Our way of life will be over in 40 years, unless we fund a radical new way of replacing oil, a top West Midland economist has warned.
Professor Andrew Oswald, from the University of Warwick, said our dependency on oil-based products was unsustainable and would leave us extremely vulnerable when supplies run dry.
He said: "I don't think you can stress enough how much of our lives our shaped by crude oil. Most UK citizens are completely unaware. It is not just in the fuel you put in your car, but in the huge number of petrochemicals used in things such as plastics, clothing and fertilisers.
"I think the Nick Stern report on the economics of climate change was surprisingly mild. We have to develop new ways to do things if we are to cope."
Experts predict that known oil reserves are likely to last for a further 40 years, meaning the race is on to develop new ways to maintain our current lifestyle.
Prof Oswald said the biggest area of concern was transport, where people had become used to using cars and planes for cheap travel.
"If you wanted to drive or fly to Edinburgh tonight, you could do it. We are the only generation to think that we have a right to do that.
"We take cheap unlimited mobility for granted and that's going to have to change unless there is a big revolution in transport."
Prof Oswald said that, while alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells and bio-fuel were promising, they were far more costly than petrol and diesel.
He added that West Midland manufacturers needed to prepare for depleting oil stocks by investigating alternative materials for their products and cutting down the use of fossil fuels.
"As the cost of oil rises other products are going to become comparatively cheap, so I expect that we will see a move towards the use of natural products, such as wood, and products which require less energy to produce.
"But the future is going to be tough for those who rely on fossil fuels in their businesses. People who sell ideas, rather than products, are certainly going to have an advantage."
But Stephen Evans, Professor of Life Cycle Engineering at the University of Cranfield, said there was still hope for manufacturers willing to cut their energy use. Prof Evans said: "Over the past 25 years we have seen change from globalisation through to quality and lean manufacturing processes.
"The tools the industry has to achieve these changes have been focused on identifying waste and eliminating it. At present time is money and energy is cheap – in future, energy will be money and time relatively cheap. If businesses have to identify waste in energy, I would argue manufacturing has most of the tools to do the job.
Products at risk:
Man-made fibres – nylon, polyester and acrylic
Plastics – plastic bags, casings for electrical products
Farming chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides
Foam products – sofas and mattresses