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The Death of Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the “Oil Sheik” who Understood Everything

The Death of Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the “Oil Sheik” who Understood Everything


Ahmed Zaki Yamani, oil minister of Saudi Arabia until 1986, died in London last week. In memory of the “oil sheik,” I reproduce here a comment that appeared on the ASPO-Italia blog in 2006. The interview of Yamani by Oriana Fallaci in 1976 is a good example of how the oil problem is misunderstood in the West and of the many lies told about it. Yamani, despite all the accusations and insults he received, was always a moderate who sought compromise. He managed to prevent his country, Saudi Arabia, from the disasters that befell all oil-producing countries in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Yamani’s legacy has been somewhat lost over the years, but it is only now that Saudi Arabia is seeing bombs falling on its territory — a destiny that so far the country had avoided. Now, things are going to become very difficult as Saudi Arabia faces the unavoidable decline of its once abundant oil resources.

Yamani is remembered, among other things, for having said that “The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” And, with that, he demonstrated that he had perfectly understood the concept of “EROEI” and the consequences of gradual depletion. 

http://aspoitalia.blogspot.com/2006/11/fallaci-intervista-yamani.html 

(Fallaci’s interview is available in full at this link.)

Fallaci interviews Yamani: thirty years later
Di Ugo Bardi – September 2006 (slightly edited for publication on “The Seneca Effect“)

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

 

Seneca and the Virus: Why does the Pandemic Grow and Decline?

Seneca and the Virus: Why does the Pandemic Grow and Decline?

 

Seneca, the Roman philosopher, knew the term “virus,” that for him had the meaning of our term “poison.” But of course, he had no idea that a virus, intended in the modern sense, was a microscopic creature reproducing inside host cell. He also lived in a time, the 1st century AD, when major epidemics were virtually unknown. It was only more than one century after his death that a major pandemic, the Antonine Plague, would hit the Roman Empire.

But Seneca was a fine observer of nature and when he said that “ruin is rapid” he surely had in mind, among many other things, how fast a healthy person could be hit by a disease and die. Of course, Seneca had no mathematical tools that would allow him to propose a quantitative epidemiological theory, but his observation, that I have been calling the “Seneca Effect,” remains valid. Not only people can be quickly killed by diseases, but even epidemics often follow the Seneca Curve, growing, peaking, and declining.

Of course, the concepts of growth and collapse depend on the point of view. In many cases one man’s fortune is someone else’s ruin. What we see as a good thing, the end of an epidemic, is a collapse seen from the side of the virus (or bacteria, or whatever). But, then, why do epidemics flare up and then subside? It is a fascinating story that has to do with how complex systems behave. To tell it, we have to start from the beginning.

One thing that you may have noted about the current Covid-19 pandemic is the remarkable ignorance not just of the general public about epidemiology, but also of many of the highly touted experts. Just note how many people said that the epidemic grows “exponentially.”…

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

The End of the Megamachine: A Seneca Cliff, by any Other Name, Would Still be so Steep.

The End of the Megamachine: A Seneca Cliff, by any Other Name, Would Still be so Steep.

Our civilization seems to be acutely aware of an impending decline that nowadays is rapidly taking the shape of a collapse. It is still officially denied, but the idea is there and it appears in those corners of the memesphere where it makes an long term imprint even though it doesn’t acquire the flashy and vacuous impression of the mainstream media.

An recent entry in this section of the memesphere is “The End of the Megamachine.” A book written originally in German by Fabian Scheidler, now translated into English. Not a small feat: Scheidler attempts to retrace the whole history of our civilization under the umbrella concept of the “megamachine.” A giant creature that’s in several ways equivalent to what another denizen of the collapse sphere, Nate Hagens, calls the “Superorganism.” Perhaps these are all new generation of a species which had as ancestor the “Leviathan” imagined by Thomas Hobbes and explicitly mentioned several times in Scheidler’s book.

We may call these creatures “technological holobionts.” They are complex systems formed of colonies of subsystems, holobionts in their turn, too. They are evolutionary creatures that grow by optimizing their capability of consuming food and transforming it into waste. It takes time for these entities to stabilize and, at the beginning of their evolutionary history, they may oscillate wildly, grow rapidly, and collapse rapidly. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca said long ago, “the road to ruin is rapid” and it is a good description of the fate of young holobionts.

The book can be seen as a description of the life cycle of one of these giant creatures, leviathan, superorganism, or megamachine — as you like to call it…

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

Why the Hummingbird is the Most Dangerous Animal in the World

Why the Hummingbird is the Most Dangerous Animal in the World

This is a revised translation of a post that I published in Italian a couple of years ago. The concept that the Hummingbird is NOT a good example of how to deal with the problems we have is also explained in some detail in my book “Before the Collapse” (2019),

If you can understand French, do watch this clip that tells not only the story of the virtuous hummingbird, but how it ends. The conclusion is “if you think with a hummingbird brain, you end up screwed”. (h/t Igor Giussani). (In French, hummingbird is “colibri”)

Have you ever heard the story of the hummingbird and the fire? It goes like this: there is a gigantic fire raging in the forest. All the animals run for their lives, except for a hummingbird that heads towards the flames with some water in its beak. The lion sees the hummingbird and asks, “Little bird, what do you think you are doing with that drop of water?” And the hummingbird replies, “I am doing my part”.

If you studied philosophy in high school, you may think that the hummingbird is a follower of Immanuel Kant and of his categorical imperative principle. Or, maybe, the hummingbird is a stoic philosopher who thinks that his own personal virtue is more important than anything else.

Apart from philosophy, the moral of the story is often interpreted in an ecological key. That is, everyone should engage individually in good practices for the sake of the environment. Things like turning off the light before leaving the house, turning off the tap while brushing one’s teeth, take short showers to save water, ride a bicycle instead of a car, separate waste with attention, and the like…

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

 

The Art of War According to the Science of Complex Systems: The Seneca Cliff as a strategic weapon

The Art of War According to the Science of Complex Systems: The Seneca Cliff as a strategic weapon 

Music has always been part of the war effort: a way to build up network connections in such a way to make the fighting system more resilient and more effective. Here, an especially effective version: “The Sacred War” sung by Elena Vaenga. I wouldn’t say that the Soviets defeated the Germans in ww2 because they had better music, but it surely it must have helped.

On military matters described in terms of system science, see also the post on drone warfare published last week on “Cassandra’s Legacy” and also our study on the statistical patterns of conflicts in history


The science of complex systems turns out to be especially interesting and fascinating when applied to one of the most complex activities in which human beings engage: warfare. Below, you’ll find a revised and condensed excerpt from my book “The Seneca Effect” (2017). A more detailed and in-depth discussion of how the concept of Seneca Collapse may affect war is part of my new book “Before Collapse: A Guide to the Other Side of Growth” that should appear in print and on the web before the end of the year.

From “The Seneca Effect” (Springer 2017)
by Ugo Bardi
(revised and condensed)

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. (Sun Tzu, the Art of War)The idea that collapse can be a tool to be used in warfare may go back to the Chinese historian and military theorist Sun Tzu in his “The Art of War” (5th century BCE), where he emphasizes the idea of winning battles by exploiting the enemy’s weakness rather than by brute force.

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

The Stuff of Our Lives: The Seneca Collapse of Relocating

The Stuff of Our Lives: The Seneca Collapse of Relocating

The experience of relocating is curiously similar to an archaeological excavation of the ruins of a disappeared empire. Above, you can see two jars filled with old coins recovered from the nook and crannies of my house after emptying it of everything. Mostly these are old Italian “lira” coins, others are foreign coins and, in the smaller jar, you can see an Italian “gettone” used for making calls at public phones up to a few decades ago. This stuff has no monetary value, it is just a marker of passing time. 

You know that the “Seneca Effect” has to do with overshoot and collapse. From the time when the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca noted that “growth is slow, but ruin is rapid,” I keep finding new examples of application of the idea. One that I recently experienced had to do with relocating: moving away from the home where my family had been living since 1965. From then on, this 340 square meters (ca. 3600 ft2) house had been gradually filling up with all sorts of stuff. Emptying it in a couple of months of work was quite an experience. “Sobering” is the correct word, I’d say.

I don’t know if you are all good followers of Feng Shui, striving for good vibes and not too much stuff in your home. I didn’t consider myself as an adept of that philosophy, but I didn’t see myself as a serial accumulator of useless stuff, either. Well, I had to reconsider my position. I was a serial accumulator. Really, the amount of stuff that came out of my place was so large to be bewildering. And so much of it we had to throw away — bewildering, too. We are still a little bewildered, but the most intense part of the saga seems to be over, so maybe I can report about my experience in this post.

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

The Seneca Effect in Six Easy Steps

The Seneca Effect in Six Easy Steps

Image by Roman Pfeffer

The Fall of Empires Explained in 10 Minutes

The Fall of Empires Explained in 10 Minutes

This is the presentation I gave to the meeting for the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome on Oct 18th in Rome. The gist of the idea is that the fall of ancient civilizations, such as the Roman Empire, can be described with the same models developed in the 1970 to describe the future of our civilization. States, empires, and entire civilizations tend to fall under the combined effect of resource depletion and growing pollution. In the end, they are destroyed by what I call the Seneca Effect.

You can find the paper I mention in the talk at this link.

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

Five Things You Should Know About Collapse

The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca was perhaps the first in history to identify and discuss collapse and to note that “the way to ruin is rapid.” From Seneca’s idea, Ugo Bardi coined the term “Seneca Effect” to describe all cases where things go bad fast and used the modern science of complex systems to understand why and how collapses occur. Above: the Egyptian pyramid of Meidum, perhaps the first large edifice in history to experience collapse. 

1. Collapse is rapid. Already some 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca noted that when things start going bad, they go bad fast. It takes a lot of time to put together a building, a company, a government, a whole society, a piece of machinery. And it takes very little time for the whole structure to unravel at the seam. Think of the collapse of a house of cards, or that of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks, or even of apparently slow collapses such as that of the Roman Empire. Collapses are likely to take you by surprise.

2. Collapse is not a bug, it is a feature of the universe. Collapses occur all the time, in all fields, everywhere. Over your lifetime, you are likely to experience at least a few relatively large collapses: natural phenomena such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods – major financial collapses – such as the one that took place in 2008 – and you may also see wars and social violence. And you may well see small-scale personal disasters, such as losing your job or divorcing. Nobody at school taught you how to deal with collapses, but you’d better learn at least something of the “science of co,plex systems.”

3. No collapse is ever completely unexpected. The science of complex systems tells us that collapses can never be exactly predicted, but that’s not a justification for being caught by surprise.

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

The Seneca Ruin of the Dinosaurs – a Report from Berlin

The Seneca Ruin of the Dinosaurs – a Report from Berlin

The death of the dinosaurs as shown in the 1940 movie “Fantasia” by Walt Disney. An incredibly powerful and moving scene – a true Seneca ruin for the poor creatures walking in a hot and dry landscape. This scene is also reasonably realistic: at that time it was already clear that heat had caused the mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs (although a branch of the group survived in the form of birds). The same threat that we face nowadays: global warming generated by an enhanced greehouse effect.

I was in Berlin on March 26th to present my book, “The Seneca Effect” to the Urania Scientific Society. It was not a presentation for scientists but for the general public and I decided to have some fun by presenting an assorted series of catastrophes. That included the demise of the dinosaurs, showing a scene from Disney’s “Fantasia” movie, and the nearly obligatory scene of the collapse of the towers of the world trade center.

Of course, my talk was not just a list of collapses, one after the other. I tried to highlight the physical reasons behind the catastrophes, how the collapse of complex systems tends to follow some laws, although it cannot be described in terms of simple mathematical equations. The basic theme of the book is that there is a common core in all these cases and that the collapse of social systems, such as the Roman Empire, can be described in terms similar to those of the blowing up of a balloon.

Not everybody agrees with me on this point, some people say that humans are different, they are masters of their destiny, and that human ingenuity can overcome the laws of physics – at least in some cases.

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

The View from Les Houches: The Seneca Collapse

The View from Les Houches: The Seneca Collapse

I gave a presentation focused on the Seneca Effect at the School of Physics in Les Houches this March. Here I show various concepts associated with overshoot and collapse with the help of “Amelie the Amoeba” (This picture was not taken in Les Houches, but in an earlier presentation in Florence).

Here are some commented slides from my presentation. First of all, the title:

And here is an image I often use in order to illustrate the plight of humankind, apparently engaged in the task of covering the whole planet Earth with a uniform layer of cement, transforming it into Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire of Asimov’s series “Foundation”

I moved on to illustrate the “new paradigm” of resource exploitation: the idea that mineral resources never “run out”, but simply become more and more expensive, until they become too expensive.

It is not a new idea, it goes back to Stanley Jevons in mid 19th century, but for some reason it is incredibly difficult to make it understandable to decision makers:

Then, I spoke about the Seneca effect, there is a lot to say about that, but let me just show to you one of the slides I showed during the talk: the Seneca Cliff does exist!

Fisheries are an especially good example of overexploitation (or perhaps a bad example, there is nothing good about destroying all the fish in the sea. And this leads to a rather sad observation:

I also showed how the Seneca Effect can be used for good purposes, that is to get rid of things we need to get rid of. This is an image from a paper that we (Sgouris Sgouridis, Denes Csala, and myself) published in 2016.

You see the Seneca cliff for the fossils, the violet part of the curve. It is what we want to happen and it would be possible to make it happen if we were willing to invest more, much more, in renewable energy. But, apparently, there is no such idea on the table, so the future doesn’t look so good.

But never mind. We keep going and, eventually, we’ll arrive somewhere. In the meantime:

The Seneca Effect: a Book Review by Jantje Hannover

The Seneca Effect: a Book Review by Jantje Hannover

This is a review of the German edition of “The Seneca Effect” written by Jantie Hannover for the site of the radio station “Deutschelandfunk.” Very well done by someone who really read the book. Here I report a translation made mainly using “Google Translate,” and also some intervention on my part. Not a very good English, but at least understandable (U.B.)

Collapsing Systems

What empires and avalanches have in common

The Italian chemistry professor Ugo Bardi has written a book about the Seneca effect. He refers to the abrupt collapse of systems: observed in avalanches and balloons, but also in financial market bubbles and powerful empires.
By Jantje Hannover

When a balloon bursts or an avalanche takes place, it is a network structure that suddenly reorganizes. (image stock & people / Michael Nolan and Oekom Verlag)

Net, nodes, and collapses

“It would be a consolation to our weak souls and our works, if all things would slowly pass away as they arise, but as it happens, growth is slow, while the road to ruin is fast.”

This is what the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said about 2,000 years ago. And as if Seneca had wanted to prove this sentence, in the course of his life he too had become more and more wealthy and influential, even rising up to become advisor to Emperor Nero. Until he fell out of favor and was eventually suspected of being part of a plot against the Emperor. Then, Nero ordered him to commit suicide.

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

The Seneca Paradox: If mineral depletion is a problem, how is it that we don’t see its effects?

The Seneca Paradox: If mineral depletion is a problem, how is it that we don’t see its effects?

The recent workshop held in Oxford, “Strategic Minerals in a Low Carbon Future” saw a very interesting debate on resource availability in which two opposite views emerged: one says that the gradual depletion of natural resources is a serious problem, already affecting the economy, the other that depletion is irrelevant or, at best, a marginal problem that can be solved by technological progress. The debate is ongoing, but the apparent lack of relevance of depletion in the current economic situation may be just an illusion generated by the “Seneca Effect.”  It is an insidious kind of effect that hides future risks behind an apparently safe and robust growth. 

The story of the Club of Rome starts with the issue of natural resources, mineral ones in particular. In the 1960s, it had become clear to the Club’s founder, Aurelio Peccei, that the world’s resources were not infinite. The question was how that was to affect humankind. It was the origin of the first and the best-known report to the Club of Rome, “The Limits to Growth,” published in 1972.

The 1972 report already provided answers to the question of the relevance of depletion. It turned out that resource scarcity would limit the growth of the world’s economy and, eventually, lead to a decline. This conclusion was often misunderstood as meaning that humankind would soon “run out” of oil, gas, or some other resource; but that was never stated in the report and it never was the point. The problem is not, and never was, running out of anything. It is that the gradual depletion of mineral ores makes extraction more expensive and that’s a burden on society that we cannot ignore.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

You cannot have a war economy if there is no war. My 4th presentation of “The Seneca Effect” in Paris 

You cannot have a war economy if there is no war. My 4th presentation of “The Seneca Effect” in Paris 

Above, at the Momentum Institute in Paris on Friday 13th, 2017. Ugo Bardi is on the left of the photo, Yves Cochet (president of the institute) is at the center, with the white shirt. 

The presentation at the Institut Momentum on Oct 13th was the fourth of a series of presentation related to my book “The Seneca Effect” that I gave in Paris last week. This one was probably the least formal one of the series. I gave some explanation of how system dynamics models can produce the asymmetric “Seneca Curve,” but I concentrated on a section of the book, the one dealing with the extermination of whales during the 19th century. It is a theme related to the concept of Anthropocene: the human relation with the ecosystem.

The point that I try to stress in these presentations is that most people, including decision-makers, just don’t have the concept of “overshoot”, that is the tendency of consuming more resources than the system can produce, forcing it to crash down after some time. It is something that I described also in a previous talk.

The problem, here, is that not having the concept of overshoot, people happy go along the Seneca trajectory, thinking that the more resources they can extract from the system, the better things are for them. They don’t realize that the more they go up, the faster they’ll have to crash down. I surmised that we have a cultural problem: it is a relatively new concept that will have to penetrate culture. That will take time and it is not obvious that it will ever happen.

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

A new blog dedicated to the Seneca Effect

A new blog dedicated to the Seneca Effect

 
The Seneca Trap is a repository of the posts dedicated to the “Seneca Effect” that appeared, and will appear, on “Cassandra’s Legacy

The idea of collapse is bad enough for most people when it deals with the running out of mineral resources along the symmetrical “bell shaped” Hubbert curve. But there is an extra dimension to collapse: it is the “Seneca Effect” (or “Seneca Trap”, or also “Seneca Cliff”) that notes how, most often, when things start going bad, they go bad fast – even very fast.

So,  a few years ago I started mulling over this idea, also as the result of a question that Dmitry Orlov had posed to me. I also remembered something that the ancient Roman Philosopher Seneca had written and that a friend of mine (Luca Mercalli) had pointed out to me. The result was the “Seneca Collapse model,” one of a series that I call “mind sized” simple models.

The basic idea of the Seneca Model, as I implemented it, is that a complex system, such as a whole civilization, does not collapse just because it runs out of resources, but also because of side effects related to the consumption of these resources, effects that we would call today “pollution”. Trapped in between depletion and pollution, the system collapses even faster. This is why I call the effect also the “Seneca Trap”.

After I had developed that first model, I discovered that the phenomenon may be more complex and that there are many real-world systems that can be considered as affected by the Seneca Trap. It can be applied, in particular, to fisheries. On the whole, it is a fascinating subject that I am still exploring.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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