Monday, October 30, 2017

Biofuels: Can They Save the Airlines from the Seneca Collapse?

Painting planes green is much easier than making them run on biofuels.

"Can the airlines be run on biofuels?" As it often happens, this simple question doesn't have a simple answer. First of all, it is a question that makes sense only in terms of a "sustainable" plane, that is one that doesn't run on fossil fuels. That's a major technological problem. Whereas cars can be made to run on battery-powered electric motors, the power/weight ratio of the combination is simply unacceptable for a passenger plane that could provide a performance comparable to that of current jet planes. Hydrogen planes have been proposed, but they are a nightmare for several reasons and it is unlikely that they could become practical in the short and medium term future.

That would leave only biofuels as a "sustainable" fuel that could power the current fleet of jet planes. Indeed, a small number of tests have been carried out showing that it is possible to fly planes using biofuels. But can it be done on the large scale needed to get rid of fossil fuels?

The first problem is whether biofuels are truly carbon-free. Most likely, the current fuels made from crops are not; in the sense that they involve extensive use of fossil fuels for their manufacturing. In many cases, however, even the current generation ("1st generation") of biofuels can provide a significant saving in the use of fossil fuels for the same amount of energy produced. This is the case, in particular, for ethanol produced from sugarcane in Brazil. But there is a more fundamental question is: what would be the consequences of ramping up biofuel production to the levels needed to power the current airline fleet?

In a recent paper on Nature, Rulli et al. discuss the effect of the large scale cultivation of 1st generation biofuels on various parameters of the world's economy, including the global food supply. They don't specifically examine the needs of airlines, but we can use their results for analyzing this sector. First of all, the total amount of jet fuel consumed in the world is reported to be 6,000,000 barrels per day. It corresponds to about 7% of the total world combustible liquids production. We may consider this value as approximately the fraction of transportation energy used by airlines since crude oil represents 93% of the total energy used in transportation.

Rulli et al. estimate that if we were to arrive at a 10% reliance on biofuels for the world's transport, that would leave food for no more than 6.7 billion people and, since the current world population is about 7.6 billion people, almost one billion people would starve. Now, since the airlines consume about 7% of the world's transport energy, feeding the airlines with biofuels would move us dangerously close to the threshold that would lead to killing a large number of people for the purpose of keeping planes flying.

Of course, these data are for first-generation biofuels. There is much enthusiasm for second and third generation biofuels from cellulosic plant tissues or algae which, theoretically don't impact on the food supply. Sure, but today the production of these fuels is non-existent or at best negligible. How long will it take to ramp up their production to the levels we are discussing here? And are we sure that they will work as promised?

The problem, here, is not just a technological one. We are dealing with a complex system, the world's economy coupled with the planetary ecosystem. In these systems, you can't change just one thing and leave all the rest unchanged. Once we start to produce biofuels on a very large scale, it becomes extremely difficult to stop at a certain threshold. If we have a product and a market for it, both tend to expand and it is nearly impossible to stop the expansion of something that generates a profit.

That would bring big problems, to say the least. Rulli et al. estimate that arriving to supply 1st generation biofuels in an amount corresponding to 20% of the transport energy would leave no more than 4.4 billion people alive in the world. That is, it would kill some 3 billion people. Or, if dealing with 2nd or 3rd generation biofuels, it would lead to whatever disaster generated by the appropriation for humankind an even larger fraction of the planetary photosynthetic activity than it is done today. The ecosystem has limits, after all.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that ethical considerations would affect decisions in this field. The system is made in such a way that if producing fuels for the rich is more profitable than producing food for the poor, the system will produce fuels, even though that implies killing billions of people. So, we can only hope that biofuels will turn out to be too expensive even for the rich; but that may not be the case. With so much research and development ongoing, production costs might be lowered enough to turn biofuel into an effective weapon of mass destruction (and I wouldn't be surprised to discover that this is one of the reasons why biofuels are promoted so aggressively in some quarters).

Or, more simply, we may hope that the Seneca Collapse of the world's economy will take care of the "airline problem" once and for all. As I said many times, the Seneca Cliff is not a problem, it is an opportunity. In this case, it could lead us to develop better transportation technologies; more efficient and more benign for the ecosystem - although probably slower. But that's not a problem, either. It is an opportunity to travel only when you need to, and to enjoy the trip, too!

 Some further data on the extent of land needed for the cultivation of biofuels for airlines. 
First of all, the total amount of jet fuel consumed in the world is reported to be 6,000,000 barrels per day . It corresponds to about 7% of the total world combustible liquids production. Now, we need to compare the values measured in barrels with the needs of the airlines, measured in liters. A barrel contains 159 liters, so 159*6=1000 makes about 1 billion liters/day, or 3.6x10^11 liters/year. Let's now consider the most efficient biofuel production: ethanol from Brazil's sugarcane. It can produce 6000 liters/ha per year  Note that ethanol is not as energy dense as jet fuel. It has only about 70% of the energy density of gasoline Which means that the airlines would consume 3.6*10^11/0.7 = ca. 500 billion liters of ethanol/year. 
So, assuming that the whole production of Brazilian ethanol is dedicated to airplanes, we would need more than 80*10^6 hectares (eighty million hectares). The total arable land in Brazil is reported to be: 75 Million ha. It means that the whole agriculture of Brazil should be dedicated only to produce fuel for the airlines. 
That is, of course, absurd, but it is also true that the world's total arable land is = 1,407 x10^6 ha (, about 20 times the area available in Brazil. So, the airlines would need only about 5% of the total which is, by the way, just slightly larger than the global arable area used for biofuel production today  (about 4%) But note also that not all the arable land has the same good productivity as the land used for sugarcane production in Brazil, so the real fraction needed would have to be considerably larger than 5%, probably still less than 10%. How many people would starve if we were to arrive to that, it is impossible to say. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Seneca Cliff of the Gold Industry.

This article is reposted from Steve St. Angelo's website with the kind permission of the author. It illustrates a typical theme of the "Cassandra's Legacy" blog, the fact that all human enterprises are dynamic; they evolve, change, and adapt to the challenges generated by the environment. 

In particular, the mining industry follows a typical dynamic cycle of exploitation generated by the gradually declining profits that come from mining less and less concentrated ores. It is true for crude oil and it is true for gold as well. The latter is perhaps the mineral mined today at the lowest possible concentrations. For gold, concentration (or ore grade, if you prefer) is the crucial parameter that determines the cost of production. As a consequence, the gold mining industry is especially fragile and vulnerable to depletion coupled to market oscillation. The current situation is explained by Steve Rocco in detail in this fascinating and informative post. 

THE FRAGILE GOLD INDUSTRY: Gigantic Equipment, Massive Capital Expenditures & Rising Costs

The gold industry has been built on the leveraging of debt and energy.  The days of using human and animal labor to produce the precious yellow metal are long gone.  While some gold is still mined the old fashion way, the overwhelming majority is produced by using colossal-sized mining equipment, massive amounts of capital, energy, and materials.  Thus, the global gold supply comes via a very complex industry with a lot of moving parts.  When one of these critical parts are in short supply or removed, then the entire gold supply system disintegrates.
An example of one of the newest complex gold mines in the world is the Pueblo Viejo Mine in the Dominican Republic, owned by Barrick (60%) and Goldcorp (40%), which cost a staggering $3.7 billion to build.  The Pueblo Viejo Mine started production in 2013 and is now running a full capacity.  Gold production at the Pueblo Viejo Mine is over one million ounces per year.  According to Barrick, it’s cost of sales at Pueblo Viejo was $564 an ounce in 2016.  However, cost of sales does not include “all costs.”  We must also factor General and Administrative, Exploration-Evaluation, Mine Closure and Income Tax expenses.
However, these additional expenses do not include the initial $3.7 billion cost to build the mine.  According to data, the Pueblo Viejo Mine has approximately 15.5 million oz (Moz) of proven and probable gold reserves.  Even though additional gold discoveries at the mine will be added in the future, if we assume a 15-year initial payback period, the annualized capital cost would be an extra $250 per oz of gold produced.
Thus, the $564 cost of sales plus $250 capital cost now equals $814 an ounce.  But, this does not include the additional expenses which would push the actual total cost from the Pueblo Viejo Mine over $900 an ounce.  This is just my simple calculation which shouldn’t be compared to the industry’s more complex accounting of Net Present Value.  Even though the Pueblo Viejo Mine is Barrick’s lowest cost gold mine in the company, Barrick’s total cost to produce gold last year was $1,125, based on the $1,251 spot price.  Again, that is my simple “Net Income Break-Even Analysis.”
Regardless, the Pueblo Viejo Mine is a very advanced complex mine that processed 7.5 million tons of ore to produce the 1.1 Moz of gold last year.  According to Barrick’s 2016 Sustainability Report, the Pueblo Viejo Mine consumed the following in 2016:
Pueblo Viejo Mine Materials & Energy Consumed:
  1. 4.9 billion gallons of water
  2. 3,100 metric tons cyanide
  3. 338,000 metric tons lime
  4. 18.7 million GigaJoules of Energy (3.1 million barrels of oil equivalent)
There are many other materials not included in that list above, but the ability to produce gold at the Pueblo Viejo Mine is only possible from a very complex supply chain.  The majority of materials and energy consumed by the Pueblo Viejo Mine has to be transported to the Dominican Republic Island in the Carribean.
For example, Barrick’s mining equipment fleet at the Pueblo Viejo Mine includes following (info from OSIsoft Report):
  1. (34) CAT 789 Haul Trucks
  2. (2) Hitachi 3600 Shovels
  3. (3) CAT 994F Front Loaders
  4. (30) Support equipment
The estimated maintenance budget for just the haul truck fleet is $18 million.  And when one of the 34 trucks goes out of service, it cost one hell of a lot of money.  The truck downtime cost is $700 per hour.  The six tires the CAT 789 Haul truck uses cost approximately $30-40,000 a piece and last a little more than a year.  The CAT 789 Haul truck gets about 0.3 miles per gallon.
(CAT 797F transported by Mercedes Semi-tractor)
Now, the featured picture (above) that I used for this article is not the CAT 789; it is the CAT 797.  The CAT 797 weighs twice as much as the CAT 789, used at the Pueblo Viejo Mine.  However, I just wanted to give an idea of just how big these haul trucks can get.
Furthermore, the mining, excavating and hauling of ore out of the Pueblo Viejo Mine is controlled by high-tech computerized systems.  The hauling of the ore by the large truck fleet is monitored by state of the art technology that designs the most efficient method to remove the ore out of the mine, so very little time is wasted.  Again, time is money.
We must remember, the more technology that is used in a system, the more complex and fragile it becomes.  Of course, technology is great at making large operations run more efficiently and faster, but the downside is that if one or more critical parts are removed, the complex mining system breaks down.  What would happen to gold production at the Pueblo Viejo Mine if cyanide becomes in short supply?  Without cyanide, the processing of gold ore grinds to a halt.
While I have provided one example of the enormous cost and massive amounts of capital needed to produce gold and one mine, let’s take a look at what is going on at the top 8 gold mining companies in the world.

Top 8 Gold Mining Companies Costs & CAPEX Spending Surge

It is quite amazing how much more it costs to produce an ounce of gold today than it did at the beginning of the century.  The huge rise in the total cost to produce gold is why the price is nearly five times higher.  Unfortunately, many precious metals analysts suggest that the increase in the gold price is due to either market sentiment or increased demand.  I have stated in several articles that the tremendous increase in the gold price was due to the rise in the price of oil:
However, there are additional factors that also impact the cost to produce gold.  For example, the gold mining industry now has to move a great deal more ore to produce the same amount of gold it did in 2000.  The next chart shows the falling yield in the top gold mining industry from 2005 to 2013:
In just eight years, the top five gold miners experienced a near 30% decline in average gold yield from 1.68 g/t (grams per ton) to 1.2 g/t.  If we went back five more years to 2000, I would imagine it would be closer to a 40% decline in average yield.  Thus, it now takes the processing of 40% more ore to produce the same amount of gold today.  Which means, it now takes a hell of a lot more energy and materials to produce gold today than it did 16 years ago.
This next chart puts into perspective the increased cost to produce gold today versus in 2000:
This graph shows the increase “Cost of Goods Sold” for producing gold at the top 8 gold mining companies in the world.  Even though many of the companies have seen a decline in the Cost of Goods Sold since the peak in 2013, the overall figure is still much higher than it was in 2000.  Some of the companies included in the chart above have seen their Cost of Goods Sold increase significantly because they increased their gold production substantially.  However, Barrick did not have that excuse.
Barrick produced 5.9 Moz of gold with a $553 million cost compared to $5.4 billion in 2016 on 5.5 Moz of gold production.  Here we can see that Barrick’s Cost of Goods Sold increased ten times while production is about the same.
According to the data at and these companies’ annual reports, the total Cost of Gold Sold in 2000, was $4.9 billion ($4,953 million) versus $23.6 billion ($23,588 million) in 2016:
Now, what is amazing about the figures in the chart above is that the Cost of Goods Sold figure has more than quadrupled while total gold production in the group only increased by 2 Moz.  The top 8 gold miners Cost Of Goods Sold increased from $206 per oz in 2000 to $907 last year.   The huge increase in cost to produce gold is the very reason the price surged from $279 in 2000 to $1251 in 2016.  Let’s look at the comparison:
Cost of Goods Sold vs. Gold Price:
2000 vs. 2016 Cost of Goods Sold = 4.4 times increase
2000 vs. 2016 Gold Price = 4.5 times increase
So, if we removed all SUPPLY & DEMAND forces from the equation, it is quite surprising that the gold price is up by the same amount as the cost to produce gold.  However, we need to also look at the rise in capital expenditures.  During the same period, the top 8 gold miners total capital expenditures increased from $1.7 billion ($1,723 million) in 2000 to $6.1 billion ($6,088 million) in 2016:
Again, we can see that total capital expenditure (CAPEX) increased from $72 per ounce in 2000 to $234 an ounce in 2016, while overall production only increased by 2 Moz.  The group’s CAPEX spending only increased 3.2 times versus the 4.4 times in the Cost of Goods Sold, but it shows that it cost a heck of a lot more money to sustain or replace production.
If we understand that the present value of gold is tied to its cost of production, then we would realize it has a PRICE FLOOR.  Sure, the gold price could spike lower, but its average annual price has remained close to (or above) its cost of production for quite some time:
This chart represents my “Net Income Breakeven Analysis” for Barrick and Newmont, the two top largest gold companies in the world.  As I also mentioned above, Barrick’s cost to produce gold in 2016 was $1,125 when the spot price was $1,251.  Thus, the market has priced gold above its cost of production (in these two companies) since at least 2000.
Lastly, the gold mining industry needs a vast amount of materials, parts, energy as well as a very complex supply chain system to produce the precious yellow metal.  If one part of the supply chain breaks down, then it becomes extremely difficult or impossible to produce gold.  While there are many fragile aspects of the modern high-tech gold industry, I believe ENERGY is the most crucial.
Once the world starts to experience a decline in global oil production, the vast supply chain system will begin to break down.  This will impact the largest mines the most.  I will be writing more about this subject matter and also why a declining global oil supply will push the price of gold up much higher.
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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Linking Hurricanes to Climate Change? Not So Easy.

The text below is a reposting of something that I published on Oct 2, 2017 on "Medium".  On the basis of data from Google Trends, I proposed that, on the average, the public had not perceived the link of climate change with the spate of hurricanes of 2017. A few weeks later, it seems that my observation was correct: the latest polls indicate that the American public is slowly (very slowly) awakening to the idea of human-caused climate change, but that the 2017 hurricane season has not triggered a substantial change of views. Here is the post.

Linking hurricanes to climate change is harder thank you think

by Ugo Bardi

Above: the results of a Google Trends search for the term “climate change”. The recent wave of Caribbean hurricanes has had little effect on the number of searches on the Web. Most people just didn’t think that hurricanes and climate change are linked to each other.

We all live inside our specific information cocoons where we hear from sources we tend to trust.

If you, like me, live in a cocoon where it is generally agreed that human-caused climate change is real and dangerous, then you would think that the recent series of hurricanes hitting the US should have made a great impact on the public perception of the climate change threat. The impression I had from the messages I received and what I read from my sources of information is of an onrush of excitation that made it clear to everybody sane in his/her mind that we need to act against climate change before it is too late.

Ahem, no.

This is a classic example of the working of echo chambers. Out there, in the world of the mainstream media, the link between hurricanes and climate change was occasionally mentioned but that had little or no effect on people’s perception of the issue.

Look at the Google data at the beginning of this post. You see how, in June, Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris agreement aroused some interest in climate and it may have pushed people to be more aware of the climate change threat.

But the hurricanes didn’t move people in the US to search for more information on climate change on the Web. Worldwide, it was the same.

So, the attempt of moving public opinion by linking the hurricanes to climate change seems to have been a major flop. Actually, it may turn out to be more than just a flop, it may backfire. Read what satirist Scott Adams said on his blog:

Last winter I saw climate skeptics (or deniers in some cases) proclaiming climate change a hoax because it was cold outside. The scientists and pro-climate-change folks mocked those poor souls for not understanding the difference between anecdotal evidence and science. You can’t determine a long term trend by looking out the window, say all scientists. And if you think you can, you’re being a big dope who doesn’t know the first thing about science.
If you don’t understand that anecdotal data in isolation is generally useless to scientists, you don’t understand anything about science. A year ago, that described a lot of climate skeptics who were looking out their windows, seeing snow, and declaring climate change a hoax.
But that was last year. This week the sides reversed. Now I keep seeing climate alarmists on social media looking at the hurricanes and declaring them strong evidence of climate change. They might be right. But if they are, it is by coincidence and not by science. Scientists say it is too early to tell. So now we have a bizarre situation in which the pro-science side is disagreeing with the scientists on their own side. That’s what confirmation bias gets you. Both sides see anecdotal evidence as real.

One problem with Scott Adams is that when he speaks about climate science he shows the same kind of total incompetence shown by the character of the pointy-haired boss in his “Dilbert” strip. But here, there is no doubt that he has a point.

Personally, I am perfectly willing to trust climate scientists when they tell me that global warming has a role in making hurricanes stronger. But I can see how most people will be confused by the idea that, no, snowstorms don’t tell us anything about global warming but, yes, hurricanes do.

To say nothing about being able to follow the concatenation of concepts that would lead them to understand that installing a solar panel in California can help people in Puerto Rico survive the next wave of hurricanes.

I can also see climate science deniers wringing their hands and telling themselves: “Now, let’s wait for the first snowstorm of this winter, and then we’ll tell those alarmists what they deserve!”

So, another day, another flop. We just don’t seem to be able to find the right way to move society toward doing something serious to stop climate change. Actually, in many cases, we seem to be perfectly able to worsen things.

So at a minimum, we need to rethink what we have been doing in terms of climate communications — because it is just not working.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Paris: the Dragon King. More Presentations of "The Seneca Effect" Book

Camille Olinet (left) and Fanny Verrax (right) with whom I was engaged in a discussion on mining as part of the presentation of my book "The Seneca Effect" in Paris. Camille is studying agronomy, Fanny has a degree in philosophy and studies mineral depletion and its consequences with a special interest on rare earths. They are a good example of the lively intellectual climate of Paris. 

In 1998, Jean Laherrere (yes, the great expert on peak oil!) and his colleague, the French physicist Didier Sornette were studying the distribution of various natural phenomena. They found that cities followed a nice "Power law" distribution in the relation of size and rank with a single exception: Paris: a city so much larger than the others in France that it could as well be on another planet.
In that paper, Laherrere and Sornette used the term "king" for an element of the distribution that's completely outside the trend. Later on, Sornette used the term "Dragon King" for this kind of things, correctly surmising that these dragons are better examples of sudden and unexpected crisis than the concept of "Black Swan" created by Nassim Taleb. (you will find details on these curious entities in my book, "The Seneca Effect")

Now, I don't know how I could measure the level of "intellectual liveliness" of Paris, but I surmise that if it could be done, the results would be similar to those that Laherrere and Sornette found for the size of French cities. Paris truly stands out of the crowd in many senses, also as a throbbing center of intellectual activity.

So, my book tour in Paris was a real smorgasbord of discussions and debates. Not everything was on stellar levels, of course, but it was a pleasure to note that in Paris (and in general, in France) you can still seriously discuss of things, such as "peak oil" and "mineral depletion," which seem to have become politically incorrect - branded as "catastrophism" - in the English-speaking world. And there are still books published in French and written by French scientists on these subjects that are supposed to be bought and read by people, not just thought as ornaments of a scientist's career.

Why is Paris so lively? Maybe the French made a wise choice in maintaining their language alive as a medium for scientific communication. Or maybe it is just the French tradition of respecting their "savants" (things are a little different in the US, as we all know). Or, simply, because France has not yet taken the downslope of the Seneca cliff as other European countries have (Italy is a sad example of this).

In any case, vive la France!

h/t: Jacques.Chartier-Kastler, Yves Cochet, Didier Cumenal, Jean Pierre Diederen, Arthur Keller, Vincent Mignerot, Daniel Moulin, Camille Olinet, Jacques Treiner, Fanny Verrax, and many, many others

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

You cannot have a war economy if there is no war. My 4th presentation of "The Seneca Effect" in Paris

Above, at the Momentum Institute in Paris on Friday 13th, 2017. Ugo Bardi is on the left of the photo, Yves Cochet (president of the institute) is at the center, with the white shirt. 

The presentation at the Institut Momentum on Oct 13th was the fourth of a series of presentation related to my book "The Seneca Effect" that I gave in Paris last week. This one was probably the least formal one of the series. I gave some explanation of how system dynamics models can produce the asymmetric "Seneca Curve," but I concentrated on a section of the book, the one dealing with the extermination of whales during the 19th century. It is a theme related to the concept of Anthropocene: the human relation with the ecosystem.

The point that I try to stress in these presentations is that most people, including decision-makers, just don't have the concept of "overshoot", that is the tendency of consuming more resources than the system can produce, forcing it to crash down after some time. It is something that I described also in a previous talk.

The problem, here, is that not having the concept of overshoot, people happy go along the Seneca trajectory, thinking that the more resources they can extract from the system, the better things are for them. They don't realize that the more they go up, the faster they'll have to crash down. I surmised that we have a cultural problem: it is a relatively new concept that will have to penetrate culture. That will take time and it is not obvious that it will ever happen.

The comments that I received were varied and interesting. One point that found myself in agreement is that the concept of "Anthropocene" is really too narrow when it is intended as something that started with nuclear energy or with fossil fuels. The Anthropocene, really, started with the late Pleistocene, more than 10,000 years ago, when humans started having a major impact on the ecosystem causing, among many other effects, the extinction of the megafauna of those times.

From here, the discussion moved on how (and if) these concepts could move into the general consciousness of humankind. Here, Yves Cochet made a series of interesting observations. The one I think best summarizes the whole discussion is that "you cannot have a war economy if there is no war". As a former politician, Cochet understands the problem very well.

This is another way to state what I said before: as long as people move along the rising side of the Seneca curve, they enjoy the ride won't care about what's in store for them on the other side, the collapsing one. And that explains why all our efforts to alert people in advance failed, from the times of "The Limits to Growth" to peak oil and climate change. Those people who engaged into the attempt were marginalized as (to use Cochet's definition) "Totemic Circles". And this is the way the human mind works and it seems we have to accept it and enjoy life.

(about enjoying life, here is a picture of me, in Paris, drinking beer in Montmartre with the physicist Jacques Treiner)

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Seneca transition for the human mind? My third presentation in Paris

One more day in Paris, one more presentation. This one was given on Oct 12th, at the "Ecole Centrale d'Electronique" (ECE) for the members of the system dynamics group of the French Association of System Science ((

This one was a rather technical presentation, starting with the concept of "Mind Sized" system dynamics models to describe the "Seneca Effect", all the way to show some recent results of world modeling obtained by the MEDEAS project.

Overall, most (although not all) the people working in system dynamics are perfectly aware of the situation and of the difficulties associated with the transition. Perhaps the most interesting comment was about the Seneca effect applied to the human mind. Would it be possible, someone said, that an abrupt Seneca transition would affect human minds and somehow force them to take reality into account? It is another way to express the concept, common among the concerned, that at some moment some truly big event will force people to accept the reality of climate change (and of other related, occurring disasters).

Indeed, some people recently pushed the connection between hurricanes and climate change trying to move people into recognizing the existence of climate change. But it doesn't seem to have produced a noticeable effect on the public perception of the problem.

Maybe, someday, some really big event - a truly enormous one - will generate the needed mental transition, but it will not be easy. In my answer to the comment, I noted several cases, for instance the American whaling industry in the 19th century, where the operators went through the complete destruction of the system they were exploiting without ever realizing (or at least admitting) what they were doing. According to this example, the human civilization might be very well destroyed by climate change without realizing (or at least admitting) the existence of the problem. But so is the way humans behave.

H/t Didier Cumenal for organizing this seminar

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Education for the Transition? My 2nd Seminar in Paris

There I am, together with Gaell Mainguy, Directeur du développement et des relations internationales du Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires in Paris. It was on Wednesday, Oct 11 and we are on the 21 floor of the "Tour de Montparnasse", spectacular view of Paris and of the Eiffel Tower.

We had a good hour or more of discussion about the role of education in shaping our future. I was truly impressed by the competence and the dedication of the people who participated in the debate. Yet, I remain somewhat skeptical about the possibility for education - at any level - to change society.

On this point, I have some personal experience as a teacher, but more than my limited record I tend to trust Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of "The Limits To Growth" who defined himself as "a depressed man with a smiling face." That was for various reasons, one was that after, maybe, 40 years of teaching his students about sustainability, he observed that when they moved into the real world, outside the university, they behaved exactly in the same way as the people who had not been taught these matters. Dennis Meadows told me something very similar regarding his own experience. And all that fits well with my personal experience.

Basically, people normally tend to go along the path of lowest resistance and in a society that does not reward sustainability-oriented actions, they will rapidly learn how to maximize their utility function, even though that means forgetting what they learned in school.

That doesn't mean it is useless to teach sustainability and, of course, no rule is without exception. Maybe the kind of creativity that people can develop after a certain training remains an asset all over their life. It means, however, that as long as society remains what it is, the lofty principles that we learn from the science of ecosystems will not be put into practice. So, what is the solution? Well, a good Seneca Cliff can do wonders in terms of changing things!

Apart from lofty principles and Seneca cliffs, a good beer in Paris is always a good thing! Here I am, after the seminar, in a bistrot of Montparnasse together with Jean Pierre Dieterlen, a member of the Adrastia association.

H/t Jacques Chartier-Kastler for the organization of this meeting

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My first presentation on the energy transition in Paris: is it a problem or a change?

My first presentation in Paris, yesterday, one of at least four that I am planning to give here (busy times!!). It was at the Ecole National Superieure (ENS) and it was centered on the Energy Transition, as part of a seminar involving several presentations.

Overall, I'd say that all the presentations were good with some very competent speakers. The problem that I have in these debates/seminar is always the same. People tend to think of the transition in terms of a problem. And if it is a problem, it means it has a solution (or maybe not). But if the transition is a change, then it is not a question of solutions, you cannot solve a change, you can only adapt to a change.

So, many pretended "solutions" are ways to oppose change, one that was proposed at the seminar was to exchange all tungsten filament bulbs with LED lights. Fine, it will allow us to save a lot of energy. But the change is deeper and it goes at the heart of everything we do in this society. We need to think systemic, not problem-specific. It is not just question of changing our light bulbs, it is a complete ecosystemic change.

And so we continue. Change continues to occur, too.

(h/t Daniel Moulin, image courtesy Camille Olinet)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"The Seneca Effect": Book Presentations in Paris

"The Seneca Effect" has been published both in German and in English. Up until Oct 9th, there is still the possibility of ordering the version in English with a 20% discount. Ask me for a voucher (ugo.bardi(entity)

The first public presentation of "The Seneca Effect" was at the Summer Academy of the Club of Rome, this Septembre; you can read a report here. A new presentation took place this Friday, Oct 6th, at the Chalet Fontana in Florence. (Photo courtesy Enrico Battocchi).

New presentations are programmed for the coming week in Paris. All will be in French and some are not just presentations of the book but general conferences on related subjects; energy, climate change, etc. Here is a list of the main ones.

Tuesday Oct 10, 18h TREVE Public Seminar on the Energy Transition, École normale supérieure de Paris. 29 Rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris, with Ugo Bardi and Gérard Weisbuch.
Wednesday, Oct 11, 17h-20h. Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity, Tour Montparnasse 21st floor, 33 avenue du Maine, 75015 Paris. Discussion on how to catalyze an ecological shift through education, followed by a presentation of the Seneca Cliff by Ugo. Inscriptions on
Thursday, Oct 12, 14h30. Ecole Centrale d'Electronique, (ECE), 37 Quai de Grenelle, 75015 Paris. Seminar by Ugo Bardi for the Groupe Dynamique Des Systemes. If interested to attend, please contact Mr. Didier Cumenal (cumenald(entity) in advance.
Friday, Oct 13. Presentation of "The Seneca Effect" at the Institut Momentum, from 15h00 to 18h00, 33 rue de la Colonie, 75013 Paris. If interested to attend, please contact Yves Cochet (yves.cochet(entity) or Agnes Sinai (asinai(entity) in advance. 

In addition, in Paris I'll be engaged in several book-related informal meetings and presentations with old and new friends. It looks like this week will be a very busy one for me and I can only hope to find some time for a little tourism! But if you like to contact me to organize something, please do so at ugo.bardi(mysterything) and maybe we can find a way. I'll be in Paris up to Monday, Oct 16th. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The First Summer Academy of the Club of Rome, a Comment by Tatiana Yugay

Tatiana Yugay is professor at the Plekhanov University in Moscow. She is an expert in issues related to the world market of oil and gas. A post of her on this subject can be found here. Above, you can see her in a tree-hugging moment at the Botanical Garden of the University of Florence.

Now that Ugo Bardi has finished presenting on his blog the main speakers at the 1st Club of Rome Summer Academy 2017, at the Florence University, I'd like to share my impressions about this great event. Of course, the speakers were rather prominent, all of them - authors of solid books and\or founders of innovative movements but it was no less interesting to watch reaction and feedback from the audience. Being a university professor, I'm very curious to observe differences between my students and those from other universities.

I was really delighted to meet so many competent and enthusiastic young intellectuals who were ready to save the world today! They were great listeners; very supportive and pro-active at the same time. They put very thoughtful and intelligent questions, sometimes not easy to answer. They were ready to laugh at a good joke or cheer at a statement that met their opinion.

While exchanging opinions with some participants during coffee breaks, I understood that they appreciated most of all those speakers who explored new fields of knowledge, used novel approaches or presented results of their own research illustrated by concrete data.

They wouldn't let go Anders Wijkman, Co-President of the Club of Rome, after his presentation of the Club's concepts. They asked plenty of questions to Kate Pickett from the University of York, who during many years studied problems of inequality. I was glad that contemporary young people are so much concerned about this social problem. They applauded to Ugo Bardi's visual demonstration of the Seneca Cliff.

They were deeply impressed by a groundbreaking discourse by Chandran Nair, Founder of the Global Institute for Tomorrow. In all other respects, they were quite normal modern people. They enjoyed the cultural program in fabulous Florence, dinners in sustainable gardens and each other's company. In sum, this very special young audience is a dream of every university professor and I wish all of them to realize their ambitious plans and desires!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Dirty Secret of Catastrophism Exposed

If you are a reader of this blog, you may have been wondering what fun is there in writing every day about catastrophes to come: peak oil, abrupt climate change, mega financial collapses, etc.  Why would anyone want to engage in that? Isn't that a lot of stress?

Good questions; and I think I can confess to you our (the catastrophists') dirty secret. First of all, you surely noticed that most catastrophists, though not all of them, are male. So, being one of them, I can tell you that it is all a trick to seduce women. It works like this: first, we convince our female target that the world is going to end soon. Then, why should she oppose having a little fun with us before it is too late? Simple, isn't it? But, before you think ill of me, let me also tell you that, a) I never tried that, b) it never works, and c) the lady is normally so stressed by the news of the impending doom that she fails to provide her best performance. (*)

That's a joke (of course!!). It came to my mind while reading some recent news about Guy McPherson, the main proponent of the idea of the "Near Term Human Extinction" (NTE), who has been accused of being a sex predator for having abused of a follower of his, a woman. About this story, let me say first that I stand by the rule that everyone should be assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Then, I can tell you that I see the near-term extinction of humankind as not impossible, although unlikely. This said, I think it is interesting to examine this story in some detail.

First of all, the row that erupted among the NTE followers was truly amazing for its verbal violence. Some people turned on Guy McPherson with a glee and a vehemence that I can only understand as the result of deep grudges that existed well before the story became known. McPherson's own defense, then, was weak and probably counterproductive. He didn't deny the accusations against him, rather, he erased his facebook page as if he was ashamed of something. Then, he vaguely spoke of "trolls" and "the deep state" having framed him and that surely didn't strengthen his position.

Clearly, there was a lot of stress to be vented out in the NTE group. Not surprising: if you go around telling people that humankind will go extinct in a few decades at most, it has got to have some effect on your nerves. One of the reactions to such a situation is for people to find some solace in being together with other people who share the same ideas. It is human but, in the case of the NTE group, it seems to have taken a certain "cultic" aspect. At least, I noticed that, in many cases, NTE-oriented people tend to close all arguments with the statement that "Dr. McPherson said so". That doesn't mean that the NTE idea has generated a suicide cult or something like that; it is just that a strong reliance on a charismatic leader it is typical of these cases. And, not rarely, cult leaders tend to misbehave in various ways, even though we have no proof that Guy McPherson did.

Within some limits, all of us, the catastrophists, may fall into the "cultic" trap and form tight groups of like-minded people. I notice it with what I write on this blog. Although I believe that our civilization is going to start declining in the near future (see my work on the "Seneca Effect"), I am far from being a hardcore doomer and sometimes I try to say that things are not so bad as some people say. In that case, I am often heavily criticized, apparently for denying the core ideas of the group (the cult). This effect is especially strong when I argue that renewable energy in the form of PV and wind can help us mitigate the unavoidable future decline. Some people seem to take this position as a personal insult and react consequently.

Again, it is understandable: for some people, it is less stressful to remain inside a group of like-minded people than venturing outside it. Yet, this is not good for one's mental health. We are not necessarily doomed and we can still do something and help others to mitigate the effects of the future decline. For this, we don't need to retreat into a cult (**).

(*) It is a version of the joke of the excuses of the lazy schoolboy for not having done his homework. It was because, a) he lost it, b) his dog ate it; and, b) he didn’t know it was assigned. (h/t Dmitry Orlov)

(**) An earlier version of this post included a video clip of the Beatles singing "A Little Help from My Friends". Some people overinterpreted it as if I was advocating the use of drugs to reduce the stress from catastrophism. Noting that the strongest drug I use is an occasional glass of Chianti wine, I thought it was better to remove the clip, just to avoid misunderstandings


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)