I have a friend who is a geologist and is involved in alternative-fuels research. In recent conversations with him, here's what I've discovered: being involved (and invested) in a specific field of research is apparently a great way to lose your focus on the big picture.
It may be possible to sink tubes into fractured shale to siphon out natural gas. It may be possible to extract every last drop of petroleum from tar sands. It may be possible to lop the top off a mountain and destroy everything in a 20-mile radius in order to create a mile-deep hole of a coal mine.
And I'm sure that, human resistance to change being what it is, over the course of the next two centuries, the hugely profitable industries involved in these efforts will devote all of their considerable ingenuity, not to mention their R&D budgets, to doing just that.
But you see, if the fuel you are after is a fossil fuel, you are not actually in the alternative-fuels business. You are in the fossil fuel business, which means your business has an end date. It also means that your rationalizations, about how your method of getting at the fuel is less destructive than that other guy's method, are just a bunch of BS.
There is no way of getting fossil fuels out of the Earth that is not destructive.
We used to think the End of Oil might happen this century. Then the industries came up with all these new methods of extracting previously-inaccessible fossil fuels. Great, right? We don't have to push for 200% more efficient automobiles or energy generators.
If you step back and look at the big picture, though, we do still have to push. Because there IS an End to Oil. It's not going to be tomorrow, but it will be here eventually ... and in reality, we cannot actually dig every last resource out of the planet while still living on it.
To my way of thinking, there is no excuse for not vigorously pursuing, as a society, the development of more-highly-efficient engines, of photovoltaic retrofitting for urban structures, of more-effective public transit systems.
There is no excuse for not requiring some photovoltaic capability on every new single-family home, or for not requiring greywater-reclamation likewise.
Because the need will arise.
There is further no excuse for not doing this while still employing the fossil fuels we already have access to. It's the best possible time to do it: we still have a margin for error. We can afford to get a few things wrong, or to put less-efficient methods into operation and work out the bugs in practice.
What would be criminally stupid would be to continue to devote the best minds and the greatest bulk of our energy-research budget to fossil fuels.
The day really will come when the cost of gasoline for vehicles, or of coal for power generators, is finally high enough that the majority of people say "this will not work any more." And then what?
That is the point upon which to focus.