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The Hydrogen-Based Economy: Is it Enough to Paint Something Blue to Make it Green?

The Hydrogen-Based Economy: Is it Enough to Paint Something Blue to Make it Green?

A hopeful image for a hopeful article by Bertrand Piccard. “Blue Hydrogen” seems to be popular, nowadays. But is it enough to paint something blue to make it green? It turns out that “green” hydrogen, assuming it exists, is too expensive for what we need to do now in order to move away from fossil fuels and stabilize Earth’s climate.

Hydrogen has come a long way since the time when it was discovered by Henry Cavendish as a component of the water molecule in the 1700s and then given its name of “creator of water” by Henry Lavoisier in 1783. It was later discovered that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and the main component of stars.

Using hydrogen as a fuel is an old idea. It was, again, Cavendish who discovered that it can burn. The idea that hydrogen could be cycled as an energy storage medium is probably as old as the “fuel cell,” developed by William Grove in the early 1800s. In the 1950s and 1960s, the dream of “energy too cheap to meter” associated with nuclear technologies made it possible to think of hydrogen as an energy vector able to carry energy to the points of use, even vehicles, from a limited number of large nuclear plants. The first explicit mention of the concept of “hydrogen economy” was made by John Bockris in 1970. The nuclear promise never materialized, but the concept of the hydrogen economy was later linked to renewable energy.

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The Great Reset: The Western Path to Dekulakization

The Great Reset: The Western Path to Dekulakization

 

One of the Soviet propaganda posters promoting the collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s. On the lower right, you can see a small man opposing the line of the marching peasants, He is recognizable as a “Kulak,” one of the local independent farmers who were dispossessed and partly exterminated to leave space for collectivized farms, considered more efficient. There exist several similarities between the fall of the Kulaki and the current “Great Reset” that sees the destruction of a number of economic activities, such as retail commerce, seen as inefficient in comparison to modern electronic commerce.

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union carried out the “dekulakization (раскулачивание) of Ukraine. It was the term given to the removal of the relatively wealthy, independent farmers (“kulaki“), to be replaced by collective farms. Their properties were confiscated, many of them were relocated to remote regions, and some were exterminated. We don’t know the exact numbers, but surely we are in the range of a few million people. The transition to collectivized farms may have been one of the causes of the great Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s, known as the “Holodomor,”

The reasons for the dekulakization are several. In part, they were related to the belief that large-scale, centrally planned enterprises were the most efficient way to organize production. Then, the Kulaki were seen as a potential enemy for the Soviet Government, while the region they occupied was a strategic asset in terms of food production in an age when famines were an effective war weapon.

But these considerations are not enough to explain why the Kulaki were so ruthlessly destroyed in just a few years. It was, rather, just a simple power game: the Soviet Government aimed at controlling all the means of production of the state. It couldn’t tolerate that an important section of the economy, food production in Ukraine, was independently managed. And so it intervened with all the might it could muster.

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The Deification of Emperor Trump: Following Caligula’s Path

The Deification of Emperor Trump: Following Caligula’s Path

Jake Angeli, high priest of the growing cult of Emperor Donald Trump, dressed as the horned God Cernunnos. The deification of Emperor Trump in Washington, yesterday, didn’t go so well, but we are moving along a path that the Romans already followed during the decline of their empire, including the deification of emperors, starting with Caligula. So, comparing Roman history to our current conditions may tell us something about the future.

I already speculated on what kind of Roman Emperor Donald Trump could have been and I concluded that he might have been the equivalent of Hadrian. The comparison turned out to be not very appropriate. Clearly, Trump was no Hadrian (a successful emperor, by all means). But, after four years, and after the recent events in Washington, I think Trump may be seen as a reasonably good equivalent of Caligula, or Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who also reigned for 4 years, from 37 to 41 AD.

Caligula was the prototypical mad emperor — you probably heard that he nominated his horse consul. And he was not just mad, he was said to be a cruel, homicidal psychopath, and a sexual pervert to boot. In addition, he tried to present himself as a living god and pretended to be worshipped. He even claimed to have waged a war against the Sea God Poseidon, and having won it!

But, really, we know little about Caligula’s reign, and most of it from people who had plenty of reasons to slander his memory, including our old friend Lucius Annaeus Seneca (he of the “Seneca Effect“) who was a contemporary of Caligula and who seriously risked being killed by him. The Romans knew and practiced the same rules of propaganda we use today. And one typical way to slander an emperor was to accuse him to be a sexual pervert.

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The Hydrogen Hoax: Confessions of a Former Hydrogenist

The Hydrogen Hoax: Confessions of a Former Hydrogenist

The “hydrogen economy” is like a zombie: no matter how many times it is slain, it keeps coming at you. Like a Hollywood zombie movie, hydrogen seems to exert a tremendous fascination because it is being sold to people as a way to keep doing everything we have been doing without any need for sacrifices or for changing our ways. Unfortunately, reality is not a movie, and the reverse is also true. Hydrogen is a pie in the sky that delays the real innovation that would make it possible to phase out fossil fuels from the world’s energy mix.  (image source)

This is a re-worked and updated version of a post that I published in 2007, in Italian, during one more of the periodic returns of the “hydrogen economy,” a fashionable idea that leads nowhere. For more technical information on the hydrogen scam, see the exhaustive treatment by Antonio Turiel in three posts on his blog “Crash Oil”, in Spanish, “The Hydrogen Fever” Onetwo, and Three, all written by “Beamspot.”

Confessions of a Former Hydrogenist

I think it was in 2004 when an Italian company based in Tuscany developed a hydrogen car and organized a presentation for the president of the Tuscan regional government. I was invited to attend the demonstration as the local fuel cell expert.

So, I showed up in the courtyard of the Tuscan government building where a truck had unloaded the car. It turned out to be a modified Fiat Multipla that you may know as having been awarded the 2014 prize for the ugliest car ever made. Of course, the ugliness of the car was not a problem, but the whole idea was. It was not a fuel cell car, but simply an ordinary car fitted with two compressed hydrogen cylinders under the body. The hydrogen went directly to the carburetor to operate the internal combustion engine.  

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The Fall of the Citadels of Science: the Pandemic and the End of Universities

The Fall of the Citadels of Science: the Pandemic and the End of Universities

Far from being ivory towers, nowadays universities look more and more like battered citadels besieged by armies of Orcs. The Covid-19 pandemic may have given the final blow to a structure that was falling anyway. (image credit “crossbow and catapults“)

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the end of the University as I knew it. It was when I saw a line of students standing in the main hall of our department. All of them were masked, all of them had to stand on one of the marks drawn on the floor — at exactly 1 meter of distance from each other. A teaching assistant was watching them carefully, least they would stray away from their assigned position. The only thing that was missing was iron chains and balls and the students singing the cadence gang march.That was not the only humiliation imposed on our students because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it is all done with the best of intentions, but it is a heavy burden. Students can’t get close to each other, they have to reserve in advance a seat if they want to attend a class, when they enter a building they have to show their ID and to stand in front of a camera that records their face and takes their body temperature. The diabolical machine can also check if they are wearing their masks right and will refuse to open the door if they don’t. Then, of course, the university personnel is supposed to check that the rules are respected and to report those students who don’t respect them. Symmetrically, I suppose the students are expected to report a teacher who doesn’t comply with the rules.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging: How to Save Your Posts from Catastrophe.

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging: How to Save Your Posts from Catastrophe.

 Sumerian clay tablet with the text of the poem Inanna and Ebih by the priestess Enheduanna, Writing in cuneiform characters on clay tablets is a little laborious, but it ensures that your text is not vulnerable to accidental erasure: these tablets have survived for more than 5000 years. It is hard to think that the posts of our blogs will survive for so long. But, at least, we should try to protect them from accidental loss or direct attacks. Image from Wikipedia.

I don’t know if it ever happened to you, but a few days ago I lost two post drafts in a rowthe same day. Then I discovered something that I should have known: that Google’s Blogger gives you zero chances to recover your text when you erase it by mistake. No way, impossible, I could have thrown those drafts into a black hole.

No tragedy, but a few hours of work wasted. And that set my mind in motion: why is it that Google, the world’s most powerful Internet company, can’t provide even a minimal file recovery facility in their blogging platform? Call me paranoid, but I think they had something in mind when they structured Blogger the way it is. That is, prone to data loss. Just think of a few characteristics of the shiny new version of Blogger: there is no way to make an automatic backup. There is no trash can from which you can recover erased data. There is no way to disable the automatic saving that operates every two seconds or so, and that virtually guarantees that any mistake you make can’t be reversed. I can’t believe that these are bugs: they have to be features.

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The Drones are Coming! The Drones are Coming! The Twilight of the Global Empire?

The Drones are Coming! The Drones are Coming! The Twilight of the Global Empire?

This clip looks like a videogame, but it is not (caution, disturbing images). You are seeing Azeri drones destroying Armenian military units during the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Is this the harbinger of the collapse of the Global Empire?

Many things have been happening in 2020 that will reverberate for many years in the future. While the West is busy with its “great reset,” a small war was fought in a region of the world that you probably had never heard about before: the Nagorno-Karabakh. There, the army of Azerbaijan soundly defeated the Armenian army.

What made this campaign peculiar is that it was the first time in history that a military confrontation was decided by drones. After that the Azeris (the people of Azerbaijan) had gained control of the sky, their drones could pick the Armenian military units one by one and destroy them at ease. There are video clips all over the Web showing vehicles and other installations being destroyed, and people being shredded to pieces and tossed around like ragdolls.

No surprise: the writing was on the rotor blades. Already in 2012, I had started thinking about the consequences of the development of military robots in a chapter that I wrote for Jorgen Randers’ “2052” book. I returned to the subject in 2019, noting how cheap drones would change the rules of war because they could be managed by small organizations, possibly by private military contractors.

We don’t know exactly who managed the drones used by the Azerbaijan forces, but we know that they were made in Turkey, not a major player in the world’s power game. Azerbaijan, then, could afford to deploy a number of drones sufficient to overwhelm the Armenian forces even though it is a small country with a GDP of just about 44 billion dollars per year.

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War and Censorship — Difficult Times in Italy

War and Censorship — Difficult Times in Italy

A post by Miguel Martinez, originally published in Italian on his blog on  Italy was the first European country to be struck by the COVID-19 pandemic and the first to implement a national lockdown. At that time, Italians would display the flag on their balconies and sing aloud in a show of national unity. That time is past and gone. 

The media gives the alarm: news of danger and a call to arms, together. When the message is inseparable from mobilization, it becomes propaganda. Since “propaganda” today has a bad name, let us immediately specify: propaganda can say absolutely true things and defend right causes, but it remains always propaganda.

The state of mobilization puts an end to disputes: in war, everyone must be in solidarity around a human figure, the leader, able to embody all passions.

Young people run to enlist volunteers. Fear, excitement, optimism. It’s Gonna Be Okay!

We grit our teeth, citizens cleanse themselves gel and unmask the traitors, actually mask them – but we will win soon!

People who, until the night before were ready to file a complaint because they were not served the cocktail they had requested, or because the plane left five minutes late, meekly lock themselves in their homes, place the tricolor flag out of the window, and prepares to see the enemy fall to the ground.

Above: “I stay home — checkmate to the coronavirus”
The first deaths are celebrated: both as innocent victims of the wickedness of the enemy, and as brave fighters.
“A nurse dies of coronavirus refuses to see her husband for the last time and saves his life”
But there are also the first victories, a united people, let’s open the windows, it’s spring!

Our leader is leading us to triumph and we will dance in Sardinia all summer!

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The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

The pandemic as the end of consumerism. Everything that’s happening is happening because it had to happen

 These Medieval ladies look like fashion models. With their splendid dresses in silk brocade, they are displaying their wealth in an age, the 14th century, in which Europe was enjoying a period of economic growth and prosperity. They couldn’t have imagined that, one century later, Europe would plunge into the terrible age of witch hunts that would put women back to their place of child-making tools. It is the way history works, it never plans, it always reacts, sometimes ruthlessly. And all that happens had a reason to happen (above, miniature by Giovanni da Como, ca.1380)

Can you tell me of at least one case in history where a society perceived a serious threat looming in the future and took action on it on the basis of data and rational arguments? With the best of goodwill, I can’t. Societies react to threats using a primeval stimulus-reaction that may be aggressive or defensive, but that’s almost never rational.

Curiously, our society, that we call sometimes “The West,” was the first in history to have a chance to do something rational to avoid the destiny awaiting it much before the threat was clearly visible. It was in 1972 when the newly developed digital computers were coupled with a powerful analytical tool, “system dynamics.” The result was the study called “The Limits to Growth” that foresaw how the gradual depletion of natural resources coupled with increasing pollution (that today we call “climate change”) would cause the whole Western economic system to collapse at some moment during the first half of the 21st century. The study also suggested rational solutions to avoid collapse: reduce consumption, stop population growth, manage pollution, and the like.

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Time for a new Witch Hunt? The pandemic could change more things than you would have expected.

Time for a new Witch Hunt? The pandemic could change more things than you would have expected.


A detail of Benvenuto Cellini’s “Perseus and Medusa,” a statuary group created in 1554 and presently in Florence, Italy. It is considered a work of art, but it is also remarkable for the detailed depiction of an extremely violent act: the beheading of Medusa, shown as a young woman in the group. It is rarely noted that this piece was created in the midst of the rise of a wave of violence against women in Europe, exterminated as witches. Clearly, Cellini’s scene is influenced by this trend, even though witches were normally burned at the stake rather than beheaded. (but that had a tradition, too!) 

Which historical period saw the largest number of witch hunts? If you answered “the Middle Ages,” you were wrong. Surprised? Don’t we all know that the Middle Ages, were the “Dark Ages,” a time of barbarism and superstition, surely it was at that time that witches were hunted and burned. Who didn’t see the “Burn the Witch” clip by the Monthy Python? It takes place in a typical medievalish setting.But, no. Burning witches is NOT a medieval thing. Look at the data. Trials and executions for witchcraft picked up well after that the Middle Ages were officially over, at some moment around the end of the 15th century.

At the highest moment of this homicidal frenzy, about 2500 people per year were burned in Europe for a total estimated as about 50,000-100,000. Not a very large number in comparison to the population of the time, but a significant number, nevertheless.

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The Mind of the Evil Ruler: What Goes on inside the Heads of the People who Govern the World?

The Mind of the Evil Ruler: What Goes on inside the Heads of the People who Govern the World?

The damage that bad rulers can do to people and things is gigantic, especially considering that they command military apparatuses of immense power. But what goes on in their minds, exactly? Are some of them truly evil? Or just criminally incompetent? We’ll probably never know for sure, but we have some hints for at least some of them. Here, I am exploring the case of Benito Mussolini, using the diary written by his son in law as a source of information.
There is a sentence attributed to Terry Pratchett that goes as, “the IQ of a mob is the IQ of its most stupid member divided by the number of mobsters.” Actually, I think Robert Heinlein said something similar first (although I can’t find that quote anymore). In any case, the idea that collective intelligence goes down with the number of the members of a group seems to have some logic in it, although it cannot be said to be scientifically proven.

If that’s true, then we have a huge problem. How to manage states formed of tens or hundreds of millions, even billions, of people? A possible solution is to reduce the denominator of the formula to a single, absolute ruler who takes all the decisions. Indeed, it seems that human crowds, dumb as they may be, tend to think that all problems can be solved by someone who “will get things done.”

Unfortunately, the idea of giving all the power to a single big man doesn’t seem to work so well. 

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Taboos and illusions in the environmental question: The viewpoint of a physician

Taboos and illusions in the environmental question: The viewpoint of a physician

Physicians have a view of the world that makes them especially able to understand the concept I called the “Seneca Cliff.” Here, Lukas Fierz, Swiss physician, provides some basic principles that apply to collapses of complex systems, it doesn’t matter if we deal with human bodies or entire civilizations. The basic behavior is the same: collapses start slow and often unnoticed, and then strike hard by a combination of mutually reinforcing factors. The final result may be that someone dies, or that an entire civilization goes down to the dustbin of history, or even that an entire ecosystem is destroyed. It happened, and it will happen again.

*****

I am not a climatologist, but as a physician, you only master certain areas and otherwise you listen to various other specialists. We are also used to deal with uncertainties: e.g. If you are considering an operation, you estimate the chance of success based on the patient’s age, nutritional and physical condition, morale, heart health and previous illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes etc. Every risk factor reduces the chances of success. Inability to calculate anything precisely does not release you from making an estimate.

Similarly, the uncertainties in the climate discussion do not release one from making an assessment. There we are unfortunately hindered by some taboos and illusions, but let’s try:

I grew up in Basel where in the museum hangs a picture of the dead Christ, painted by Holbein 500 years ago.

This made a deep impression on me and I had it above my desk for years: A mercilessly realistic view of our God, his passion and the end of us all. We have to measure our actions against this end.

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Can we Predict Collapses Before they Happen? What we Learned from the Pandemic

Can we Predict Collapses Before they Happen? What we Learned from the Pandemic

  

My 2019 book “Before the Collapse.” In it, I examined several scenarios of the future of humankind. Was I able to predict the current pandemic? Of course not in the details, but I think that I did note an important facet of the story: epidemics are never very deadly when they come alone. They become true killers only when they are associated famines.  In the case of the current coronavirus pandemic, the human population is not so badly debilitated by famines that we should have expected disasters comparable to those caused by ancient epidemics. So, we could have been better prepared if we had paid more attention to history. But the main thing we learn from history is that people never learn from history. And so it goes. This post includes a review of the book written by Daniel Ruiz.

After nearly one year from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, we can say that, at the very least, we learned a lot from it. One lesson was that we should be much more careful about “model hubris”, to think that because a model is complex and detailed, it can predict the future. This problem is well described in a recent paper by Saltelli et al. in a recent paper in “Nature.”

But perhaps the most important lesson we learned was how easy the future can surprise us and how our perception of it can be remote from reality. We tend to judge on the basis of our past experience, but our mental models are often poorly calibrated. When the COVID-19 started diffusing in the West, many people panicked, some seemed to think that it really was the end of the world. Maybe they had in mind as a model the great plague of the Middle Ages, an image that has been with us for centuries.

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Do we Still have a Chance? The Challenge of Emergency Measures for the Survival of Humankind

Do we Still have a Chance? The Challenge of Emergency Measures for the Survival of Humankind

 

The epidemic of COVID-19 seems to have snuffed out all other subjects of debate. But there remain problems that we could define as a little more worrisome than the COVID pandemic, for instance, the possibility of the extinction of humankind and, perhaps, of the Earth’s biosphere. Here Dr. Ye Tao is giving an effective presentation that highlights that we are in a dire emergency. Perhaps, the pandemic can at least teach us what NOT to do in an emergency.

 Caution: highly catastrophistic post!

The Problem

The clip above shows a recent talk by Dr. Ye Tao, interesting for several reasons. One is how it goes to the core of the climate story with the typical approach of the physicists: based on data and on the laws of physics. This approach bypasses much of the ongoing debate, in large part hijacked by modelers and their opponents.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on models has generated the diffuse misunderstanding that climate change is mainly a question of models and that the future climate can be predicted by models. That resulted in an attempt by skeptics to show that models generated poor predictions in the past. From that, they maintain that if models can’t predict things right, then climate change doesn’t exist or is not a problem. One reason, although not the only one, why the debate remains stuck and leads to no decisions.

Instead, if you go to the basic physics of the issue, you’ll discover that models are certainly wrong as predictive tools simply because they can’t include the non-linear forces that push the system to change its state. But physics tells you that the problem is way worse than models can calculate. That’s what Dr. Tao does.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Politics in the Age of the Coronavirus. What can we learn from the Italian Elections? 

Politics in the Age of the Coronavirus. What can we learn from the Italian Elections?

Sep 20, 2020. The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, votes at the Italian regional elections. In these elections, the first in the age of the COVID, the victory went to the Left largely by means of over a better strategy in managing people’s perceptions of the epidemic. Here, I report some personal considerations on how this result may tell us something about the coming US presidential election.

The regional elections of this weekend in Italy were held after a debate still dominated by the COVID epidemics. Although the virus itself was not mentioned so much in the speeches and in the political programs, the rest of the debate was shallow and lacking ideas on both sides. The Left was unable to propose anything better than “restarting growth,” and the Right little more than vague talks of “Italexit.”

So, the COVID epidemic hovered like a ghost over everything that was said and done. The Left coalition, the parties supporting the current government, had placed their bets on appearing tough on the epidemic. The government-controlled media tried to reinforce this perception by doing their best to terrorize citizens with daily catastrophistic reports. This strategy had a risk: if the elderly were to stay at home for fear of being infected at the polling station, then a disaster was looming for those parties that relied on their vote: in particular the Democratic Party (the former communists).

The Right, instead, never found a coherent strategy on the epidemic. Sometimes, it tried to convince its electorate that the epidemic was brought to Italy by black immigrants from Africa, but that worked only on people already convinced that all evils in Italy arrive from Africa.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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