In the short term, we can expect pain on households and businesses as their usual ways of doing things become more expensive. In the slightly longer term, people adjust by finding different ways of doing things: driving less, taking more public transport. And in the longer term, people make bigger adjustments like buying more efficient cars or moving closer to work.
We're definitely seeing the short term pain and the immediate political pressure to do something to bring petrol prices down. And we're also beginning to see people adjust - an interesting example is truckies choosing to take the ferry across the Spencer Gulf in South Australia rather than driving around it:
South Australian ferry operator Sea SA says figures for the June quarter show a doubling in truck traffic compared with the same part of last year.
Justine Day from the company says the main attraction is saving money. "We're being told by people in the industry that this is because the price of fuel which is, as we all know, at record highs at the moment - it's actually making the ferry a more attractive option than driving all the way around the Spencer Gulf," she said.
This also shows an advantage of using prices to drive changes in behaviour to reduce emissions, compared to government-dictated solutions like banning incandescent light globes or subsidising solar panels on roofs: you get a whole lot of unexpected and locally appropriate methods of reducing emissions coming out of the woodwork.
It also shows though that the effects can be somewhat unpredictable - would you necessarily think that a South Australian ferry company would benefit from emissions trading?
Adjusting to higher energy prices will no doubt be painful and difficult, but probably not as painful and difficult as people think: because innovative businesses will come up with ways to ease the transition - earning profits for them and reducing the costs for others.