Monday, January 28, 2013

Plant trees, disband the army, work together: the Tuscan way of escaping the growth trap

You probably know the story of the man who invented the game of chess. It is said that he presented the game to the king and that he asked in exchange a grain of rice on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third and so on, for all the 64 squares. The story says that the king agreed to the deal, only to find out, later on, that the amount of rice he was supposed to provide was gigantic, larger than the amount existing in the whole world. 

The story doesn't say what happened at that point, but we may suppose that the king was not happy and that the inventor of the game received a reward much different than what he had asked for. So, we learn that growth is a trap and that doesn't apply just to grains of rice on a chessboard. It is always difficult to understand the consequences of exponential growth and everyone can fall in the trap; even whole civilizations. Today, we are still trying to go after the mythical "growth" that many think will magically solve all problems. Yet, many of us have this terrible feeling that it will be all useless and not just that. The feeling is that economic growth is taking us straight into the abyss. 

So, is there a way to get free? We don't know what our destiny will be, but there have been examples of civilizations who managed a long term equilibrium. One is Japan of Edo times, another one is Tuscany after the Renaissance. There was a fateful moment in Tuscan history when people understood that the solution to the terrible times they were experiencing was not growth but adaptation. It came gradually, but we can identify the turning point with the rule of Grand Duke Ferdinando 1st, who put Tuscany on a path that in a personal interpretation of mine I can describe as, "plant trees, disband the army and work together". A path that led to a few centuries of peace (or at least without major wars) and to a moderate prosperity.

Tuscany: escaping the growth trap

Tuscany is a region of central Italy stuck between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a land of gentle hills and plains; of grain fields and of cypress trees, of farms and of walled cities. It has been like that from the time of the Etruscans, the first dwellers of the area and from whom the old name of Tuscia comes.

Even though small and relatively isolated, Tuscany came to play an important role in the world's history with the Renaissance; an age of poets, painters, sculptors, bankers, and explorers. For a while, the main city of Tuscany, Florence, was the center of the Western World; the place of the financial power, the center of commerce, the place where artists, literates, and professionals would go to learn their trade.

But the golden age of the Renaissance didn't last for long. Its peak times were maybe one or two centuries long. Then, with the 16th century, decline started. Plagues, famines, economic crisis, military invasions, gradually led Tuscany to become one of the poorest countries of Europe. Yet, population never collapsed and something survived of the old spirit of freedom and intellectual independence. In the early 17th century, Tuscany became a refuge for the Jews fleeing from persecution in Spain. Tuscany kept her universities and academies and, in 1786, it was the first European state to officially abolish torture and the death penalty. So, the Tuscan collapse was not total - it was managed; it was "soft" and not so disastrous as it could have been. How was it done? It is a long story that deserves to be told.

Growth and collapse in Tuscany

Emerging out of the terrible times of the Great Plague, in 14th century, Tuscany's agriculture was able to create the resources needed to restart population growth and to embark in that age of economic growth and of great artistic accomplishments that we call "Renaissance." But nothing can grow forever: a growing population meant that more and more land was needed to feed it, and that could be obtained only by clearing forests. That, in turn opened the way to erosion. And erosion destroys the fertile soil that supports agriculture.

Still today, you can see how bad the erosion problem was during those times by looking at the city of Pisa. Today, it is an inland city but, during the Middle Ages, it had been a thriving harbor. It is reported that, already in the 15th century, Pisa’s harbor had been silting because of sediments carried by the Arno River. In the 17th century, silting became so serious that the harbor had to be abandoned. The sediments that destroyed the harbor of Pisa were the rich soil that had once supported Tuscan agriculture and, with it, the Tuscan population.

With the decline of agriculture, the Tuscan economic system started imploding; commerce and industry could not survive without food. Famines became common. The proud citizens of Florence, the city that had been called the “New Athens," started going hungry. According to a chronicler, in 1590 Florentines were reduced to eat a kind of bread that “in older times would have been given to dogs, and perhaps dogs would have refused it."

The Tuscan cities declined also in terms of military strength and the once free cities of Tuscany fell one by one to foreign invaders. The republic of Florence fell to the Spanish Imperial Armies in 1530. The republic of Siena fell to the combined armies of Spain and of the Florentine Medici in 1555. Afterwards, Tuscany became a province of the Spanish Empire, although still maintaining some degree of independence. 

Plant trees, disband the army, work together

From the beginning, the Grand Dukes who ruled first Florence and then the whole Tuscany were turning their attention inward, to the management of the Tuscan territory. Already in 1559, at the time of Cosimo 1st of the Medici family, Tuscany had started a policy of protection of agriculture with a severe law that forbade cutting trees in the Appennino mountains, even on pain of death! That policy was continued by later rulers and Grand-Duke Ferdinando 1st was probably the turning point in abandoning all dreams of growth and expansion.

The monument to Ferdinando 1st (1549-1609), Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1587 to 1609. He was perhaps the first Tuscan ruler to recognize the end of growth times

Ferdinando ruled Tuscany from 1587 until his death in 1609. He was fond of saying that he ruled not by force but by "dignity only"; as his motto in Latin said: "maiestate tantum." He did a lot for agriculture, among other things enacting laws that reduced the tax burden on farmers. He went some steps further and he spoke of Tuscans as “worker bees" (“api operose") meaning that they had to work hard all together. Here is the symbol of the working bees in a bronze plate on Ferdinando's monument in Florence.


The “Working Bees", (“Api Operose") symbol of Ferdinando 1st. Image on the monument in Piazza SS. Annunziata, Firenze.

Some warlike spirit remained in Tuscany during Ferdinando's rule and that led to skirmishes with the Turkish Empire. But, on the whole, this age was the start of a period of careful management of the territory, of reducing military expenses, of seeking for social harmony and justice. We could define this policy as "plant trees, disband the army, work together", even though Ferdinando himself never used these terms.

The Dukes who followed Ferdinando 1st, continued this policy. Agriculture remained a focus of the policy of the government. The laws protecting trees were maintained and expanded and, in 1753, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo created the “Georgofili" academy with the specific task of promoting agriculture. The academy still exists today and its motto is “For the sake of public prosperity."


The symbol of the Georgofili Academy established in Florence in 1753. The writing says  “Prosperitati Publicae Augendae" (“In favor of public prosperity")

The Tuscan government also progressively reduced military expenses. The navy had basically ceased to exist with the first years of the 18th century and the army created by the Medici family was progressively reduced in strength until it was formally disbanded in 1753 by Grand Duke Francesco Stefano. New kinds of armies were created in later times but, basically, Tuscany just couldn’t afford war. Often, her borders had to be opened to invaders; it caused less harm than fighting them. Tuscany underwent a good number of invasions but, on the whole, these wars never brought great destruction. After the fall of Siena, in 1555, Tuscany didn’t see one of her cities besieged and bombarded until 1944, almost four centuries later.

It took time but, eventually, these policies had their effects on reducing the severity of the decline and of bringing Tuscany back from collapse. From the 18th century onward, agriculture managed a comeback. Famines didn’t disappear but could be contained while commerce and industry restarted with a new network of riverways and roads.

Not everything was perfect during this period. One problem was that Tuscany never really succeeded in stabilizing population, which slowly grew from less than half a million in 15th century to more than a million in 18th century. As a consequence, there remained a strong pressure to find new land for agriculture. So, the rules that protected trees were relaxed more than once. It is reported that, in 1780, a group of woodcutters fell on their knees in front of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, pleading hunger. This resulted in a decree liberalizing tree cutting. But the mountains were reforested and the policies of protecting agriculture maintained.

Our times

With the 19th century, Tuscany merged with the newly created Italian state and the industrial revolution generated a new phase of rapid population growth and economic expansion. With the improvement of the transportation network and the development of railroads, famines became a thing of the past. The last recorded one in Tuscany was in 1898-1899. Forest suffered during this period of expansion; nevertheless, today Tuscany remains one of the most forested regions of Italy, a legacy of the policy of the old Grand-Dukes.

But times have changed and the latest wave of building frenzy seems to be transforming some of the once fertile areas of Tuscany into areas that look like suburbs of Los Angeles. With a population four times larger than it was at the time of the famines and with climate change and the oil crisis looming, Tuscany is facing difficult times. But we have a tradition of caring for the land that has helped us in the past. It will help us also in the uncertain future.

Can Tuscany be seen as a model of “soft collapse" for other regions of the world? Perhaps; at least it gives us a recipe that worked from the time of Grand Dukes: "plant trees, disband the army, work together. It is not exactly what we are doing right now, but we may learn.

This is a revised version of a post published in 2006 on the blog "Transition Culture.It was one my first posts in English and, some years later, I think it is appropriate to repost it on "Cassandra's legacy" with some modifications and corrections. I am grateful to Susan Kucera for leading me to return to this subject and for suggesting to me the analogy with the "grains on the chessboard" story .



Most of the data that I report about Tuscan agriculture in ancient times come from the book "ALPI" by Matteo Biffi Tolomei published for the first time in the early 1800s and re-published in 2004 with a post-faction by Fabio Clauser. (Libreria Editrice Fiorentina)

Data on the history of the Tuscan army at the time of the Grand Dukes are also not so easy to find, but a description can be found in "Corpi armati e ordine pubblico in Italia (XVI-XIX sec.)": Seminario di studi, Castello Visconti di San Vito, Somma Lombardo, 10-11 novembre 2000 Livio Antonielli, Claudio Donati Rubbettino Editore, 2003. For a history of the Tuscan Navy, see the relative article in Wikipedia 

Data on the population of Tuscany from Middle Ages to present times can be found in the paper (in Italian) by Marco Breschi and Paolo Malanima, ""Demografia e Economia in Toscana"  

A list of famines in Tuscany up to 1736 can be found in this document, by the Georgofili Academy. There aren't many data available about the famine of 1898-99 that affected all Italy and that was, probably, the last recorded famine in the country. A description can be found in this document (in Italian) 
The site of the Georgofili academy.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ugo Bardi speaks about limits to growth

This is the video record  of the talk on resource depletion I gave in the University of Bielefeld, Germany, in November of 2012. It is almost one hour and a half long, so I am not sure that anyone would really want to watch it. In any case, if you are interested in the subject, you may try.

The gist of the talk, anyway,  is that depletion is not an isolated problem. Minerals are part of the geological cycles of the Earth. When we extract a mineral and we disperse it all over the ecosystem we cause changes of all kinds, besides the obvious fact that we use non renewable resources. So, for instance, when we extract fossil fuels we alter the climate. The two problems: fossil fuel depletion and climate change are two sides of the same coin. And that is true of all the minerals we use - in most cases depletion is just one side of a larger problem.

Thanks to professor Marcus Kracht for having organized this presentation in Bielefeld.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The end of the E-Cat story? Andrea Rossi loses supporters for his "cold fusion" device

The story of the E-Cat, the "cold fusion" device proposed by Mr. Andrea Rossi seems to be losing interest everywhere. Yesterday, Jan 14, another of Rossi's supporters, Mr. Daniele Passerini, announced that he is abandoning the fray and closing down his blog, at least for the time being.

Mr Passerini's blog, titled "22 steps of love" has been the main focus of support for the E-Cat in Italy up to now. He says in his last post, titled "ad maiora" that "Some time ago, I wrote that, after that two years would have passed from the date of January 14 2011, I would quit in any case in the absence of official and certain announcements on the reality of the E-Cat." Passerini states that he will be waiting patiently and "will return when the news that we have been waiting for during the past two years will arrive"

The closing of Mr. Passerini's blog comes after that, in November of last year, another of Mr. Rossi's supporters, Mr. Paul Story of "eCatNews" declared that he would close his  blog because, "with scant hope of Rossi delivering on his promises, I find myself wondering why I would waste any more time on him. If he is committing fraud, he should be pursued by the police. Interest in the man or the subject is now relegated to the level of curiosity, not dedication."

Earlier on, in April 2012, Mr. Sterling Allen of the blog PESN (Pure Energy Systems) had been appalled at Rossi's behavior and had stated, "I apologize to anyone that I've encouraged to try and do business with Andrea Rossi, and I retract my endorsement" even though he later continued to cover announcements about the E-Cat. (*)

The supporters of the E-Cat are still numerous and the marketing techniques of Mr. Rossi have generated a remarkable number of imitators. So, what we are seeing is not likely to be the end of the story. However, these defections are a clear symptom that the interest in the E-Cat is winding down. After two years of impossible claims, missed demonstrations, broken promises, and unverifiable endorsements, no other outcome was possible.

(*)Mr. Sterling Allen commented on this post stating that "But a few months after that I felt he (Rossi) was back on a better track, and worth giving my confidence in again... Though I don't know for sure, I have a high extent of confidence in Rossi and his group.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A New Year's tale

In 1960, Vladimir Dudintsev (1918-1998) published a short novel titled "A New Year's tale."  This story greatly impressed me when I read it, many years ago, in an Italian translation in a collection titled "Russian Science Fiction"

Some 50 years ago, I received as a Christmas present a book titled "Russian Science Fiction." All the stories in that book made a deep impression on me, but there was one that has remained in my mind more than the others; a curious story titled "A New Year's Tale".

I was, maybe, 12 at that time and, of course, I couldn't understand everything of that story and I didn't pay attention to the name of the author. But, as time went by, I didn't forget it; rather, it became entrenched in my mind, progressively acquiring more meaning and more importance. I reread it not long ago, and it came back to my mind during a recent trip to Russia. So, let me tell you this story as I remember it.

"A New Year's Tale" tells of one year of life of the protagonist, a researcher in a scientific laboratory somewhere in the Soviet Union. Dudintsev manages to tell the story without ever giving specific details about anything: no place names, no names of the characters, not even of the protagonist. It is a feat of literary virtuosity; it gives the story an atmosphere of a fairy tale but, at the same time, it is very, very specific.

It took me time before I could understand the hints that Dudintsev gives all over the text, but after many trips to Russia, everything fell in place. It is curious how Dudintsev managed to catch so well the atmosphere of a research lab in the Soviet Union; he was not a scientific researcher. But that's what makes a great storyteller, after all: understanding what one is describing - and feeling something for it.

The story starts with a debate - rather, a quarrel - that the protagonist has with someone termed "a provincial academic" (we are not told his name). This provincial academic should be nothing more than a nuisance, but the protagonist can't avoid engaging in the debate. He understands that he is losing time, that he should be doing something more useful, more important. But he just can't sit down and do his job.

While the protagonist is entangled in this useless quarrel, the chief of the laboratory (again, we are not told his name) dabbles in archeology and one day he tells his coworkers of some work of his somewhere in the Caucasus, where they found an ancient tomb. There was an owl engraved on the tombstone and an inscription that they could decipher. It says "...and the years of his life were 900...."

Now, what could that mean? Could the man buried there have lived 900 years? No, of course not. But then, what does the inscription mean? Well, someone says, that must mean that this man spent his life so well and so fully that it was like his years had been 900.

The discussion goes on. What does it mean to live such a full life? The researchers try to find an answer but, at some moment, they hear the voice of someone who usually keeps silent at these reunions. We are told that he is from far away, not Russian, that is. We can imagine that this man doesn't have a Russian name, but we are not told names. So, he is an outsider and he comes with a completely different viewpoint; he is "the foreign scientist" even though in the old Soviet Union, theoretically, there was no such distinction. "You see, comrades," he says, "it is very simple. To live a full life, you must always choose the greatest satisfactions, the highest joys you can find."

At this point, we hear the voice of the political commissioner of the lab. Apparently, there was usually someone in the scientific academies in the Soviet Union who was in charge of making sure that Soviet Scientists would not fall into doing decadent capitalist science. So, he stands up and he tells the foreign scientist, "Well, comrade, don't you think one should also work for the people or something like that?" And the foreign scientist answers, "You are so backward, comrade. Don't you understand? The greatest satisfaction, the highest joy one can have in life is exactly that: working for the people!"

After that the discussion is over, the protagonist of the story reflects on the words of the foreign scientist and he resolves to start doing something serious in his life. He decides to start doing experiments, advance his theory. We are not told exactly what he is doing, but we understand that he is working on something important; research that has to do with capturing and storing solar light. And he manages to work on that for some time. Then, his colleagues bring to him another paper written by his provincial antagonist. So, he feels he has to answer that, and then the provincial academician writes a response.... and the protagonist finds himself entangled again into this argument.

Things are back to the silly normalcy of before, but then something happens. The protagonist finds that he is being stalked. Someone, or something, is following him all the time. When he sees it in full he discovers that it is an owl. A giant owl, almost as big as a man, looking at him. He thinks it is a hallucination, which of course it must be. But he keeps seeing this owl over and over.

So, the protagonist goes to see a doctor and he tells him of the owl. The doctor pales. After a thorough physical examination, the doctor tells him: "you have one year to live, more or less." We are not told of what specific sickness the protagonist suffers. He asks, "but why the owl?" And the doctor answers, "we are studying that. You are not the only one. The owl is a symptom." Then, the doctor looks at the protagonist straight in his eyes and he says, "I can tell you something. Those who see the owl, have a chance to be saved."

In the meantime, there had been a long discussion between the protagonist and the foreign scientist, the one who had so well silenced the political commissioner. So, the foreign scientist had told to the protagonist his story, obliquely, yes, but clearly understandable. His fellow countrymen had not liked the idea that he had left the country to become a scientist. They are described as gangsters and criminals, but we have a feeling that there was something more at stake than just petty crimes. This man had made a choice and that had meant to make a clean break from his country and his culture; it had meant to accept the new Soviet Communist society. Now, he was spending his time in this new world trying to get his "greatest satisfactions and highest joys" by working for the people. And, because of that, his former countrymen had condemned him to death. So, he had changed his name and his identity, and he had even surgically changed his face to become unrecognizable. But he knew that "they" were looking for him and they would find him at some moment.

So, the destiny of the protagonist and of the foreign scientist are somehow parallel, they both have a limited time. After having seen the doctor, the protagonist understands the situation and he rushes to search for the foreign scientist. They can work together, they can join forces, in this way, maybe they can....  but in horror, he discovers that the foreign scientist has been killed. 

In panic, the protagonist desperately looks for the notes he had collected over the years. But the cleaning lady tells him that she had used them to start the fire in the stove. She had no idea that they could have been important. The protagonist feels like he is walking in a nightmare. Just one year and he has lost his notes. He starts from scratch.... his great discovery.... how can he do? Yet, he decides to try.

He becomes absorbed in his work. He works harder and harder. Staying in the lab night and day and, when he goes home, he keeps working. His colleagues note the change; they are surprised that he doesn't react anymore to the attacks of the provincial academician, but he doesn't care (which is, by the way, a good lesson on how to handle our modern Internet flames). He still sees the owl; always bigger and coming closer to him, the owl has become something of a familiar creature, almost a friend.

Then, someone appears. It is a woman, described as having "well-formed shoulders" (of course, we are not told her name!). The protagonist recognizes her. It is not the first time he has seen her. He remembers having seen her with the now dead foreign Scientist.

The protagonist has no time for a love story. He has to work. He tries to ignore the woman but he is also attracted to her. He can concede her just a few words. Ten minutes, maybe. So they talk and the woman tells him. "It is you, I recognize you! You can't fool me!" The protagonist remembers something that the foreign scientist had told him; that he had his face surgically changed to escape from his enemies. Now, this woman thinks that the protagonist is really her former lover, who changed again face and appearance and didn't tell that not even to her.

The protagonist tries to deny that he is the former lover of the woman but, curiously, he doesn't succeed, not even to himself. In a way, he becomes the other, acting like him in his complete immersion in his work. The protagonist discovers that the foreign scientist had assembled a complete laboratory at home, much better than the lab at the academy. So he moves there, with the woman with the well-formed shoulders (and the owl comes, too, perching on a branch just outside the window). Then, the protagonist even discovers that the foreign scientist was secretly copying his notes and he gave them to the woman, who has kept them for him. With these notes, he can gain months of work. Maybe he can make it in one year, maybe.....

The last part of the story goes on at a feverish pace. The protagonist becomes sicker and sicker; to the point that he has to stay in bed and it is the woman with the well-formed shoulders who takes up the work in the lab. And the owl perches on the bed head. But they manage to get some important results and that's enough to catch the attention of the lab boss. He orders everyone in the lab to come there and help the protagonist (and the woman with the well-formed shoulders) to move on with the experiments.

In the final scene, the year has ended and we see the protagonist in bed, dying. But his colleagues show him the results of the experiment: something so bright, so beautiful, unbelievably bright and beautiful. We are not told exactly what it is, anyway it is a way to catch sunlight in a compact form: a new form of energy, a new understanding of the working of the sun - we don't know, but it is something fantastic. Even the owl looks at that thing, curious. The protagonist hears the sound of bells from the window. A new year is starting. We are not told whether he lives or not, but in any case, it is a new beginning and, whatever it happens, they'll tell of him that the years of his life had been 900.

And here we are. You see, it is a magic story. It keeps your attention; you want to know if the protagonist lives or not and you want to know if he manages to make his great discovery. But it is also the story of the life and of the mind of scientists that I think is not easy to find in novels or short stories. It is curious that Dudintsev did so well because, as I said, he wasn't a scientist, he was a novelist. But he managed to catch so incredibly well the life of a scientist - of a scientist working in the Soviet Union, yes, but not just that. Dudintsev's portrait of science and scientists goes beyond the quirks of the old Soviet world.

Yes, in Soviet science there were things that look strange for us, such as having a political commissioner in the lab to watch what scientists are doing. But that's just a minor feature and today in the West we have plenty of different -- and heavier  -- constraints on what we do that don't involve a dumb political commissioner. The point is that scientists often work as if their life were to last just one year; at least during the productive time of their life; when they are trying to compress each year as if it were to be 900 years long. It is their lot: the search for the discovery, being so deeply absorbed in their work, being remote from everyone else; obsessed with owls that they alone can see.

And yet, Dudintsev's story is so universal that it goes beyond the peculiar mind of scientists. It is the story of all men, all over the world, of what we do and how we spend our life. And the key of the story is the woman with the well-formed shoulders. She recognizes her former lover in the protagonist, or she feigns to recognize him. It is him or it is not him - we are not told, but it doesn't matter. What matter is her devotion to her man. It is so touching: you perceive true love in this attitude. In the end, that's the key to the whole story: whatever we do in life, we do it for those we love.

Some of us are scientists, some aren't. But it is not a piece of bad advice to live your life as if you wanted each year to be 900 years long. And every new year is a new beginning.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What future for petroleum?

This is a translation from Italian of a post by Marco Pagani on the blog "Ecoalfabeta" based on a comment by Antonio Turiel on the recent IEA report on the future of petroleum and fossil hydrocarbons. 

by Marco Pagani

The IEA forecast for the future of petroleum are not only too optimistic, but also wrong because they are based on summing volumes of fuels which have different output and energy costs of extraction. Here you find the correct analysis, much less reassuring

What will be the future of oil? Antonio Turiel recently published a very interesting post on his blog, The Oil Crash. Turiel's post is very long and detailed, let me try here to summarize it to make it more easily understandable.

The figure above shows the IEA's predictions, where it is hoped to arrive to nearly 100 million barrels per day in  2035 (1). These predictions, however, are totally wrong for two reasons:
  1. Non-conventional fuels (liquefied natural gas, bitumen, shales, etc,) have a gross energy content per unit volume that is approximately 70% of conventional crude oil and, for this reason must be counted in terms of "equivalent barrels" .(2)
  2. We need to consider the "net energy" that can be obtained from a given amount of fuel, because every fuel has an energy cost of production that must be subtracted from the total (3) che va sottratto dal risultato finale.
The result of these corrections are is shown in the figure below. As you see, the difference is not small, even though the plotted data are based on the same initial data.

However, the IEA forecast is very optimistic also for other reasons, mainly because the decline in production will be more marked than assumed (-5%/year instead of -3%), the wells to be developed will be usable at 50% and those to be discovered are probably assumed to be four times what would be a realistic evaluation. The same is true for non conventional oil.

According to Turiel, therefore, a more realistic future scenario is the following:

What to say? From 100 million barrels, we arrive to about 40; if we make preparations for this future, perhaps we'll be able to face it, but if we keep the rosy colored glasses of IEA, we might well be running towards catastrophe.


(1) The IEA predictions include also refinery gains, which are not shown here because, as Turiel notes, these gains are obtained at the expense of energy obtained from natural gas.

(2) the ton equivalent of petroleum (tep) represents a mass of fuel containing an energy of 42 GJ. A barrel-equivalent equals 0.146 tep

(3) EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) is the ratio  x=Et/Ei (hence Ei=Et/x) between the total energy produced and the energy spent in input. The net energy (En) is therefore the fraction of energy that can be obtained from the resource En = Et-Ei and En= Et - Et/x = Et (1-1/x) = Et y, with y is the yield.

The values of x and of y =1-1/x used by  Turiel are:

                                     x                                y
Crude oil 20 0,95
To be developed 5 0,80
To be discovered 3 0,67
LNG 5 0,80
Non conventional oil 2 0,50
Shale Oil 2 0,50

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The cracked pot: a little hope for 2013

Painting by Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899)

The old story of the cracked pot explains the basic mechanism of the universe. The continuous spilling of energy from one energy level to another is the true engine of creation that generates those structures that we call "life". Real perfection, apparently, lies in a little imperfection.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.

‘I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.’

The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.’

Each of us has our own unique flaw.  But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!

h/t "Attack on Earth"


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)