online "Uncrash Course" that covers things like how to survive potential disease outbreaks, what career path you should be on and what skills you can offer your community, how you should prepare for an environmental disaster, what do you do about your finances, where should you live, how you will eat and how you will get around.

And he's not alone. Across the country, groups known as "transition towns" are gaining steam, helping their communities become more resilient in the face of a changing energy landscape.

Is Peak Oil for Real?

It would be infinitely more convenient at the moment to dismiss Angelantoni as an end-of-the-world extremist, like the survivalists who have taken to the hills to grow their own food and otherwise live off the land.

Except that there is growing evidence about peak oil and when we may actually hit the top of production (and likewise, what that means for our slide down the decline).

In 2008, Richard Heinberg, a well-known author and educator about peak oil wrote:

Petroleum is a finite substance, and we have reached the inevitable point at which it simply isn't possible to increase the rate at which we extract it from the ground. Most oil-producing countries, including the U.S., have already seen their glory days and are now watching output from their wells gradually dwindle. Only a few nations are early in the production cycle and able to ramp up the rate of flow.

Not everyone shares his certainty. Bill McKibben, the renowned environmental writer and climate-change activist is a little more cautious:

Who knows if we're actually going to see oil production peak sometime soon? Not me. I've read persuasive arguments that we will from writers like Michael Klare and James Howard Kunstler and Paul Roberts. I've also read confident counterarguments from people who've been right in the past, like Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Oil depletion is not a straightforward physical law, like the fact that the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. Instead, it's a detective story that turns on questions like, are the Saudis lying about how fast oil is being depleted in their giant field at Ghawar?

Energy consultant Michael Lynch recently wrote an anti-peak-oil op-ed in the New York Times. He wrote, "Like many Malthusian beliefs, peak-oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material."

Joseph Romm, who writes for Climate Progress and previously served as a high-ranking member of the U.S Department of Energy during the Clinton years, quickly challenged Lynch's op-ed.

But the most compelling evidence may now be coming -- the U.S government itself. Michael Klare, author of Resource Wars and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency, wrote in June about the findings of the 2009 report, "International Energy Outlook," from the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. The EIA has previously scoffed at peak oil charges. Until now.

Klare writes:

For the first time, the well-respected Energy Information Administration appears to be joining with those experts who have long argued that the era of cheap and plentiful oil is drawing to a close. ...

For years now, assorted petroleum geologists and other energy types have been warning that world oil output is approaching a maximum sustainable daily level -- a peak -- and will subsequently go into decline, possibly producing global economic chaos. Whatever the timing of the arrival of peak oil's actual peak, there is growing agreement that we have, at last, made it into peak-oil territory, if not yet to the moment of irreversible decline.

This is groundbreaking coming from the U.S. government, although don't expect President Barack Obama to mention peak oil in any upcoming speeches.

Determining the peak is not so cut and dried, McKibben points out. In addition, tiny market changes, like a period of economic decline where less oil is consumed can mask depleting supplies. But for those who are convinced of the data, they aren't waiting around for the federal government to jump into crisis mode.

Read the rest of this post on AlterNet, including more about what life might look like after peak oil, what "transition towns" are doing to make our energy descent not so bumpy, and how cities like San Francisco are rethinking their strategies.