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On the occasion of COP15 and the renewed debate that has unfortunately spawned from the University of East Anglia email leak, it is important to take a step back and reflect on what is really important. The facts about climate change are not to be downplayed, but given the fact that global warming has become so controversial in spite of its apparent obviousness and seeming incontrovertibility, perhaps it would be more useful to focus on something that we can all more easily agree on:

The reserves of conventional crude oil are dwindling while production is increasing.

This is an equation that leads to an end of easy fossil fuel in 20 years. I say easy fossil fuel because the facts and figures on proved global reserves always include heavy crude and oil sands. Conventional crude oil (easy fossil fuel) is only 30% of the world’s reserves.

The latest IEA World Energy Outlook 2009 estimates that 2030 consumption will be 105 million barrels per day. Today we are at 85 million barrels per day. Taking the average of the three major reporting sources for proved reserves (all types of crude) (they are not far off from each other) we can see that we have honestly 1,255,000 million barrels left in the earth. Assuming that we stayed at today’s rate of consumption this would see us through to 2050. If we agree with the IEA and the constant rate of growth, then we may not make it past 2040.

And remember, this is assuming that we are going to exhaust all of the oil shale and oil sand resources which account for 55% of this reserve. If we don’t use the extra heavy and oil sands reserves (and I hope it is obvious why we shouldn’t) then we can cut our expected fossil fuel lifespan in half. We will not make it past 2030.

In 10-15 years this is going to be a reality that will hit us all like a ton of bricks. And it just makes me wonder why we are wasting our time debating climate change. We need to transition from fossil fuels regardless of what is going on in the upper atmosphere. We need to transition in order to save places like Alberta and Utah from being clear-cut and polluted beyond recognition. We need to transition immediately in our ground transportation and architectural infrastructure because the transition in air transportation is going to have to lag behind technologically.

Future generations are going to look back on us and wonder what could have possibly led us into such a collective delusion at their horrific expense. The facts are facts. the numbers are the numbers. So what are we going to do about it?