We have used up nearly half of the oil nature made for us; we will start to run out relatively soon. We could then choose to ignore the consequences for our planet's climate and switch to heavy oil, shale oil, methane hydrate and coal to provide power for our world. But, given the prodigious rate at which we burn up the stuff, we will in any case start to run out of all fossil fuels by the end of this century.

Civilization as we know it will come to an end some time in this century.

Scientists are supposed to make predictions. Experiment or observation tests the prediction, and the fate of the scientist's theory — acceptance or rejection — rides on the outcome. That's how science works. I have a prediction to make. Here it is: civilization as we know it will come to an end some time in this century, when the fuel runs out.

This is different from normal scientific predictions in a crucial way. Usually, the scientist hopes that the prediction will prove to be correct, and merely making the prediction does not change the phenomenon in question. In this case, I do hope the prediction will be wrong, and that merely making the prediction will help to make it become wrong: perhaps you, reader, can join in tackling the big job before us, to kick the fossil-fuel habit before we run out.

Early lifeforms released oxygen into the atmosphere and buried carbon in the ground, preparing the planet for creatures like us. Now the planet is in our hands and, unlike early life, we are aware of our responsibilities and the possible consequences of our actions. What happens next is up to us.