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Before The Collapse: The New Book by Ugo Bardi

Before The Collapse: The New Book by Ugo Bardi

My new book on collapse is out, published by Springer. You can find it at the Springer site at this link (priced in Euro) and at this link (priced in dollars). You can find it also on most Web sites that sell books. 

Collapse is a popular subject nowadays, so I thought I could add some more confusion to the already ongoing mess by publishing this new book “Before the Collapse: A Guide to the Other Side of Growth.

If you follow the “Cassandra’s Legacy” blog, you know that collapse is a subject that I touch frequently and that two years ago I published a book titled “The Seneca Effect,” that made an explicit reference to the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, whose work I took as the first mention in history of collapse as a normal feature of the universe. “The Seneca Effect” was not a difficult book to read but it was a technical book, dedicated to people interested in subjects such as system dynamics. It was also priced accordingly.

So, the second book was thought at the beginning as a simplified version of the first to be placed in the category of “trade books” destined to the general public (also at a lower price). But, eventually, as the text grew, it became a different book. It maintained some elements of the first, but it included new examples, new ideas, new subjects, and a new slant. It became a practical manual on how to deal with collapse, although it does not neglect some scientific elements of the story (and for this I have to thank my unicellular assistant, Amelia the Amoeba. You see her in the picture on the right, as she appears in the book. She is a nice girl except for her habit of eating human brains, but – hey! – nobody’s perfect!)

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

“The Limits to Growth” continues to make waves

“The Limits to Growth” continues to make waves

The Club of Rome is holding its annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. In the image, you see the co-president, Sandrine Dixon-Decleve, speaking

Now heading toward its 50th anniversary, “The Limits to Growth,” the 1972 study sponsored by the Club of Rome, continues to generate interest. Past is the time of the “Limits-Bashing” fashion, when no one would dream to cite the study except to say that it was wrong. But there are still plenty of people who blindly repeat the legend that the study had predicted shortages that never occurred. As Daniel Dennett said, we are apes infested with memes and the Limits to Growth is an especially virulent one.  

Here, Marc Cirigliano writes a balanced review of the story, citing my book on the subject and giving some credit to one of the main critics of the study, Julian Simon, who in my opinion would deserve some more bashing but I admit that he may have been, at least, well-intentioned. 

The Best People: Ignoring the American Need for Environmental Deliverance for Over 50 Years
By Marc A. Cirigliano

Popular journalism seems to have finally caught up with what the scientists have been telling us for well over five decades about the environment. You really can’t read anything in mainstream news or commentary without coming across articles about such ecological matters as overpopulation, pollution, resource use and climate change. The main topics related to these stresses include human excesses, noticeable changes that affect the day-to-day well-functioning of a society somewhere on the planet or the long-term viability of human life as we now know it.

It has not been an easy matter for science to get to the point where environmental problems are part of the grist of everyday reporting and opinion pieces. The opposition has been fierce, well funded and plays upon people’s primal fears.

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

Bimillenary of the death of Germanicus: The Defeat of the Roman Deep State

Bimillenary of the death of Germanicus: The Defeat of the Roman Deep State

2,000 years ago, on Oct 10, 19 CE, Germanicus Julius Caesar died in Antioch, Asia Minor, perhaps poisoned by his uncle, Tiberius, then the ruling emperor. If we see Hillary Clinton in the role of Germanicus and Donald Trump in the role of Tiberius, you have an equivalent ongoing conflict. 
Most likely, the concept of “Deep State” existed in Roman times, just as in ours.

Germanicus had not gained his “agnomen” (victory name) because he was a friend of the Germans, but because he had managed to kill many of them in a series of military campaigns from 14 to 16 CE. Tacitus tells us many details of how the Romans engaged in what we would call today a Strafexpedition (“Punitive expedition”) to avenge the defeat they had suffered against the Germans in Teutoburg ten years before. 

The Romans attacked Germany with eight legions and plenty of auxiliary troops in what was probably the largest military expedition in history, up to that time. In military terms, it was a success: the Germans were defeated and forced to retreat, but the cost of the campaign was simply staggering. Reading Tacitus we can get a feeling of the enormous effort in which the Romans had to engage in order to keep their legions supplied of food, equipment (and money for the troops). Eight legions were about a third of the whole military strength of the Empire: imagine fielding them in a region having no roads and no supporting infrastructure! 

By 16 CE, it must have been clear that the effort was bankrupting the Roman state. That led to an undeclared conflict between the ruling emperor of the time, Tiberius, and his nephew, Germanicus. It was good that Germanicus could defeat the Germans (or, at least, claim victory over them).

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

The Public Interest in Climate Change Reaches and All-Time High. It is the Effect of Greta Thunberg

The Public Interest in Climate Change Reaches and All-Time High. It is the Effect of Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg is having a phenomenal success as a climate messenger. Good targeting, flawless performance, the right person at the right moment. 

A little more than one year ago, I wrote a post titled “Why, in a Few Years, Nobody Will be Talking About Climate Change Anymore.” It turned out that I was completely wrong: Greta Thunberg changed everything. My mistake was the typical one we all make when we try to predict the future. As I tend to say, “the surest way to make wrong predictions is to extrapolate past trends.” And I fell into the trap myself!

Look at what happened: The interest of the public in climate change had been fading for years and then, suddenly, it started rising. Now it is the highest level ever reached in the Google Trend record.

Isn’t that fantastic? The Greta Thunberg meme, alone, changed the worldwide trend. There is no other explanation for the restarting interest in climate.

So, what’s happening? Let’s see if we can learn something from my wrong prediction. First of all, I based my prediction on the data from Google Trends that showed a constant and robust decline of the public’s interest in climate change. It had been ongoing for more than a decade. I noted also how the Trump government was practicing the propaganda technique known as “deception by omission.” It seemed to be successful in generating a self-reinforcing feedback that led the public to forget about climate change, distracted by other issues.

Then, bang! Complex systems always take you by surprise and Greta Thunberg surely surprised everybody. What made her so successful in a task where the best scientists in the world had failed?

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

The Empty Sea: What Future for the Blue Economy? A New Book by Ugo Bardi and Ilaria Perissi

The Empty Sea: What Future for the Blue Economy? A New Book by Ugo Bardi and Ilaria Perissi

Proposed cover by Viola, Ilaria’s daughter, 4 years old. 
For this Monday post, I can only put together a very short text. We (myself and Ilaria) have been very busy with the last retouched of the manuscript for our new book that we hope to be able to ship to the publisher (“Editori Riuniti”) maybe tomorrow. It should be available for purchase before Christmas.

We spent a lot of time on this book, and I can tell you that we like it a lot. We hope that the readers will like it, too. I am sorry that this first version is only in Italian, but we are planning a version in English to appear as soon as possible. In the meantime, let me pass to you a text that should appear on the back cover, translated into English. 

What you will learn from this book

  • How humans have been gradually discovering the sea and its resources from the time of our remote ancestors
  • What is the “fisherman’s curse,” why fishermen have always been poor, and they still are!
  • Why humans tend to destroy the resources that make them live: how overexploitation has destroyed many fish stocks and is still destroying them
  • How pollution is affecting the sea: from the great plastic gyre to the rising sea levels
  • Why aquaculture may not be the magic solution to feed the world and what we can expect from the future of fisheries.
  • Can we really extract minerals and energy from the sea? It may be much more difficult than the way it is sometimes described. 
  • What are the limits to resources of the sea and what can we realistic expect for the future?

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

The Return of the Condottieri? How Military Drones are Changing the World

The Return of the Condottieri? How Military Drones are Changing the World

A US  carrier strike group. It costs about 30 billion dollars to build and it may cost around 2-3 billion dollars per year to operate. These values may be optimistic and there are 10 US strike groups in operation today. And, by now, all this hardware may be worth little more than its weight as scrap metal. 

Sometimes, the sect I belong to, that of the catastrophists, tends to dismiss technological progress as a minor factor in the trajectory of the world system, mainly determined by climate change and resource depletion. It is a reasonable position: no matter how much money is thrown at welfare queens in white coat in the hope that they’ll save the world, they don’t seem to be able to do much more than producing overhyped press releases about some wonderful new technology that, one day, maybe, possibly, will solve some kind of problem. But only if they can get more money for further research.

So, technological progress is often little more than a trick to pay the salary of scientists. But it is also true that, sometimes, it does change the world. It is just that it doesn’t work the way people expect it to. Technological progress is not a supermarket where you can find everything you want: you pay for it and you bring it home. It is more like fishing in the sea: most of the time you find little, but sometimes you stumble into the big marlin and suddenly you are not an unlucky old man anymore.

Technology changes the world in ways that are usually rapid and destructive, but never completely unexpected. Think of what happened to Blockbuster when they were facing the competition of Netflix.

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

New Paradigm for the Earth’s Ecosystem: Anastassia Makarieva Speaks about the Biotic Pump in Florence

A New Paradigm for the Earth’s Ecosystem: Anastassia Makarieva Speaks about the Biotic Pump in Florence

Everything began with the idea of Charles Darwin of “evolution by natural selection.” It was a dangerous idea according to Daniel Dennett, but there was nothing dangerous in it unless you misunderstood it. And we know how it was misunderstood by the various suprematists, racists, white-supremacists, white-man-burdenists, and the like. But Darwin’s idea was simple: the biosphere is not static but adapts to changes in the ecosystem. That’s all. There is no species in the biosphere that is superior to other species, there is no collective movement towards some kind of “progress” – nothing of the kind. Everything changes to keep the biosphere alive.

Among other things, Darwin’s idea (dangerous or not) was the first attempt to understand the functioning of complex systems – among which one of the most complex is the planetary ecosystem. Curiously, the human brain, itself a complex system, often finds it difficult to understand complex systems, there must be some profound reason for this, but let’s skip the subject. Rather, the concepts proposed by Darwin have also evolved – or adapted – in time. We are beginning to understand that it is not enough to say that the biosphere adapts to changes, is too simple. This is not how complex systems work. They work through the mechanisms we call feedback where each element of the system influences others.

The step forward came from James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis with their concept of Gaia, a name that describes the fact that the biosphere adapts to changes in the ecosystem and at the same time generates changes in the ecosystem. The adaptation is mutual and two-way. Feedback, in essence.

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

Another Lone Genius Saves the World with his Invention: How Naive can People be?

Another Lone Genius Saves the World with his Invention: How Naive can People be? 

Another lone scientist ready to save the world
When I stumbled into this article, I thought it was a joke. You know, the kind that goes, “Scientists find a solution to stop forest fires in the Amazon: all that’s needed is to cut the trees and turn it into a giant parking lot!” 
But no, it was supposed to be serious. The author of the post informs us in all seriousness that “A self-taught French scientist bankrolled by a French actor has come up with a brilliant solution to the problem of plastic wasteHis machine — dubbed “Chrysalis” — converts hard-to-recycle plastic trash into 65% diesel, 18% gasoline, 10% gas and 7% carbon.” 

In case you are perplexed, let me explain to you what this guy is proposing to do: 1) you extract oil and gas from the ground. 2) send it to a refinery and turn into plastics 3) manufacture plastic items and sell them, 4) throw away the plastic objects. 5) collect and separate the plastic waste 6) send the stuff to the machine developed by the self-taught French scientist, above. 7) Turn the stuff into liquid/solid/gaseous fuels. 8) separate the fuels. 9) Sell the fuels. 10) Burn them in inefficient thermal engines. And that’s called a “brilliant solution to the problem of plastic waste.” 
Now, what is the efficiency of this 10-step process? We have no data about the efficiency of the Chrysalis process, nor about how the inventor deals with the pollution it must necessarily produce. But, just looking at the number of steps involved, would you think that the whole chain could have an EROEI larger than one, the minimum needed for an energy-producing process to be viable? More likely, it would be way lower.

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

Why I went underground and how I am enjoying my subterranean life

Why I went underground and how I am enjoying my subterranean life

Here is one of the windows of my new home. No, not the big one. Look at where my wife, Grazia, is pointing. Yes, that one!

This summer in Florence we already had two vicious heat waves. As I am writing, we are in the middle of the third one, even more vicious. It has been, actually, a continuous period of very high temperatures punctuated by a few storms that brought the usual floods and disasters.

Global warming is no joke. If you don’t plan for these heat waves you seriously risk your life, especially if you are not so young and you are not in perfect health. And people do die: we don’t have statistical data for this year, yet, but the reports from countries like Italy, Europe, India, and Japan tell of tens, maybe hundreds, of victims and thousands hospitalized.

As usual, people here and everywhere in the world suffer from the syndrome that Daniel Pauly calls “shifting baselines.” They seem to think that it is all normal because that’s what they have been seeing during the past decade or so. And they don’t seem to realize that they are living in houses that were designed and built in a world where heat waves were occasional and lasted just a few days, not the rule for more than one month per year.

Most homes in Florence have no air conditioning or have the kind of makeshift units that make a lot of noise but don’t do much to lower temperatures. Some people insist on saying that air-conditioning is “not ecological” because it consumes energy. In other cases, the city regulations forbid people to install the external unit of a truly efficient air conditioning system. And, worst of all, very few people realize how bad it is going to be in a few years from now.

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

Gaia Exists! Here is the Proof

Gaia Exists! Here is the Proof

Gaia is neither benevolent nor merciful. She is harsh and ruthless. 

Environmentalists are sometimes defined as “Gaia worshippers,” a term supposed to be an insult. That’s a little strange because most people on this planet openly worship non-existing entities and that doesn’t normally make them targets for insults. Maybe it is because there is an important difference, here: Gaia exists. Oh yes, she does exist!

Who or what is Gaia, exactly? The name belongs to an ancient Goddess but the modern version is something completely different. As you probably know, the term was proposed for the first time by James Lovelock in 1972 and co-developed with Lynn Margulis. As it happens for many innovative ideas, it was the result of a simple observation: if the Sun radiative intensity increases gradually over the eons, how come that the Earth’s surface temperature has remained within the boundaries necessary to keep the biosphere alive? There has to be something that keeps it like that and Lovelock proposed that the mechanism was based on regulating the concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2.

So, Gaia is not supposed to be benevolent nor merciful, and not even a Goddess: we could say that She is what She is. But does She really really exist? Not everyone agrees on this point, the concept is often referred as the “Gaia hypothesis” and entire books have been written to demonstrate that there is no such a thing. Indeed, in the beginning, the idea was mostly qualitative and not proven. Lovelock proposed a clever model called “Daisyworld” that showed how a simple biosphere could control the temperature of a planet. But the Earth’s biosphere is not just made out of daisies and something more than that was needed. And, yes, over time proofs have accumulated to show that Gaia is much more than a qualitative hypothesis (or an object of worship by people believing in non-existing beings).

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

The First Recorded Ecological Collapse in History and How it Was Misunderstood.

The First Recorded Ecological Collapse in History and How it Was Misunderstood.

The Goddess Inanna in her full regalia as depicted on a Sumerian cylinder seal. On the left, Ninshubur (the Queen of the East) Inanna’s second in command. Inanna is sometimes called the “Goddess of Love,” but she was no gentle lady. She was known to tame lions, use weapons, fight her enemies, and, sometimes, devour their corpses. Among her several feats, one is to have smashed an entire mountain with her mighty mace. It may be the first historical record of an ecological collapse

Pushing the world’s temperatures over 2°C could well lead to the greatest ecological collapse ever seen in human history, but it wouldn’t be the first. There is a long series of human-caused ecological collapses at various scales, often the result of deforestation and erosion of the fertile soil. Perhaps the oldest recorded collapse is one that took place at some moment during the 3rd millennium BCE and that is recorded in a mythologized form by the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna, the first author of texts in history whose name is known to us.

The story of how the mountain Ebih “melted into a vat of sheepfat” is interesting in itself but it is most interesting for what it teaches to us. The Sumerians, apparently, never understood the problem of erosion of the fertile soil and their land — that we call “Iraq” today — was gradually turned into the desert that it is today.

It seems that the Sumerians couldn’t think of any better idea than faulting supernatural powers for the disaster that was befalling them. On the other hand, it may also be that the punishment that the Goddess meted to the mountain was seen as a curse that humans deserved for having mismanaged the fertile soil.

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

Did climate change cause the fall of the Roman Empire? No, but what may have actually happened is amazing.

Did climate change cause the fall of the Roman Empire? No, but what may have actually happened is amazing. 

“Vanity Fair” may not be the best source for reliable scientific information, but this cover is typical of an idea that’s becoming popular in the memesphere: that the Roman Empire fell because of climate change. Alas, this means stretching the data more than a bit and surprisingly, the opposite may be true: the climate changed because the Empire fell. Read on! (image source)

We have a problem with history: we often try to frame the past as if it were the same as the present. And that means projecting on the ancient our own troubles and fears. Add to this the difficulties we have in dealing with complex systems, the kind of systems that normally behave the way they damn please, and the results are often a complete mess.

The fall of the Roman Empire is a case in point. Maybe you know that in 1984 the German historian Demandt listed 210 (!!) causes proposed for the fall. It is fun to read how people just transferred to the Roman society whatever they were afraid of, from Communism to Culinary Excess.

In more recent times, we started being worried about things that weren’t well known in the 1980s. One is the decline of the energy return on energy invested (EROI), which is a true problem for our fossil-based society. It is much less obvious that it was a problem the ancient Romans and I wasn’t impressed by the attempts of Thomas Homer-Dixon to paint the Roman collapse as the result of an EROI decline. No data, no proof, just vague analogies.

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

A World With no Debt and no Bankruptcies: How About Social Credit as Money?

A World With no Debt and no Bankruptcies: How About Social Credit as Money?

Mark Twain had a genial idea with his story “The One Million Pound Bank Note” published in 1853. It was such a huge amount of money that it couldn’t be exchanged, yet it gave its owner all sorts of perks and goods. It was, in a certain way, an anticipation of what we call today the “social credit score” obtained on the various social media services on the Web. It is a form of money that can be owned, but cannot be exchanged — in most cases, you can’t even go negative with your social credit. So, no debt, no bankruptcy. Would it be possible to build a financial system based on this concept? Not easy, but also an idea being examined nowadays, especially in China with their state-owned social credit system (shèhuì xìnyòng tǐxì). The text below is derived from the chapter on financial collapses of my new book “The Seneca Strategy,” to be published in later 2019.

The whole problem of financial collapses is the result of the existence of money. But what is money exactly? Without going into the various theories of money that economists are still discussing, we can say that once, money was something that everybody agreed on: a weight of precious metals. After all, the British currency is still defined in units of weight, even though one pound (in monetary terms) does not weigh a pound (in physical terms). Still, up to not too long ago, money was simply a token representing a physical entity, typically a certain weight of gold and silver. But things changed a lot with time and, with the 20th century, the convertibility of the dollar into precious metals was more theoretical than real. In 1971 president Nixon formally canceled it.

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

Climate Science Deniers Start Feeling the Heat. Now it is Foot-Dragging Time!

Climate Science Deniers Start Feeling the Heat. Now it is Foot-Dragging Time!

Greta Thunberg is both a cause and an effect in the great shift that’s ongoing in the public opinion about climate change. Climate science deniers are feeling the pressure and they are preparing to change their strategy. No more denying that AGW exists and that it is a danger for all of us. It is time to move to foot-dragging for profit.  

A post by Tim Ball on the despicable WUWT blog is well worth reading because it summarizes the plight of climate science deniers in the current debate. Ball says that he calls it quits because:

“you are asking people to believe that a small group of people managed to deceive the world into believing that a trace gas (0.04% of the total atmosphere) was changing the entire climate because of humans. In addition, that group convinced many others to participate in the deception.

The public view is that deceiving so many is just not possible. “Stark clear: Ball perfectly summarizes the problem for him and his band of science-deniers: how could anyone believe what they are saying? With Greta Thunberg bursting into the debate, their position is rapidly becoming untenable. So, they are shifting away from discussing whether AGW exists or not. Ball says, 

“I decided to stop trying to educate people about the global deception that is AGW. … The challenge now is to help people understand the differences between deceptively derived policies, and what is the best, most adaptive, most profitable, and most rewarding strategy for survival of the individual, business, or industry. “

And I couldn’t have said it more clearly. Ball and his ilk are preparing for a war of attrition against the attempt to do something to save humankind before it is too late, all in the name of the “most profitable” strategy. 

Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

Italy Becoming Poor — Becoming Poor in Italy. The Effects of the Twilight of the Age of Oil

The living room of the house that my parents built in 1965. An American style suburban home, a true mansion in the hills. I lived there for more than 50 years but now I have to give up: I can’t afford it anymore. 

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not poor. As a middle class, state employee in Italy, I am probably richer than some 90% of the people living on this planet. But wealth and poverty are mainly relative perceptions and the feeling I have is that I am becoming poorer every year, just like the majority of Italians, nowadays.

I know that the various economic indexes say that we are not becoming poorer and that, worldwide, the GDP keeps growing, even in Italy it sort of restarted growing after a period of decline. But something must be wrong with those indexes because we are becoming poorer. It is unmistakable, GDP or not. To explain that, let me tell you the story of the house that my father and my mother built in the 1960s and how I am now forced to leave it because I can’t just afford it anymore.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Italy was going through what was called the “Economic Miracle” at the time. After the disaster of the war, the age of cheap oil had created a booming economy everywhere in the world. In Italy, people enjoyed a wealth that never ever had been seen or even imagined before. Private cars, health care for everybody, vacations at the seaside, the real possibility for most Italians to own a house, and more.

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

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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