Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: the year the world stood still

Pope Leo I meets Attila the Hun in 450 AD near the Lake of Garda, in Italy. After the meeting, Attila withdrew his army North of the Alps and nobody knows exactly why. Doesn't that remind to you something that happened in 2013? (painting by Raphael )

I don't know if you share my impression, but the truly memorable event of 2013 (*) was, mainly, a non-event: the non-attack to Syria. Everything seemed to be ready and set for a repetition of the same old script: there is this ugly dictator, he gassed his own people, we need humanitarian bombs, etc. In early September, after the usual consensus building campaign, everything was ready to start bombing. Then, strangely, everything quieted down and nobody knows exactly why.

This story reminds me of when Attila's invasion of Italy was stopped after a meeting with pope Leo I, in 450 AD. Also in that case, nobody knows exactly why. The interpretation of Raphael (above) is that Attila was scared by a vision of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords. Who knows what made President Obama change his mind?

We could say that a year of non-events, at least, is a quiet year and that should be good. But don't forget that big events are the result of the accumulation of small events, often perceived as non-events. And there is no doubt that a lot of these small events are accumulating. Depletion, erosion, ocean acidification, global warming, ecosystem disruption and so on. All these events are occurring even though we may perceive them as non-events. One of them is the melting of Arctic ice and the consequent release of methane. That's something that Sam Carana has correctly termed "the biggest story of 2013". If the Arctic methane will released in truly large amounts; then I am afraid it will be such a catastrophe that not even the Pope (and perhaps not even St. Peter and St. Paul with their swords) would be able to stop it. The world never stands still for a long time.

(Below, US methane readings - created by Sam Carana)

(*) That doesn't mean to say that the Hurricane Hayan tragedy in the Philippines was a non-event but, unfortunately, we are getting used to these extreme events as the result of the ongoing worsening of the climate problem


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)