There has been much talk and hype about Peak Oil - the fact that the global production of petroleum is about to reach its maximum level, after which it will start to decline until it eventually becomes a scarce resource and we all have to scavenge in landfills for decades-old plastic to recycle.
It may not be as soon as some think. The Saudis are estimating about 4.5 trillion barrels left. Here in Alberta, we're sitting on an estimated 1 trillion barrels locked in the Athabasca tarsands.
So, Peak Oil may be years or decades away. Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily a good thing. As we're all happily buying Hummers and Escalades to drive through Raunchy Ronald's Drive Thru™, we're continuously pumping carbon that had been naturally sequestered deep underground, into the atmosphere. The atmosphere can't hold all of that carbon without leading to the global warming effects we're observing now. The real, and more immediate, danger isn't running out of oil. The danger is in not running out soon enough.
The atmosphere will hit maximum carbon load, and then we'll have to be spending insane amounts of energy working to pump all of that carbon back into stable reservoirs. Sequestering underwater has me just a little bit nervous.
Here's the parodox. We may manage to delay Peak Oil, at the cost of accelerating global warming. The irony is, if we'd have hit Peak Oil already, our impact on the environment would already be starting to decelerate (not decrease, just slow down for awhile before beginning to reverse).
Unfortunately, I'm not sure we're (as a species) smart enough to Do The Right Thing any sooner than we absolutely have to, if then. If there's oil left to burn (even at $300 per barrel) you'd better believe someone will be ready to burn it. Years from now, students will shake their heads in disbelief when they read about what we did with the limited petroleum resource.