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A Time Frame for Systemic Collapse

October 10, 2011 • Daily Email Recap

Back in November, I distributed Peter Goodchild’s “The Coming Chaos.”  The summary that follows is worth reading.

A Time Frame for Systemic Collapse

Peter Goodchild

A time frame for systemic collapse can be extrapolated easily from the on-line document The Coming Chaos, an abridgement of a larger text (see link below). The most significant page is at the start of the text, the chart of estimated past and future oil production. Most of the other time frames will parallel that curve. Then one can look at the chapter on electricity, which as Richard Duncan says will be the first really distinct, “on-off” type of indicator. The next parallel can be found in the chapter on economics, which mentions two “phases,” divided by the point at which money as such is no longer an important means of exchange; past examples occurred with the crash of the USSR, and in Weimar Germany.

In the chapter on famine, the fall of population appears as a parallel to the fall in fossil fuels. Some critics have said that the two do not necessarily go together — or, rather, “fall” together. But they do, for a very simple mathematical reason. Fossil fuels are the source of more than 90 percent of the energy — in the strict “physics” sense of the word — in modern industrial society. If we take away 90 percent of the energy, we necessarily take away 90 percent of the population. (If we take away 100 percent of the energy, we necessarily take away 100 percent of the population.) No, we cannot replace that 90 percent with some “alternative” form of energy, as is explained in chapter one, because there isn’t enough of any “alternative” to make much difference.

The same first chapter also illustrates why a voluntary reduction in population cannot work. (For that matter, neither would a mandatory reduction in population, and for the same reason.) Again, it’s simple arithmetic. Oil production will fall, over the next few decades, by about 3 percent annually, and if instead we say 2 percent or 4 percent the final result isn’t much different. But even if every woman on earth stopped having children from this day forward, there would still not be a 3 or 2 or 4 percent annual reduction in population.

It can be seen, therefore, that the curve of estimated past and future global oil production is not merely one of a myriad of problems with which mankind will have to deal. It is the time scale with which most other problems can be measured, and it is the cause of most other problems.

But if anyone really needs a magic number, a good choice would be 2030. That’s the date at which, with a 3 percent annual decline in oil production, the year’s production will be half of that in the peak year. And half of peak oil means half of everything else in human society. A very important “half” will be population, because the other half will have died of famine. And that’s the one item that very few people can mentally assimilate.


Goodchild, Peter. The Coming Chaos (abridged).

Peter Goodchild is the author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians, published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is prjgoodchild{at}

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