Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seven shocking events of 2014

The killing of the female bear known as Daniza, in Italy, has been the paradigmatic event of a disastrous year of senseless violence against humans and non-humans alike (image above by Helga Marsala).

Being involved with peak oil studies should make one somewhat prepared for the future. Indeed, for years, we have been claiming that the arrival of peak oil would bring turmoil and big changes in the world and we are seeing them, this year. However, the way in which these changes manifest themselves turns out to be shocking and unexpected. This 2014 has been an especially shocking year; so many things have happened. Let me list my personal shocks in no particular order

1. The collapse of oil prices. Price oscillations were expected to occur near the oil production peak, but I expected a repetition of the events of 2008, when the price crash was preceded by a financial crash. But in 2014 the price collapse came out of the blue, all by itself. Likely, a major financial crisis is in the making, but that we will see that next year.

2. The ungreening of Europe. My trip to Brussels for a hearing of the European parliament was a shocking experience for me. The Europe I knew was peaceful and dedicated to sustainability and harmonic development. What I found was that the European Parliament had become a den of warmongers hell bent on fighting Russia and on drilling for oil and gas in Europe. Not my Europe any more. Whose Europe is this?

3. The year propaganda came of age. I take this expression from Ilargi on "The Automatic Earth". Propaganda is actually much older than 2014, but surely in this year it became much more shrill and invasive than it had usually been. It is shocking to see how fast and how easily propaganda plunged us into a new cold war against Russia. Also shocking it was to see how propaganda could convince so many people (including European MPs) that drilling more and "fracking" was the solution for all our problems.

4. The Ukraine disaster. It was a shock to see how easily it was for a European country to plunge from relative normalcy into a civil war of militias fighting each other and where citizens were routinely shelled and forced to take refuge in basements. It shows how really fragile are those entities we call "states". For whom is the Ukraine bell tolling?

5. The economic collapse of Italy. What is most shocking, even frightening, is how it is taking place in absolute quiet and silence. It is like a slow motion nightmare. The government seems to be unable to act in any other way than inventing ever more creative ways to raise taxes to squeeze out as much as possible from already exhausted and impoverished citizens. People seem to be unable to react, even to understand what is going on - at most they engage in a little blame game, faulting politicians, immigrants, communists, gypsies, the Euro, and the great world conspiracy for everything that is befalling on them. A similar situation exists in other Southern European countries. How long the quiet can last is all to be seen.

6. The loss of hope of stopping climate change. 2014 was the year in which the publication of the IPCC 5th assessment report was completed. It left absolutely no ripple in the debate. People seem to think that the best weapon we have against climate change is to declare that it doesn't exist. They repeat over and over the comforting mantra that "temperatures have not increased during the past 15 years", and that despite 2014 turning out to be the hottest year on record.

7. The killing of a bear, in Italy, was a small manifestation of wanton cruelty in a year that has seen much worse. But it was a paradigmatic event that shows how difficult - even impossible - for humans to live in peace with what surrounds them - be it human or beast.

And this is just a partial list of the many shocking things of this year (maybe we can discuss that more in the comments). Then, what shocks will we see in 2015?


  1. What you saw in Brussels was, I think, the beginning of Europe's desperation. But I am guessing that the feeling of crisis will become much more evident in the year ahead.

  2. I used to be a convinced supporter of the European Union. I used to be.....

  3. In the UK being 'pro-EU' can be translated as 'very liberal'. In fact, if you raise any objection to the EU and its policies, including Ukraine, then you are assumed to be a right-wing xenophobe. Quite a sad state of affairs.

    1. Here, it is a bit the opposite. The right is rabidly anti-EU; they want to leave the Euro. The left is more pro-EU and pro-Euro. But they are embarrassed to say that!

    2. I guess that Jason, like me, thinks EU position on Ukraine needs to be criticised, but like me resents his arguments and protest being portrayed as ‘anti-European’. (The emergent populist ’take UK out of Europe’ right-wing UK Independence Party is something else. It is primarily an 'anti-immigrant' English party blaming the EU.)

      It has been more disturbing for me to see the ‘pro-Europe’ Guardian, the ‘left-of-centre intellectual’ newspaper, a paper that I have read for 50 years, promoting the anti-Putin line via editorial policy and selective reporting. This has indeed been the year of modern propaganda. (Putin is easily portrayed for propaganda purposes as a threat to 'Enlightenment' values and to the social attitudes espoused by ‘progressive thinkers’ – i.e. the Guardian reader!)

      I worked for years in agricultural policy areas in countries that were candidates for EU membership (i.e. previously in communist bloc). I am now very cynical about most EU policy. The Balkan wars should have taught me how badly the EU could handle the really big strategic issues. The ‘growth’ model for Europe has not worked, and is now looking very scary indeed. Your story of the European Parliament is more than just ‘worrying’. These guys could be in the vanguard to take us over a cliff.

  4. It angered me so much to read about the senseless killing of this bear. I appreciate how you highlighted it as a symbol of our general behavior towards the natural world.

    1. Indeed, evil appears most clearly in small events.

  5. It is quite remarkable how similar the citizens are in Italy and the United States, given the obvious differences between the countries. In neither country is resource depletion appreciated as being a problem that underlies so many other problems. In both nations scapegoats are sought to explain away people's difficulties. Immigrants are demonized. Cruelty is becoming more common. Fracking is promoted by both governments.

    Perhaps Western Civilization is nearing a major crisis. So much of the industrialized world's citizens are reacting the same way, all over the world. So many national leaders promote fracking, coal mining and the postponement of meaningful agreements on the curtailment of carbon dioxide emissions. Nobody talks about global human overpopulation as if it's a serious problem.

    As Noam Chomsky said, as a culture, as a civilization and as a species we are like the mythical lemmings running headlong off a cliff.

  6. Dr Bardi:

    If you have not read «A Sand County Almanac» by Aldo Leopold, please do! Particularly relevant is his description of a grizzly bear known as Old Bigfoot. Leopold makes many of the same points you have regarding Daniza.

    David F Collins

    1. I read something of Aldo Leopold - but I don't remember having read of Old Bigfoot. Will give a look to that, thanks!

    2. ....No one ever saw the old bear, but in the muddy springs about the base of the cliffs you saw his incredible tracks. Seeing them made the most hard-bitten cowboys aware of bear. Wherever they rode they saw the mountain, and when they saw the mountain they thought of bear. Campfire conversation ran to beef, bailes, and bear. Bigfoot claimed for his own only a cow a year, and a few square miles of useless rocks, but his personality pervaded the country.
      Those were the days when progress first came to the cow country. Progress had various emissaries.

      One spring, progress sent still another emissary, a government trapper, a sort of St. George in overalls, seeking dragons to slay at government expense. Were there, he asked, any destructive animals in need of slaying? Yes, there was the big bear.
      The trapper packed his mule and headed for Escudilla.
      In a month he was back, his mule staggering under a heavy hide. There was only one barn in town big enough to dry it on. He had tried traps, poison, and all his usual wiles to no avail. Then he had erected a set-gun in a defile through which only the bear could pass, and waited. The last grizzly walked into the string and shot himself.
      It was June. The pelt was foul, patchy, and worthless. It seemed to us rather an insult to deny the last grizzly the chance to leave a good pelt as a memorial to his race. All he left was a skull in the National Museum, and a quarrel among scientists over the Latin name of the skull.
      It was only after we pondered on these things that we began to wonder who wrote the rules for progress.

      Escudilla still hangs on the horizon, but when you see it you no longer think of bear. It’s only a mountain now.

  7. What shocked me during the 2014 was the Ukraina’s crisis. That country was a civil country during the last fifty years and part of a powerful Soviet Union. After that started a period of decadence and in the last year a collapse. We have seen neo-nazi kill defenseless people or burn alive citizens in a labor union building. This is terrible but is also terrible the behavior of our governments with the real support to Ukraine puppet regime. Terrible was also the way that our media used to report this tragedy: TV, newspapers and magazines didn’t report any correct information. Was to simple spoken against Russia, Mr Putin and support an economical war (we are speaking about propaganda!). Maybe Russia is interesting for low cost oil and gas, maybe also Ukraine . We are thinking that a war is not possible…. Are we sure? Ukraine was a civil country like Yugoslavia and what we have seen was not so good. Are we sure that a similar destiny is not possible for Italy or others occidental countries, in a case of war or quick decline (Seneca cliff). 2015 seems to be interesting.



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)