It's like a cruel joke. When I studied in graduate school in the late 60's, specializing in the development of "underdeveloped" nations, no one foresaw how rapidly China, India, Brazil, Vietnam and other countries would emerge as modern industrial and emerging consumer nations. It seems almost miraculous from that perspective: in 1966, economic development--except in educated nations like Japan and Western Europe--seemed to be far in the future; there seemed too many social barriers, political barriers, attitudinal barriers, organizational barriers and resource barriers.
Why is it a cruel joke? Here the Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Malaysians and so on are beginning to get a taste of the 'good life.' But they won't be able to afford it even as long as we will. They could grow bitter for losing it.
Think about all those nations as collections of bitter, resentful people with a lot of resources--especially given their numbers. Think of the US and the other older developed nations as the dominant bloc, which has tried to allocate the bulk of dwindling global resources to its advantage. The bloc (the original G-7 plus a few) will defend the status quo, as we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But China and India and the others now referred to as emerging economies, which includes Russia, will be those nations with rising power that perceive that they've been left with the short end of the stick. They won't see any advantage in the status quo.
World War Two happened because the Axis nations saw no advantage in the status quo and wanted to overturn it. Maintaining an American military costing more than the rest of the world's defense establishments combined is not a sustainable way to prevent world conflict of this order, as the Sept. 11th attack demonstrated; it will simply invite it by other means. Besides, as the US faces shrinking and ever more expensive resources, it won't be able to afford such an establishment--or won't be able to afford anything else.
We could avoid this dilemma if we turned in another direction: if we tried to minimize consumption and maximize efficiency and conservation, thereby making it more possible for all to have enough. By doing that, we might avoid becoming such an ugly, violent world. If we rode bicycles or mass transit to work, and lived in places where we could, if we supported our local farms, and changed tax laws so that they wouldn't be forced to sell to developers, if we depended more on each other in our local communities, if we recognized the true costs of things (their environmental and depleted energy costs) and used them accordingly, our resource needs could be dramatically reduced. We could even be better off, healthier and maybe even happier.
We'd have to get used to the idea that we would have to make do with less materially. Gee, owners of storage units would have to find some other line of work, retailers of non-essential items would have to cut back, but services, of all kinds, would have unlimited potential for growth.
Yes, we are facing major changes if peak oil is a reality, but if we are going to cut our carbon emissions enough to have an impact on global warming, we'll have to make those changes anyway.