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Human Extinction: An Idea Whose Time had to Come. 

Human Extinction: An Idea Whose Time had to Come. 

A few years ago, a political movement that took the name of “extinction rebellion” would have been wholly unthinkable. On the other hand, after more than forty years of warnings on climate change and ecosystem collapse from the world’s best scientists, the message had to start going through, somehow. One consequence is the appearance on the social media of a crowd of deranged, depressed, misanthropic, and generally nasty people who have decided that extinction is what’s going to happen no matter what we do and who seem to enjoy insulting those of us who dare to express the opinion that maybe there are ways to avoid it. Other, fortunately, seem to think that we can still rebel against this manifest destiny and that’s the origin of the movement. 

These openly declared attitudes may be just the tip of the iceberg, others may well have decided that, if overpopulation is the cause of the problem, then there are quick and very dirty ways to solve it. They may be concocting dark and dire things we know nothing about. But, as usual, we see the future darkly, as in a mirror, and the time when we’ll see it face to face has not come, yet. 

Below, a text by “Reverse Engineer” of the Doomstead Diner who examines the question and, at the linked page, you’ll find also a longer video. (U.B.) 

Guest post by R.E. (Reverse Engineer).

Extinction has moved from the dark corners of the Collapse Blogosphere into the consciousness of the mainstream.  Just a few short years ago the discussion of human extinction was relegated to a few fringe websites, but not so anymore.  Now it has become Topic #1 in the discussions on many websites that concern themselves with topics of collapse.  Sometimes this comes to the exclusion of many other collapse related topics in economics, geopolitics, energy and social psychology that are impacting more directly right now.

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

The Great Fossil Cycle and US: Story of a Family

The Great Fossil Cycle and US: Story of a Family

Last week, I published a post on how the economic decline of Italy led me to move to a smaller house, abandoning the mansion that my parents had built during better times. Complementing that post, I thought I could repropose a post I had published in 2017, reproduced here with some minor modifications. You can find more data about the story of the Bardi family on the “Chimeras” blog.

My great-great grandfather, Ferdinando Bardi. The story of the branch of the Bardi family to which I belong is inextricably linked to the great world cycle of the fossil fuels. (this painting was made by Ferdinando’s son, Antonio)

There was a time, long ago, when the Bardis of Florence were rich and powerful, but that branch of the family disappeared with the end of the Renaissance. The most remote ancestors of mine that I can track were living during the early 19th century and they were all poor, probably very poor. But their life was to change with the great fossil revolution that had started in England in the 18th century. The consequences were to spill over to Italy in the centuries that followed.

My great-great grandfather Ferdinando (born in 1822) lived in an age when coal was just starting to become commonplace and people would still use whale oil to light up their homes. He was a soldier in the infantry of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany and then of the King of Italy, when Tuscany merged into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, in 1861. The family lore says that Ferdinando fought with Garibaldi in Southern Italy, but there is no trace of him in the records as a volunteer of Garibaldi’s army. He may have fought there with the regular army, though.

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

Climate Change Mitigation: Is it a Good Idea to Sweep the Carbon Under the Carpet?

Climate Change Mitigation: Is it a Good Idea to Sweep the Carbon Under the Carpet?

Above: our paper recently published in Nature Energy. Our conclusion is that, in terms of energy returns, renewable energy in the form of solar or wind is much better than carbon capture and storage for mitigating of climate change. Sweeping the carbon underground is not a good idea. 

We have a little problem: for more than thirty years, the climate scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been telling us that if we don’t stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — mainly CO2 — we are in dire trouble. And we have done very little, nearly nothing. As predicted, we ARE in dire trouble.

There is some element showing that things may change: the polls indicate that more and more people are starting to understand the mess we are in and the action of the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is making waves in the memesphere. We may be awakening from a 30 years slumber to discover that we have to hurry up and do something. But what?

Not that we lack plans: every IPCC report released includes plans on what we could or should do to avoid the worse. We have to follow a steep trajectory of de-carbonization while, at the same time, maintaining a vital minimum supply of energy to society. But how to do that?

The most common idea floated in these discussions is to use Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). It is straightforward: instead of releasing into the atmosphere the CO2 emitted by a power plant, you pump it underground, sequestering it in a porous reservoir, maybe one that, earlier on, had contained gas or petroleum.

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

Ugo Bardi: “Energy Dominance,” what does it mean? Decoding a Fashionable Slogan

Ugo Bardi: “Energy Dominance,” what does it mean? Decoding a Fashionable Slogan

Preface.  A very good article about energy and war, explains a lot about how the world really works.

***

“Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.” Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior (source)

“All Warfare is Based on Deception” Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Over nearly a half-century, since the time of Richard Nixon, American presidents have proclaimed the need for “energy independence” for the US, without ever succeeding in attaining it. During the past few years, it has become fashionable to say that the US has, in fact, become energy independent, even though it is not true. And, doubling down on this concept, there came the idea of “energy dominance,” introduced by the Trump administration in June 2017.  It is now used at all levels in the press and in the political debate.

No doubt, the US has good reasons to be bullish on oil production. Of the three major world producers, it is the only one growing: it has overtaken Saudi Arabia and it seems to be poised to overtake Russia in a few years. (graphic source).

This rebound in the US production after the decline that started in the early 1970s is nearly miraculous. And the miracle as a name: shale oil. A great success, sure, but, if you think about it, the whole story looks weird: the US is trying to gain this “dominance” by means of resources which, once burned, will be forever gone. It is like people competing at who is burning their own house faster. What sense does it make?

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

Why worry about pollution if life expectancy keeps increasing? Ahem…. are you sure?

Why worry about pollution if life expectancy keeps increasing? Ahem…. are you sure? 

It seems clear that we won’t get to reach Methuselah’s age: in most Western countries, the average life expectancy has started decreasing from 2014. It could be, mainly an effect of pollution. Image source.

If you ever got into a discussion on the evil effects of pollution, you know what happens. You list the problems with heavy metals, from lead to mercury, of pesticides, of fine powders, of plastics, of everything that is — or may be — carcinogenic, including the deadly glyphosate, aka Roundup. Then there comes always someone who says, “but all that cannot be so bad! After all, people keep living longer and longer!”

Alas, very, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Let me show you some data: let’s start from the US (source).

And here are some data about European countries, from the World Bank 

Clearly, the nearly linear trend of growth of the life expectancy at birth stopped around 2014 in most Western countries. To put things in perspective, it is not the same for other countries: both in China and in Russia, life expectancy is lower, but it keeps increasing. (again, data from the World Bank)

Clearly, the nearly linear trend of growth of the life expectancy at birth stopped around 2014 in most Western countries. To put things in perspective, it is not the same for other countries: both in China and in Russia, life expectancy is lower, but it keeps increasing. (again, data from the World Bank)

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

The real Energy Return of Crude Oil: smaller than you would have imagined

The real Energy Return of Crude Oil: smaller than you would have imagined 

A simple but important study by Luciano Celi shows what is the real energy return that oil companies manage to attain. Much smaller than you would have believed, in several cases it is today well below 10. Which means that renewable energies already produce a larger EROI than oil and gas. No more excuses for not switching to renewables as fast as possible!And we have to do it fast because, as Celi shows, we are on the edge of the Net Energy Cliff of fossil fuels. 

Researchers involved in the energy sector know very well what the EROI (acronym of Energy Return on Investment) is and how frequently is cited in scientific publications, in spite of differences of definition among researchers.Well aware of the fact that I arrived last in the middle of a dispute that has engaged researchers for decades, I accepted the challenge and tried to understand, with Claudio Della Volpe, Luca Pardi, and Stefano Siboni, if there was a way to know something that is difficult know: the EROI of oil companies.

The method we have implemented is quite simple, even if with some useful simplification that we have discussed in details in our paper.

The denominator in the EROI value is the Energy Invested, while the numerator is the Energy Return (how much energy is gained with respect to the investment). Knowing the numerator it is quite simple (we are talking of oil companies) because this value corresponds to the production of a day (or of a year). The issue in different cases was knowing the value of energy cost of that production. It is difficult to know how much energy they use to produce what they produce in a year (or in a day), sitting at a desk without wandering the world knocking on the doors of companies. However… we have found an indirect way to have these data.

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

What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

What can we Learn From the Middle Ages About Collapse? The Great Challenge of the Seneca Bottleneck

The idea that a collapse is awaiting our civilization seems to be gaining ground, although it has not reached the mainstream debate. But no civilization before ours escaped collapse, so it makes sense to think that the entity we call “The West” is going to crash down, badly, in the future. Then, just as it happened to the Romans long ago, we are going to enter a new world. What will it be? Will it look like the Middle Ages? Maybe, but what were exactly the Middle Ages? It may well be that it was far from being the age of barbarism that the name of “dark ages” seems to imply. The Middle Ages were more a period of intelligent adaptation to scarce resources. So, can we learn from our Medieval ancestors how to manage the coming decline? 

Aa some moment during the 2nd century AD, the Roman mines of Northern  Spain ceased to produce gold and silver, depleted after some three centuries of exploitation. The Roman Empire lost its main asset: its currency, the money used to pay for the troops, the bureaucracy, the court, the nobles, and everything else. Without money, there was nothing that could keep the Empire together and, following the great financial crash of the 3rd century AD, the Western Roman Empire faded away into a galaxy of statelets and kingdoms. By the 5th century, Europe was officially in the period we call the Middle Ages and that would last for about a millennium.

Today, we tend to regard the Middle Ages as a period of Barbarism and superstition, truly a dark age of witch hunts and religious wars. But are we sure that it was so? Actually, the Middle Ages were a period of intelligent adaptation to the lack of resources, a society that may anticipate our future.

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

Something about the Oil companies’ EROI

Something about the Oil companies’ EROI

Researchers involved in the energy sector know very well what the EROI (acronym of Energy Return on Investment) is and how frequently is cited in scientific publications, in spite of differences of definition among researchers. Well aware of the fact that we arrived last in the middle of a dispute that has engaged researchers for decades, we accepted the challenge and tried to understand, with Claudio Della Volpe, Luca Pardi, and Stefano Siboni, if there was a way to know something that is difficult know: the EROI of oil companies.

The method we have implemented is quite simple, even if with some useful simplification that we have discussed in details in our paper.

The denominator in the EROI value is the Energy Invested, while the numerator is the Energy Return (how much energy is gained with respect to the investment). Knowing the numerator it is quite simple (we are talking of oil companies) because this value corresponds to the production of a day (or of a year). The issue in different cases was knowing the value of energy cost of that production. It is difficult to know how much energy they use to produce what they produce in a year (or in a day), sitting at a desk without wandering the world knocking on the doors of companies. However… we have found an indirect way to have these data.

The oil companies are requested to compile a Sustainability Report (SR) yearly. Even if not mandatory many companies have accepted to prepare them probably under the pressure of the public opinion or/and the business branch named CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), especially after the alarms launched at the last world conferences on climate.In these Reports, it is possible to find the emissions of their up- and downstream activities expressed in CO2 equivalent.

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

Winning the War of Climate Communication. Is Greta Thunberg the Memetic Weapon we Needed?

Winning the War of Climate Communication. Is Greta Thunberg the Memetic Weapon we Needed?

Who speaks on behalf of young people about climate? Greta Thunberg does. She is the embodiment of the concept that what matters in communication is not the message but the messenger. Only a believable messenger can pass a believable message. And she is believable: she has a direct stake on the issue, it is HER future she is defending, just as the future of the people of her age. She is defending her future from old people who think only of their immediate satisfaction. They are the virus destroying the planet, she is the cure. 

Years ago, I think it was in the mid-1980s, I was berated at length and in colorful (to say the least) terms by a young lady in Berkeley for not having buckled her 4 years old daughter, a classmate of my son, while I was transporting her in my car. As partial justification for my unexcusable wickedness in that occasion, I can say that, as far as I can remember, at that time there was no mandatory seat belt law in California (and also that the car I drove at that time, a Dodge Dart, was so old that I think it didn’t have seat belts in the back seats!). But never mind that:  I was wrong and she was right.

The story of that day in Berkeley has come to my mind more than once in the debate on climate change. You see, today we tend to think as obvious that seat belts are saintly things that save lives. But it was not so obvious in the 1980s and in the 1970s: we have forgotten about that, but there was a strong debate on the matter with some people maintaining that there was no proof that seat belts actually saved lives.

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

The Seneca Cliff According to H.P. Lovecraft

The Seneca Cliff According to H.P. Lovecraft

It is strange how sometimes fiction manages to catch human feelings and ideas in ways that are not easy to articulate in terms of facts and models. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) has been one of the world masters of the horror genre, managing to flesh out some of our deep fears.

We can read Lovecraft’s story “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” as an allegory of our times. The prosperous and shiny city of Sarnath had a dark origin, the violence against the previous inhabitants of the region. And the whole drama unfolds with all the characters mentioned in the story aware that they’ll have to face some kind of retribution for what they did and, yet, refusing to admit it. And the retribution came to Sarnath in a form not unlike what the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca had noted when he said that “growth is sluggish, but the way to ruin is rapid,” the Seneca Cliff.

In our case, we know what we did to the Earth’s ecosystem. We know about the greenhouse gases, we know about the slaughter of other species, we know about the pillaging of the Earth’s resources. We know all that but, like the inhabitants of Sarnath, we refuse to admit it. What kind of retribution can we expect in the future?

It is curious how the knowledge of the horror we did to our planet takes the shape of the tales of the horror genre. It is something modern, the ancient just didn’t have it. Think of Dante Alighieri: his Comedy is all about ghosts, but there is no horror anywhere in modern terms. Think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is a ghost, a skeleton, a dark castle, but no horror elements. Why?

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

What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

What’s Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

Donald Trump seems to be doing what Roman Emperors like Diocletian, Constantine, and Theodosius did long ago: splitting the empire into two halves. Trump may not have consciously decided to do that, but an Empire can only be as large as it can afford to be, and the American Empire can’t afford anymore to dominate the whole world. 

Flavius Theodosius Augustus “The Great” (347- 395 CE) was the last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire. His success was probably due in large part to his habit of plundering Pagan temples for the gold he needed to pay his troops. But Pagan temples were a limited resource and Theodosius himself seemed to understand that when, shortly before his death, he partitioned the Empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Afterward, the empire would never be whole again.

The Roman Empire had been a strong centralized power during its heydays, but it never was very interested in creating an ethnical and linguistic unity among its subjects. The Roman authorities understood very well that it was less expensive to tolerate diversity than to force uniformity — a typical policy of most empires. So, the Empire remained split into two main linguistic halves: the Latin-speaking Pars Occidentis and the Greek-speaking Pars Orientis. Theoretically, Latin was the official language of the Empire but, in practice, it remained a bilingual entity and, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Roman elite would rather speak Greek — considered more refined and classy.

The split of the two sides of the Empire was not just linguistic, it was economic as well. The Pars Occidentis remained based on mineral wealth which, in turn, fueled the Empire’s military power.

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

The Biodiesel Disaster: Why bad Ideas are Always so Successful?

The Biodiesel Disaster: Why bad Ideas are Always so Successful?

This is a modified version of an article that was published on “Il Fatto Quotidiano” in Italian on Jan 31, 2019

Behind the simian mask, there is yours truly, Ugo Bardi, sitting at his desk.  The sign is in Italian, but you can understand that it is against biodiesel and in favor of Orangutans. 
Sometimes it happens that you are asked a question that forces you to reflect. So, a few days ago, I was at a public meeting on energy and climate and I was telling about the work we do at the university and with the Club of Rome. In the debate, someone asked me: “But, professor, from all these models of the world you make, after all, what did you learne?”.

Some questions are not easy when the topic is complex and you have to summarize the answer in a few sentences. And you have to come up with something right away! But I think I could put together a good answer when I said, “The main thing we’ve learned is that the models work well. Even the famous model of ‘The Limits to Growth’ that the Club of Rome had proposed in 1972 still describes reasonably correctly the state of the world today. But this has a consequence: the system is predictable because it tends to move in a certain direction. And this means that changing things is very difficult “.

The problem of the difficulty of changing things, even when it would be necessary, came back to me by later on, when reading a recent report on biodiesel. This stuff is really terrible: it causes deforestation and destruction of the fertile soil. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it is much worse than traditional diesel fuel.

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

The Making of Greta Thunberg: Memetic Weapons for the Meme War

The Making of Greta Thunberg: Memetic Weapons for the Meme War

If I say that this young lady, Greta Thunberg, is a meme I mean no disrespect for her — we all are memes! Actually, I think she is a great girl. But the story of how this particular meme was pushed up into becoming an important feature of the planetary memesphere is teaching us so much of how our world works. And how fundamental is memetics as a science. Truly, read on. You’ll learn of things you wouldn’t have suspected existed!! 

Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all, let me introduce to you the study on memetics performed by myself and these two wonderful coworkers of mine, Sara Falsini and Ilaria Perissi. Everyone loves their own brainchild and I do love mine (ours): so, allow me to say that this work may be the first (at least one of the first, I believe) that uses system dynamics as a tool to study memetics. Maybe it will open up a whole new field of studies, but let me tell you this story.

So, what is a meme? A meme is a meme is a meme (as Gertrud Stein never said): a wonderful concept! Think of the blind crocodiles in sewers of New York, that was a pre-internet meme. Or, for a more recent one, “Obama was not born in the US.” A meme is not just an idea, but an idea that reproduces itself — analogous to the gene in biology. It was invented by Richard Dawkins in 1976 and he probably didn’t suspect what can of memes he was opening.

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

The Decline of Transition Towns: Why do Good Ideas Always Flare up and Then Disappear?

The Decline of Transition Towns: Why do Good Ideas Always Flare up and Then Disappear?

If you don’t know what the Transition Town Movement is, you can take a look at their page, here. It is an interesting idea to increase the resilience of the civilization network by making each node less dependent on other nodes. 

The figure above shows how the concept of “Transition Towns” flared up in the late 2000s and then slowly declined in terms of Internet searches, as shown by Google Trends. That not everything is well with the Transition Town Movement seem to be confirmed by this page. What happened? Was it a bad idea? It didn’t work in practice? Or people just got bored of it?

Sam Allen finds the reason for the decline Transition Towns in the fact that ” we hitched our wagon to the peak oil narrative big time.” In reality, complex systems always behave in a complex manner and the attempt to find a simple explanation for why things go in a certain way is normally bound to fail. Here, saying that “peak oil didn’t come, therefore people stopped being interested in transition towns” is really forcing the system into an oversimplified narrative.

In the studies we are performing on memetics (1), we are discovering that memes are virtual creatures, only marginally correlated to the real world. So, if the Transition Town meme declined, it doesn’t mean that the idea is not valid or not useful, it has to do, rather, with the limited lifetime of memes in our society, something probably correlated with the way the human mind works.

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

What are the chances of a war that would exterminate most of humankind? It could be more likely than you may think

What are the chances of a war that would exterminate most of humankind? It could be more likely than you may think

Recently, together with my coworkers I have been engaged in a statistical analysis of war over the past 600 years. The results were sobering: war, it seems, is a statistical phenomenon similar to earthquakes and forest fires. It strikes according to well defined statistical patterns and there is very little that can be done about it. Aaron Clauset is another scientist who has been working on the same subject and, in a sobering analysis of his, he calculates the probablities of future wars. According to his calculations, a war as large as the Second World War has more than 40% chances to occur within 100 years from now. Then, a war causing more than billion battle deaths, that is exterminating most of humankind, has a probability of 5% to occur in less than 4 centuries from now. That doesn’t mean we can relax for 4 centuries, not at all. It means we can expect it at any moment in the future.

From Aaron Clauset, 2018. (highlighting mine)

…. a stationary model may be used to estimate the likelihood of a very large war occurring over 100 years, one like the Second World War, which produced x* = 16,634,907 battle deaths. Using the ensemble of semiparametric models for the sizes of wars and assuming a new war onset every 1.91 years on average (43), the probability of observing at least one war with x* or more deaths is p* = 0.43 ± 0.01 (Monte Carlo), and the expected number of these events over the next 100 years is 0.62 ± 0.01. Hence, under stationarity, the likelihood of a very large war over the next 100 years is not particularly small.

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

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