If you've ever played Civilization or similar society-simulation games (or if you've actually studied human development in a non-gamified form), you've seen how technological advancement requires achieving basic discoveries that serve as necessary building blocks for all future developments. When I read The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm, it became clear how precarious the journey to civilization is. If you want to make it out very far of the stone age, you're going to have to learn the extraction of refinement of myriad resources. If you have any chance of reaching an industrial revolution, you're going to need fuel. Lots of fuel.
Charcoal, now the stuff of sweaty barbecues, was once the key to our advancement as a species. It stores concentrated energy, but it paled in comparison with the ready supply of fossil fuels that were waiting for us, once we figured out how to extract and burn them efficiently.
Unfortunately, all the accessible supplies of fossil fuels have long since been extracted. We used ever more advanced means to reach what's left, which is handy if you have the fossil fuels and machines needed to get more.
What this means is that if we fuck up and break civilization, there may be no getting it back. We simply won't have access to needed fuel supplies to jump-start ourselves back into a world that has mechanized travel, telecommunications, antibiotics, or metals more complex than iron. Basically, if you have a job that ends in "-ist" you might find yourself in a world with little regard for your skill set.*
Had we blown ourselves up or ruined our environment earlier after the Industrial Revolution, we might have had a shot at a reboot. But with each passing year, the chances increase that even a slight interruption in the juggernaut of our development might be an insurmountable break in the chain of survival.
This article [Out of the Ashes] explores some big ideas with wide-ranging implications, not only for our survival as a species but for the potential for advanced civilizations to develop under different conditions, elsewhere in the universe:
Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?
* I have not tested this statement for all values of words that end in "-ist", but it sounded good.