Home » Posts tagged 'ugo bardi'

Tag Archives: ugo bardi

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

The Collapse of the Modern Western Empire. What Future for Humankind?

The Collapse of the Modern Western Empire. What Future for Humankind?

These notes are not supposed to disparage nor to exalt an entity that has a history that goes back to at least a couple of millennia ago. Like all Empires, past and present, the Modern World Empire went through its parable of growth and glory and it is now starting its decline. There is not much that we can do about it, we have to accept that this is the way the universe works. On this subject, see also a previous post of mine “Why Europe Conquered the World 

For everything that exists, there is a reason and that’s true also for that gigantic thing that we call sometimes “The West” or perhaps “The American Empire,” or maybe “Globalization.” To find that reason, we may go back to the very origins of the modern empire. We can find them in an older, but already very advanced, empire: the Roman one.

As someone might have said (and maybe someone did, but it might be an original concept of mine), “geography is the mother of Empires.” Empires are built on the availability of natural resources and on the ability to transport them. So, the Romans exploited the geography of the Mediterranean basin to build an empire based on maritime transportation. Rome was the center of a hub of commerce that outcompeted every other state in the Western region of Eurasia and North Africa. This transportation system was so important that it was even deified under the name of the Goddess Annona. It was kept together by a financial system based on coinage, Latin as lingua franca, a large military system, and a legal system very advanced for the time.

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

Why Collapse is not always a bad thing: the New Book by Ugo Bardi

Why Collapse is not always a bad thing: the New Book by Ugo Bardi

If you wish to receive a review copy or want to interview the author, please contact: 
Elizabeth Hawkins | Springer Nature | Communications 
tel +49 6221 487 8130 | elizabeth.hawkins@springer.com

PRESS RELEASEWhy collapse is not always a bad thingNew book provides an analysis of the process of failure and collapse, and outlines principles that help us manage these challenges in our lives Heidelberg | New York, 12 December 2019Image: © Springer Nature 

Everyone experiences collapse in their lives: you may lose your job, get sick, or a close friend or family member may die. Collapse also happens to structures such as buildings, and on a larger scale affects whole systems like companies, communities or even civilisations. In his latest book, Before the Collapse: A Guide to the Other Side of Growth, Ugo Bardi sets out an approach for facing failure and collapse on all scales. He calls his method the “Seneca Strategy” based on the teachings of the ancient Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Bardi draws on Seneca’s philosophy to explain why collapse is a necessary part of our lives and the world, and why trying to avoid it may lead to bigger problems later on. Seneca recognised that growth is slow but ruin is rapid, yet sudden collapse does not have to take us by surprise. In six concise chapters, Bardi outlines the science behind the collapse of complex systems, how the future can be modelled, and gives numerous examples of past and possible future collapses. Some of the cases Bardi lists include natural disasters, like Florence’s Great Flood, the collapse of a business such as the bankruptcy of the video rental service Blockbuster, as well as famines, epidemics and depopulation. As Seneca famously said: “Nothing that exists today is not the result of past collapse.”

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

The Effect of the Sanctions: Is Iran Cracking Down Under the Strain?

The Effect of the Sanctions: Is Iran Cracking Down Under the Strain?

I have to confess that the title of this post is a little of a clickbait. In reality, I will tell you more about Italy than about Iran. But, perhaps, from the story of how Italy reacted to the international economic sanctions imposed on the country in 1935, we can learn something about what could be the result of the current sanctions on Iran. Above, a photo from 1935, it shows a stone slab with the engraved words. “On 18 November 1935, the world besieged Italy. Perennial infamy on those who favored and consumed this absurd crime.” Most of these slabs were destroyed after the defeat of Italy in WW2, but some can still be found in Italy. 

In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia, at that time the only remaining free African country. Why exactly that happened is a long story. Let me just say that, in part, it was a revenge for a defeat suffered long before, when an early attempt at invading Ethiopia had failed. In part, it had to do with reacting to the financial crash of 1929: governments often tend to seek for external enemies to distract people from internal troubles. Then, in part, it was seen as a way to displease the hated British, seen as guilty of not providing for Italy the coal that the Italian economy needed. And, finally, it had to do with some nebulous dreams about rebuilding the Roman Empire. It may sound silly, today, but if you read what people wrote at that time in Italy, that idea of creating a new Roman Empire was taken seriously.

Whatever the reasons, in 1935 the Ethiopian army was overwhelmed by the modern weaponry deployed by Italy. It included planes and tanks, with the added help of poison gas bombing, a military innovation for that time.

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

Like Stalingrad: Italy’s Concrete Infrastructure is Melting in the Rain

Like Stalingrad: Italy’s Concrete Infrastructure is Melting in the Rain

The region of Liguria, within the red circle, is a narrow strip of land stuck between the Appennini Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is also a critical element of the transportation system that connects France and the Po valley to the rest of Italy. As you may imagine, this heavily urbanized region is subjected to disastrous floods. The situation became so bad, recently, that the president of the Liguria region declared it was like the siege of Stalingrad, during WWII. The image above is from a presentation by Massimo Lanfranco, highly recommended!

When you have a fame of being a catastrophist or a Cassandra, reading that some of your prophecies turned out to be true may be a little unsettling. But it seems that I understood something correctly with the chapter of my recent book “Before the Collapse,” where I described how the world’s concrete infrastructure was getting old and decaying and how the situation was going to get worse with time.

In my take of the situation, I was inspired by the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in Genova, Italy, in 2018, but I was sure that worse things were going to happen. And it seems that I was right: the recent disasters in Southern Europe (France, Greece, and Italy) show how roads, railways, and buildings, are fragile, often on the edge of collapse. Rains heavier than usual are sufficient to create disasters, in part because of landslides and floods, in part because of the aged and weakened concrete structures. And, with climate change pressing forward, heavy rains are going to be more and more common.

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

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…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase