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Saudi Arabia Goes the way of the Garamantes. Google Earth Confirms the Collapse of the Water Supply 

Saudi Arabia Goes the way of the Garamantes. Google Earth Confirms the Collapse of the Water Supply 

In 2008, I noted the decline in Saudi Arabian water production and I published an article in “The Oil Drum” titled “Peak Water in Saudi Arabia.” Using a simple version of the Hubbert model of resource depletion, I noted how the supply of “fossil water” had peaked in 1990 and had been declining ever since. This is the typical behavior of “fossil” resources: they tend to peak and then decline. It had already happened to the ancient Garamantes, inhabitants of central Sahara, who had developed sophisticated technologies of water extraction during the 1st millennium BC. That had allowed them to prosper for about one thousand years, but then depletion had its revenge and they vanished among the sand dunes. Something similar (but probably much faster) is going to happen in the Arabian peninsula. 

The old Hubbert model was developed to describe the cycle of extraction of crude oil. It may be oversimplified if you want to use it for detailed predictions. But, as a quick tool for understanding the situation of the production of a non renewable resource, it tells you a lot of what you need to know. That first stab of mine on water production in Saudi Arabia turned out to be correct.

It is impressive how, today, you can use Google Earth to look at the situation “from above.” You can see the collapse of the agricultural fields as depletion progresses. Here are the images of an irrigated area for a region East of Al Jubail, in Saudi Arabia,  26°48’29.60″N and  49° 8’47.58″E.

Let’s start with an image of the desert in 1984. There is absolutely nothing there:

One year later, 1985. Someone has started extracting water and irrigating the land. There are two active fields there.

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Phrasing the Question Right is the First Step to Find an Answer. How to Prevent Nuclear War

Phrasing the Question Right is the First Step to Find an Answer. How to Prevent Nuclear War

Professor Bernard Lown died this February at 99. A great man by all means: Physician, cardiologist, professor at Harvard University, and a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was the inventor of the defribrillator, the proposer of many successful ways to help people suffering from heart failure. He was also the recipient of the Nobel prize for peace for his activity against nuclear war.

 
It was in the 1980s when I attended a seminar in Berkeley given by a member of the group called “International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.” Some decades later, I am not sure the talk was given by the founder of the group, Dr. Bernard Lown, but it may have been him. In any case, I was impressed by the clarity of the talk. The speaker said it very simply: “it is not a question of being left or right: nuclear war is the greatest medical emergency I can imagine.” 
 
It is the way you frame a problem that gives you the tools to solve it! Just like “The Seneca Effect” gives a name to a typical behavior of complex systems, that of collapsing, framing the nuclear confrontation as a medical emergency and not as a political struggle brought it to the realm of concrete problems that people could understand. We might also frame nuclear war as an especially nasty kind of Seneca Cliff affecting humankind and the whole planet.
 
Probably because the problem was framed right, the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War had a remarkable success…

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The Tunnel Vision Problem. How Mineral Depletion Became Completely Incomprehensible to the Public and Decision Makers Alike

The Tunnel Vision Problem. How Mineral Depletion Became Completely Incomprehensible to the Public and Decision Makers Alike

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A few days ago, I sent a comment to a blog where the author had cited the “abiotic oil” hypothesis by Thomas Gold. He had read Gold’s book “The Deep, Hot Biosphere” and, not being an expert in the matter, had believed that Gold’s ideas were correct and that the author had been unjustly ignored by the scientific community and by the oil industry.

In my comment, I briefly discussed the matter and cited an article that I had written together with other authors where we discussed Gold’s ideas, showing that they are incompatible with what we know about the geosphere and the processes of formation of fossil hydrocarbons.

Some of the commenters seemed to be completely clueless about the matter, and that was already worrisome. But the surprising thing was that one of the answers I received was that I should avoid discussing political issues such as “peak oil” in a scientific discussion. 

So, after 20 years of scientific studies on the concept of oil depletion — in itself a necessary consequence of the fact that oil resources are finite — the idea of “peak oil” has been transmogrified into a political slogan that has no place in a serious discussion.

And that’s not just the case of peak oil. Try to mention “mineral depletion” in any discussion about the current economic situation, and you’ll be treated like a slightly feebleminded person who is completely out of touch with reality. Our problems, right now, are completely different as everyone sane in his/her mind knows.

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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“)

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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.”…

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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…

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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…

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Cassandra is Dead. Long Live Cassandra!

Cassandra is Dead. Long Live Cassandra!

After the fall of Troy, Cassandra was taken as Agamemnon’s “pallake” (concubine) and taken to Mycenae where she was killed by Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife. The destiny of prophetesses is never so bright, especially when they turn out to have been right. Something similar, although fortunately much less tragic, is happening to the Cassandra blog, censored on Facebook by the powers that be. So, I guess it is time to call it quits. But Cassandra is not dead! She will return in some form.

On March 2, 2011, I started the blog that I titled “Cassandra’s Legacy.” 10 years later, the blog had accumulated 974 posts, 332 followers, and more than 5 million visualizations (5289.929). Recently, the blog had stabilized at around 2,000-3,000 views per day.

A small blog, by all means, but I always had the sensation that it was not without an impact on the nebulous constellation of the people, high up, whom we call “the powers that be.” It is a story that reminds me the legend that George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003 after he had learned about peak oil. Reasonably, it can’t be but a legend, but are we sure? After all, the people who take decision are not smarter than us, just way richer. And they can misunderstand things just like we all do. Of course, their blunders make much more noise.  

And so, it may well be that many things that we are seeing around us have a logic. For sure, a certain kind of message cannot be eliminated simply by ignoring it anymore. It has to be actively suppressed. And that seems to be what’s happening, with censorship rampant in the social media…

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Censorship: How the West is becoming more and more like the old Soviet Union

Censorship: How the West is becoming more and more like the old Soviet Union

A message I received from Facebook on Jan 29, 2021. Five of my posts were deemed “spam” and erased. Some were somewhat “political” although non-partisan, but two were purely technical. That these posts were erased is an indication that censorship is by now applied to all forms of dissent, not just political ones. It was not unexpected, but it was still somewhat shocking after decades of propaganda that had convinced most of us that the Western world was a place where you could enjoy “freedom of expression.” But we are quickly moving toward a Soviet-style management of public information, as Dmitry Orlov noted already in 2013. It had to happen and it did.

Last year, a Spanish climatologist, a friend of mine, had one of his posts censored by Facebook. Apparently, it was because it was deemed as too “catastrophistic” (or for whatever reason had caused the opaque fact-checkers of Facebook to erase it). He protested and he also tried to convince other climatologists to start a boycott of Facebook.

The answer was a little disappointing, to say the least. It may be best described as a resounding worldwide “meh.” Those climatologists who bothered to reply to him expressed the concept that, yes, censorship is bad, but, you know, you can’t allow deniers to diffuse their fake science around.

It was on this occasion that I discovered that most people like censorship. It is just that it should be applied to those they disagree with. In that case, they actually love it and protest because Facebook doesn’t censor enough (you can read that, for instance, here).

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The Ghost Shirt Rituals: Preparing for the End of the World

The Ghost Shirt Rituals: Preparing for the End of the World

 

Ishi, (c. 1861 –  1916), the last member of the Native American Yahi people, photographed as he was in 1911 when he came out of the woods in California. How did the Yahi react when they saw that the Whites were going to exterminate them? Perhaps not differently from the way we are reacting to the prospect of the collapse of our civilization: going crazy. The overreaction to the current Covid pandemic is just the first stage of the wave of madness that’s engulfing humankind.

Imagine you are a Native American living before the arrival of the Whites. Maybe you are a Lakota, hunter of the central plains. Or maybe a Yahi, living in the thick forests of California. Or a member of any of the many Native American nations that existed back then. 

As a Native American, you have your family, your friends, your day-to-day routine of things and tasks. And you are busy with that, except for one thing: you know that there is a big problem. A VERY big problem. There is an entire nation, out there, bent on exterminating you and your people: the Whites. 

At first, you try to ignore the problem: those Whites are far away. Or maybe you’ll deny that they are coming, or that they are so many as they are said to be. But, at some moment, the truth cannot be anymore ignored or denied. The Whites are there. They are coming for you, for your family, your children, your friends, your people. And you know that there is really no way to stop them. So, what do you do?

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Ugo Bardi’s The Universal Mining Machine

Ugo Bardi’s The Universal Mining Machine

Preface. Below I’ve excerpted some of Ugo Bardi’s “The Universal Mining Machine” (24 January 2008 europe.theoildrum), but I’ve left a great deal out of this excellent article, I encourage you to read all of it if you have time. The biggest problem the world faces is “Peak Diesel”, which is what my book “When Trucks stop running” is about. Bardi points out “that 34% of the energy involved in the US mining industry is in the form of diesel fuel.” Nor are there more minerals to be found: “There is little hope of finding high grade sources of minerals other than those we know already. The planet’s crust has been thoroughly explored and digging deeper is not likely to help, since ores form mainly because of geochemical (especially hydrothermal) processes that operate near the surface.”

Earth’s mineral resources

The Earth’s crust is said to contain 88 elements in concentrations that spread over at least seven orders of magnitude. Some elements are defined as “common,” with concentrations over 0.1% in weight. Of these, five are technologically important in metallic form: iron, aluminum, magnesium, silicon, and titanium. All the other metals exist in lower concentrations, sometimes much lower. Most metals of technological importance are defined as “rare” and exist mostly as low concentration substituents in ordinary rock, that is, dispersed at the atomic level in silicates and other oxides. The average crustal abundance of rare elements, such as copper, zinc, lead and others, is below 0.01% (100 ppm). Some, such as gold, platinum and rhodium, are very rare and exist in the crust as a few parts per billion or even less. However, most rare elements also form specific chemical compounds that can be found at relatively high concentrations in regions called “deposits”. Those deposits from which we actually extract minerals are called “ores”...

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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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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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