The resource overshoot. We are familiar with these words. We use them to define a point in a year when we consume more than the environment regenerates.
The Earth had its overshoot moment a couple of months ago. August the 8th was this year's Earth overshoot day. We are not very good as a species. We have an Earth hour to raise the awareness of the problems we're facing as a civilization, but this remains a superficial action if noting is learnt from it. Furthermore, it can raise the problem on a different front. For example, some people will light candles instead and contribute to the carbon footprint they leave and the sole action of turning the lights off has no goal of lowering the energy demand.
The biocapacity of the planet is, however, finite. We are bound by the laws of physics and the resources aren't regenerated indefinitely. Most of them have a peak we can reach easily.
The peak term comes from the Hubbert peak theory. In 1956, M. King Hubbert figured out that the oil extraction in the US follows a bell shaped curve. The extraction of oil gradually starts increasing and peaks at a certain point in time. After the peak, the extraction gradually declines until the pumps exhaust the well and the production stops. As one pump follows this curve, so does the entire oil field, as well as the whole country, meaning that the economy of the whole nation reflects it.
Extensive coal mining, which preceded the oil, also followed the same process, but the oil is easier to extract, store and use.
The prediction Hubbert had was that the US would reach peak oil some time between the 1966 and the 1971. The theory held and the peak happened; although, the downward slope was mitigated by other things.
Following the ephemeralization process, the technology improved and the oil was supposed to be replaced by the nuclear energy, but seeing the WMDs that the humanity created back in WW2, in 1945, the people protested against it and the exploitation continued. To further this, the accidents of the plants like the one in Chernobyl, in 1986, didn't help.
The US had to expand its oil dependency by importing it from different places in the world, finding new wells, using methods like hydraulic fracturing, but the exhaustion is bound to eventually happen. From a single pump to a field to a country, the theory would encompass the whole world, where all the oil would be extracted and in the end spent. This would lead to an energy crisis, and, not to mention, the environmental disaster since the carbon trapped inside the earth would be released by the combustion of the fossil fuel.
We live in the oil age. Considering the commodity and accessibility of oil, the alternatives that were supposed to come after it, were, unfortunately, not invested in, not to say that the current system is in the way, pushing the economy to keep the existing oil lobby and vice-versa. R. Buckminster Fuller once said:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
Also consider what David Goodstein, a physics professor from Caltech said:
... you would have to build 10,000 of the largest power plants that are feasible by engineering standards in order to replace the 10 terawatts of fossil fuel we're burning today ... that's a staggering amount and if you did that, the known reserves of uranium would last for 10 to 20 years at that burn rate. So, it's at best a bridging technology ... You can use the rest of the uranium to breed plutonium 239 then we'd have at least 100 times as much fuel to use. But that means you're making plutonium, which is an extremely dangerous thing to do in the dangerous world that we live in.
The environmental cost of extracting and using the oil is too great for the human species. The alternative must be the renewables since they are able to power the planet without the danger of becoming exhausted for the foreseeable time. Wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy come naturally to mind. Of course, we'd have to consider how and where we gain the energy.
A resource like oil is not that problematic since it's not essential for the survival of the species, but when we talk about things like water, we're moving into the domain of fear.
What I want to say is that the peak is not exclusive to oil. It is inherently connected to any kind of finite resource on this planet and can eventually lead to a catastrophe. Furthermore, the problems I'm mentioning here are current, not distant, and we're not doing much to prevent them. If the planet, the civilization, cannot cope with the stressors like an energy crisis, famine, water scarcity, health related problems, poverty, overpopulation, biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, unemployment, debt, those things will inevitably lead to its downfall.
The environmental disaster is already underway with the great Holocene extinction. We are losing two thirds of the biodiversity as I type this. If the civilization as we know it doesn't end in a war, we might very well be facing a disaster on other fronts. Time for talking is apparently done. The time for action is now.