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

Monday, May 21, 2018

New Data Reveal the Hidden Mechanisms of the Collapse of the Roman Empire

Alaric Sack of Rome

The reasons for the fall of the Western Roman Empire have remained a mystery for modern historians, just as for the Romans themselves. Yet, recent data from the Greenland ice core provide us with new data on collapse of the Empire, showing how fast and brutal it was - a true "Seneca Collapse." Could our civilization go the same way? (above: the sack of Rome by the Visigoths of King Alaric in 410 AD).

The Ancient Romans never understood what hit them. Nor did later historians: there exist literally hundreds of theories on what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. In 1984 Demandt listed 210 of them, ranging from moral decline to the diffusion of Christianity. Today, some historians still say that the fall is a "mystery" and some attribute it to the improbable piling up of several independent factors which, somehow, happened to gang up together. 

Why is it so difficult to understand something that was so massive as the fall of the Western Empire? There is more than one reason, but one is the lack of data. We have scant written material about the last centuries of the Empire and very little has arrived to us in terms of quantitative data. Things are changing, though. Modern archaeology is generating astonishing results telling us a lot about the mechanisms of the collapse of the ancient Empire. For instance, look at this graph: (from Sverdrup et al., 2013):    
Recent data by McConnell et al on lead pollution provide a more detailed picture (See also Peter Turchin's blog).

The beauty of having data is that we are not discussing any more of vague concepts such as the "lack of moral fiber," a factor that was proposed as the cause of the fall. No, the data are there, stark clear. They show that, when the Roman Empire officially disappeared during the 5th century, it was already an empty shell. The actual collapse took place during the 3rd century, when the Roman economy ceased to function, as shown by the data on lead production - a proxy for the industrial activity of the Empire. Look at how abruptly the collapse was. It is a typical case of a "Seneca Collapse," when growth is slow but decline is rapid. A general phenomenon shown in the image below.

Now, the big question: the data tell us how the collapse took place, but why did it occur? Here, we face a problem typical of complex systems. These systems are dominated by the phenomenon called "feedback" which may strongly amplify the effects of a small, nearly undetectable perturbation. It is the story of the straw that broke the camel's back: if you were to see the camel falling down, you wouldn't notice the role of the straw. This is another reason for the proliferation of theories on the fall of the Roman Empire: people saw consequences and thought they were causes. For instance, it is tempting to say (and many people did) that the Roman Empire collapsed because it was overwhelmed by invading Barbarians. But that's not the case: the Barbarians invaded an already weakened Roman Empire as the data clearly show us. 

So, what was the straw that generated the economic collapse of the Empire? The most likely culprit is the debasing of the Roman denarius. As you can note in the figure by McConnell, above (look at the red dots), the content of silver in the denarius coin collapsed along the same trajectory followed by lead. The Romans could surely survive without lead, but could they survive without the currency that made the whole system work? No money means that nobody can buy things. And if nobody buys, nobody sells. And if nobody sells, nobody produces. The collapse of the production of precious metals may very well the element we are looking for: the perturbation that broke the Empire's back.

Of course, the debasing of the denarius was not a choice: it must have been a necessity. And the obvious factor may have been mineral depletion, provided that it is correctly understood. We have scant direct data on the production of the Roman mines, but we know that progressive depletion forced the Romans to go deeper and deeper into the veins of precious metals they were exploiting in Spain. That required more and more expensive procedures and equipment. The mining system gradually became a terrible burden for the Roman economy and, eventually, something had to give. We don't know exactly what broke the back of the Roman mining system - maybe a political crisis or the Antonine Plague (*) - but, in any case, by the end of the 2nd century AD, the mines were abandoned. The pumps ceased to function, the shafts were flooded with water, and the production of precious metals stopped. Without a constant supply precious metals, the Roman gold disappeared, used to buy luxury items from China. Without gold, the Roman economic system couldn't work - at least not in the same way as before.

Note that depletion is not the same thing as "running out" of something. The Roman mines still contained some precious ore when they collapsed, it was just too expensive for the Romans to extract it. Only much later, during the 19th and early 20th century, the availability of modern technologies made it possible to restart exploiting these old mines. Note also how different is the case of lead: by the late Middle Ages, more lead was produced in the world than during the high times of the Roman Empire. Depletion was not an important factor in the decline of lead production.

So, you see how the Roman system went down in a cascade of effects that was originated by the depletion of their precious metal mines. It was slow and it wasn't recognized by the Roman themselves, nor by modern historians. But it was unavoidable: no mine can last forever. It is what's happening to us, today, with our "black gold," petroleum. Depletion may well cause crude oil production to go through a "Seneca Collapse" not because we are running out of oil, but because extracting it is becoming progressively more expensive. A new perturbation, such as a regional war, could be the straw that breaks the oil industry's back. And that could have devastating consequences on the modern empire we call "globalization".

(*) Note that McConnell and the others cite the "Antonine Plague" as the direct cause of the decline in lead production revealed in their data. This is most likely an oversimplification of a much more complex chain of events. In any case, the highest lead production was attained with a total population of some 45 million people. At the foot of the collapse curve, around 250 AD, the Empire had about 65 million inhabitants. The plague may have caused a temporary perturbation, but no long-lasting reduction of the Empire's population (BTW, this is a behavior, reproduced by the models of "The Limits to Growth" study for our society: the population starts declining much later than the industrial system.)


  1. A century ago, in eastern Serbia, when French company had a concession on mining copper, ore contained 20% metal. Today ore contains less than 1% metal!

    By the way, latest research seems to indicate that the earliest metallurgy on our planet originated in the Balkans, in what is today Serbia.

  2. Ugo
    I do not think we understand enough about agrarian societies and the functions of the thin layer of urban craft-trades, nor the nature of empires that facilitate these trades and that can act as an insurance of continuity through bad harvests and good ones.

    Agrarian trading economies though as a matter of history seem capable, given sufficient geographical reach, of facilitating large urban concentrations, for example ancient Rome and late medieval London, thus somewhat comparable with modern times.

    Agrarian societies as they expanded appear to have depended, as much as we do, on trading, on buying and selling (I like your neat description of 'depression' and non-affordable production which is the characteristic of deflation). They seem to have needed what we now call 'monetary theory', and more essentially, they needed a physical money supply. I have read a summary of the role of money in the Roman Western Empire in Zarlenga’s Lost Science of Money). He notes that Rome depended on bullion, both gold and silver, and points out the likely depressive effects of using scarce commodities for money. (Thus, he says, reducing precious metal content partially alleviated these deflationary effects.) Zarlenga also suggests a long term trading imbalance with ‘the East’ when a constant drain of the money supply - that is the actual metal - left the Empire. Quote:"… military expeditions against the East which brought large quantities of gold and silver back to Rome…” were not sufficient. The net drain of physical currency was only partially alleviated by physically ‘debasing’ the currency. Quote: “For especially in later centuries a steady deflation and scarcity of money most likely plagued Rome”.

    The suggestion might be that the Roman money supply therefore was squeezed by both physical shortage of supply and the constant drain to the East. Seneca’s Cliff in this case seems to have taken about 200 years with Roman military expenditure the last thing to go in not much more than 50 years?


  3. Phil, Zarlenga says more or less the same thing I am saying in my book, "The Seneca Effect" - the Roman currency was squeezed to non-existence by the two parallel effects of depletion on one side and drain to the East on the other.

    That leaves open the question: why didn't copper work as well as silver for coins? There is a good reason for that, but that will be another post!


    1. Ugo
      Good, I need to read the book! smile
      Just guessing - copper - anybody can do that; they don't need 'your' political or military dominance? I will read the future post.

      There are ideas floating around about the previous 'Dark Age' finally ending the Bronze Age and its widespread trading. Iron was not that better, if at all, as a cutting tool or a weapon, but iron ore was available more widespread locally. Britain for example seems to have gone from a long-lasting wide and open agrarian economy in the Neolithic (monumental ceremonial culture) to a maze of hill forts ('oppida') in the Iron Age. Some of the late Bronze Age military engagements read as if they came out of Tolkien. An article in Science in 2016 about excavations at the bridge on the Tollense River: “About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea…”

  4. Nice cool stuffs!.

    From 1947 DC until 1989 DC Europe had NATO (the sword of MEC-CEE) reinforced by Canada and USA, in this case Europe won the "cold war new barbaric invasion of Warsaw Treaty" instead of losing che clone event of the barbaric invasion in 476DC. Sometimes Europe lose its wars, sometimes it wins.

    For sure, history repeats itself even in different variants.

    Next challenge for Europe is the pattern of the Punic War during the decades 2030s-2040s-2050s.

    We already know the end of the future military story, because Europe has tactic nuclear warheads, for sure Europe will win the clone event of the Punic Wars. But the issue is all for Italy and Greece: do Italy and Greece will be a piece of Europe in the future, or italian/greek penisulas will be a part of the Chartago's colonies?!

    I think italian people will discover the answer of this question, just before o shortly after 31/10/2019

    Seo lets wait and see...


  5. I would comment that the "pax romana" seems to be largely a myth, the decline of the currency starts in the late 1st century and is continuous until the 3rd. I would point out that the main use of roman coinage was not commerce, it was paying the legions. The collapse of the currency would mean the collapse of the state's ability to control its army and ultimately loss of central control.

    I would compare the decline of the US dollar since 1914. In 1934, 59% of 1914. In 1965 30%. In 1985 5%. In 2000 3%. In 2018 under 1.5%.

    All talk of an Empire in the future I regard as drivel. The real Empire of the modern era was the British Empire from 1713 to 1971. The US is the military dictators of the 4th century and right now we are in the Age of Stilicon in the first decade of the 5th century.

    1. I don't agree with Mon Seul Desir's post of May 22, 2018 at 4:31 PM

      The rise of Rome started at 753AC and boomed in lots of wars of expansion, with the Republic form until 49AC.

      For sure, Repubblic form of government in the occident area, they made wars in the past history of the mankind for power and glory, nowdays Republic is usually a synonym of peacefully nation: time changes the things in different forms.

      Gaio Giulio Cesare changed things too: the form of roman goverment turned into the Empire form of government. In that time there were no more big enemys to fight (except for german people over Reno, in the Varo defeat). Everybody in the Mediterranean area would have looked like a roman citizens even they were not: all people in the Mediterranean area dressed, spoke, lived, eated, builded things, on following the roman lifestyle.

      In the first years of the roman empire, there were no real threats for the Roman power, so important leaders started to fight theirself for the empire seat

      They stopped to destroying theirself military forces into foolish battles, otherwise the empire would have been collapsed, so intrigues and conspiracies leaded the succession for reaching the empire power. In Europe, the peace of roman law reigned for 507 years, until the fatal collapsing of 476DC.

      About 507 years without significant wars or deadly invasions and no deaths in Europe and in the Mediterranean areas, it seem to me a pretty remarkable stuff.

      Lets compare how many wars europeans fought in 511 years, after the introduction of gunpowder, from 1500DC until 2018: 137 wars. This seems to me an ugly outcome.

    2. > About 507 years without significant wars or deadly invasions and no deaths in Europe and in the Mediterranean areas, it seem to me a pretty remarkable stuff.

      Now that is some heavy cherry-picking

  6. The Pax Romana is not at all a myth: but the Romans exaggerated their virtues and achievements; and - like everything human, and indeed natural - it was full of defects.

  7. Dear Prof Bardi

    Could you drop that silly 'captcha' thing, it's very irritating indeed and probably loses you many comments?

    1. Probably a good idea. I think I removed it, could you check it, please?

    2. Ouch... I had to put it back! I had a true spam invasion without it!

  8. If ever Trump would be an emperor in ancient Rome would be Caracalla, outsider, insecure, tried his best to favor the army, doubling the pay of the army, see Trump's seeking support of the MIC. "Nobody should have money but I, so that I may bestow it upon the soldiers." -Caracalla

  9. If silver is so crucial to the economy, and if it was not until fairly modern times that we could make the silver mines economic once more, then what drove the economic and political revival of the High Middle Ages?

    If they did not use much currency then that would suggest that an economy can be strong without needing silver and other precious metals. Moreover, if the analogy between silver (then) and crude oil (now) holds true then maybe we can develop a new, successful economy that does not need fossil fuels as its basis.

    1. Simple: the Medieval economy restarted growing with the silver produced in mines the Romans had no access to, in Eastern Europe. It is explained in my book "Extracted."

      But it surely true that we don't need fossil fuels for a new economy.

  10. Yes, removed. Thank you!

    1. Yes, thanks for the suggestion but, as I said in another comment, I had to put the captcha back - without it, the amount of spam filtering through was bewildering!

  11. Dear prof Bardi I want to ask you a question if I may. What exactly do you say is collapsing when we reach our seneca cliff?

    I totally agree with your analysis about the exploitation of our planet, but if we talk about collapse we should also be very clear about what exactly it is that is collapsing.

    The term "roman empire" describes most of its structures (economic system, political systems ), infrastructures (modes of production and reproduction) and superstructures (art, believe systems).

    Its not "our western civilization" that is collapsing. This phrase decribes everything and nothing and I don't think civilization is collapsing, it did not in the collapse of the roman empire. In fact in places like brittain, roman civilisation survived the collapse of the roman empire for a long time.

    Its certainly not the "American Empire" (as a analogon to the roman empire). Even if it will collapse, it will not be alone in its demise.

    I would also not be satisfied with an answer like "Systems", because you are clearly talking about our real world. So what do you think is collapsing when we reach our seneca cliff?

    1. A good question, but not easy to answer. The historical collapses we know about implied lots of disasters: mainly wars and famines but, more than all, the breakdown of everything people considered as "civilization," the rule of law, for instance. Something like that could occur in our case, but at present it is impossible to predict what form the collapse may take.

    2. May I suggest a short and a fast briefing about the dynamic and the direction of the future collapse?

    3. I could not disagree more with the content of that video. While wars are certainly a possibility, its not a done fact. As we run out of cheap oil, we will be incapable of waging full scale wars.

      In all major wars in the industrial age, the party with the highest industrial output won. I see this as one of the main reason for our current predicament, because with the "neorealist" and "Neoliberal" outlook that today dominates geopolitics, every other country is your potential enemy.

      Growth capitalism is therefore a military strategy, especially in the US, where its kept going mostly by exuberant military spending.

      This strategy totaly collapses if growth stops. As growth stopped with peak oil 2007, the dominant geopolitical powers persued only one goal, the dominance over the remaining energy ressources (mostly in the middle east), to keep át least their (military) production going.

      But the remaining energy ressources are just enough to keep these powers from imploding and not at all sufficient for any symmetric war against another major power. Also globalized capitalism is to globally entangled. WW3 will mean instant collapse of all economy, and nobody wants that. The only country with an economical output to sustain such a war (I think) is china.

      In short, nobody wants WW3, not even the superhawks of the current US administration. They cant stop preparing for war because its good business and its part of the dominant ideology of the ruling elite.

      As I understand social philosophy (as i.e. Michel Foucault), any major breaking point in human history was first and foremost a shift of the underlying ideology. So what will collapse and needs to collapse is our way of thinking, the main drice of our daily practices, the things we think we know and take for granted, in short the current ideology.

      I use ideology strictly as used by social sciences here (Karl Marx). Ideology is the believe system of the ruling elite.

      We have a name for that ideology, its called capitalism and as You know I (and others) say that this is what is collapsing all around us already. I certainly feel that many in the "doom" community shy away from using this word, but its the only one that fits, we should use it.

    4. @ alien observer
      thanks for supporting, I also agree that for the moment WWIII is not inevitable.

      FALSE RETURN TO GOLDEN AGE is a scenario where the need for a global energy reconversion is blocked by the energetic inertia of shale oil / gas and by finance, and the prices of oil does not reflect the disasasters of climate change on Earth. So the realignment of energy commodities prices are null and then, its become instantaneous and abrupt, and elements of confrontation, in a very competitive world. In this scenario, the problems of climate change would come from the greenhouse gas stocks already emitted, from human activities, as from the melting of methane hydrates in Siberia with positive feedback.

      ULTRAVIOLET CATASTROPHE: It is a dynamic and competitive scenario where energy reconversion is attempted by the First World, but the Second World and the Third World do not follow the efforts of the First World, whereby the emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise. In this scenario, the problems of climate change would come from the greenhouse gas stocks already emitted and those massively emitted by the anthropic activities of the II °, III ° world, while the issues of melting of methane hydrates in positive feedback would be irrelevant. The rising of prices on commodities markets (raw materials, energy, fresh water, fertile lands) are growing and progressive over time, and cause of strong and critical competitiveness in the world.

      EXPLOSIVE INERTIAL SUBROGATION It is a dynamic and competitive scenario, where the need for a global energy reconversion is translated into the false innovation of synthetic fuels made from coal with very low emission of greenhouse gases. The aggregate of greenhouse gases for anthropic activities would grow because all world would be producing and burning synthetic fuels!. In this scenario, the problems of climate change would come from the greenhouse gas stocks already emitted, from the current anthropic activities, as from the melting of methane hydrates in Siberia with positive feedback. The prices on commodities (raw materials, energy, fresh water, fertile land) are growing and progressive over time, and cause of strong and critical competitiveness in the world.

      Those 3 scenarios will tend to support WWIII detonation, nowdays mankind are in the FALSE RETURN TO GOLDEN AGE scenario. Scenarios are pretty sticky because there is lot of inertia and no actions pushing to

      EFFICIENT TECHNOLOGICAL SHARING OF AUSTERITY: It is a very technological, collaborative scenario it run about termdinamic solar power plant in the desert, hydrogen production and fuel cell technology for cars, desalinators and superconducting cable, landless cultivation techniques in the desert. This scenario could emerge due to the political will of the First World or due to the gravity of the climate change issue, or the long-term vision of long-term policies on birth control in Africa and the saling of the Russian territories of Siberia to the various Asian competitors. In this scenario, the climate change problems would come from the greenhouse gas stocks already emitted, as from the melting of methane hydrates in Siberia with positive feedback.

      Last scenario will be in contrast with WWIII detonation, but it's quite improbable because all paths in Mediterranean areas are already unreachable.

    5. Sorry I only now answer to this post. I would argue that all your point totally dismiss the possibility of capitalism collapsing.

      Ther reason I am advocating more political awareness and anticapitalist agenda is because forgetting about the sociopolitical side of our current climate and ressource crisis IMO will lead to false conclusions.

      As I have repeatedly argued on this blog, climate change is in itself political and has political agency. Denying this is as much a bad adenial as doubting the reality of climate change is.

      I arrive at this conclusion because by any real critical analysis I know, our current capitalist world can only exist because of growth made possible by expanding energy availability.

      In contrast or expansion of the classic marxist critical view of capitalism, I do not see labor at the center of capital accumulation. In the oil age, we all share our labor with about one hundred energy slaves, who really have been the reason for the insane accumulation of capital happening in the last century or so.

      When Michael Mann released his scientific analysis (hockey stick) of where we are going with global warming, it was, and was perceived by the representatives of the current elite, as an existential threat to their ideology. We know this for certain, because today we know how the Bush (senior) administration reacted by listening to the the oval office tapes and reading the memos of that time.

      Bush senior and his staff secretly aknowledged the danger of climate change but then hired the best spin doctors they could find to smear Michael Mann and make this existential and unquestionable issue appear like a "debate" or even a conspiracy. They (successfully) did so, because they rightly perceived that this issue would endanger their power and endanger the wealth of the people they represent.

      They knew the simple truth, that there is no possibility for a future where we can save the climate AND save capitalism. Reducing our fossile fuel consumption would end capitalism because capitalism in itself can not exist without growth made possible by burning ever more fossile fuels every year. (Note that I totally discard the idea that we will be able to have something like sustainable energy or green growth in a forseeable future, because its really impossible).

      The very simplified reason for that in short is, that the measurement of our global production, the GNP, is made up of two parts, the salaries/wages (and other incomes, such as welfare, government spending) of the working people, and the monetary gains of the capitalists.

      If there is zero or marginal growth, wealth (and with it wealth gain/interest/ROI etc.) can only increase by taking from the other side (wages, government spending) and giving it to the rich.

      This is obviously what happened for almost thirty years now, but it is totally unsustainable and leads to political repercussions and the rise of extremism (Like Trump, the german AFD, The italien lega nord, etc. ...). Capitalism "worked" for a time when there was enough growth to lift all boats, the capitalists and the workers.

    6. continued

      Capitalism in essence is the system where capital is gained by investing (owning modes of production)and expecting future returns (classically by exploiting labor). This expectation is in effect based on the believe that infinite growth is possible. Capitalism at its very core, is a constant bet on future growth for monetary gain. If growth is made impossible, due to the overexploitation of ressources or climate change, those bets will mostly fail and capitalism as a system must collapse in a forseeable future.

      Capitalism also is more than an economic system. It defines our power structures, it permeates all our believe systems, our infrastructure, our very own daily lifes, all our cultural products etc.. Thus the term capitalism encompasses everything this era stands for and is about to collapse when we hit our seneca cliff.

      Not using this term is actually unscientific, because there are other sciences as the natural sciences out there we should take seriously.

      The collapse of capitalism is described by some (or most?) of the leading social scientists of our time. In US this would be i.e. Immanuel Wallerstein (Yale), who is the inventor of World Systems Theory in social and political sciences. In germany this would be i.e. Wolfgang Streeck, who is the director of the leading institution in social sciences in germany, the MAX Planck Institute for Social Sciences. There is also (social science community demi-god) Bruno Latour, famous for the Actor-Network theory that is probably a basis for all social sciences today.

      This list could go on and on, but I just want to explicitely include Graeme Maxton, Director of the Club of Rome or Jorgen Randers, Coauthor of "Limits to Growth", because they matter here.

      In order to overcome our global crisis, capitalism has to be questioned more openly and more frequently. Instead of having no answer to the question what collapses. lets use the obvious choice.

    7. There is this i.e. interview with Immanuel Wallerstein I really recommend:

    8. Seneca curve is a smart and interesting pattern, but I suggest look at the cross elasticity between oil and substitute goods, for interpreting the meanand the future actions of the competitors I,II,III world during the collapse.

      We all agree that complex system sooner or later they have to face off with collapsing. And for sure, We all agree that on the Earth there's remaining at least 50% of oil, and the era of easy and cheap oil is over, now and in the next decades there's only expensive and hard oil extraction with a raising demand, so conventional oil price will raise up.

      1-Raising oil prices mean high inflation and interest rates, and in the countries without energetic autonomy, it will mean:

      a-the III°world will stop to use oil, if a nation has oil well, they will stop to export it and they will use oil for mitigating climate change own damages

      b-I°world and II°world will compete on the financial market for using their currency rather than dollar.

      For sure Dollar is a puffy currency containing high iperinflation because there's lot of dollars treasured in the monetary system for international markets. But Saudi Rial is the native oil currency, indian Rupee and chinese Youan are rising currencies fr their big PIL (and for example without considering any other different form of international payment). On one hand, the tension on oil market will transfer to the Currency Market: this will mean Financial Wars with currency changes and crisis in the National Bonds and Financial Markets stress for shares and private bonds, may be also Cyber attack. II° world countries can offer high real rate to oil countries because their market are not saturated, I°world markets are saturated so they can sustain only low real interest rates, but they have hard military power. Those conditions IMHO will open the doors for WWIII in Siberia.

      On the other hand rising oil prices will sustain in I°,II°countries the opportunity for energy substitute goods: this cross elasticity can lead to Solar energy chain (attempted by high tech I°world, but not followed by II°world: too little and too late) or Synthetic Fuels (the false innovation paradigm: too futile and too late). Because never ever forget that Thermodynamic is like Gravity, they are always on its way, and you can not negotiate or voting to revoke Thermodynamic effects.

      IMHO those paths are not good for mankind because they will go straight to WWIII

      Is it possibile a fast and effective energy switching?!

      2-Lets look at what happened during coal to oil era. For a correct energy switching IMHO it needs a falling oil prices because mankind should have to think that fossil fuels are useless: so carbon bubble will emerge, it will be a massive and huge financial problem in the world, as ever it happens when a large product of mass it becames rapidly unsellable. To sustain a rapid and effective energy switching energy procapite should be contingent in the nations so energetic lifestyle in the I°world should drop at the procapite level; instead in the II° and III°countries the energy procapite should remain constant at low level, but at the aggregate level it should rise to improuve a little procapite lifestyle, for avoiding the use of fossil fuels by poor countries.

      Will it be possibile to realize this fast and effective switching path?!

      Well, I don't think so, because of the carbon bubble is bigger than coal bubble, and ll over the world renewable energies are a diversification source, not a full replacement

      May be a climatic shock could really push hard mankind actions, towards a changing but I fear it will be a bit too late.

    9. Concerning the faulty assumption that the end of cheap oil would actually result in expensive oil, I recommend the work of Gail Tverberg, who very convincingly debunks this truthism. She is linked here in the blog roll.

      I was intentionally removing energy in my above argument from where economic theory puts it, as a commodity, to an equvalent of labor.

      Less energy ressources will result in lower production not higher prices. In this energy is very different from any other ressource we use in our economy, besides maybe agrable land, which in essence we also use for energy production.

      But you are very correct that the amount of fossile fuel we use right now is not replacable by renewable energy in a timeframe even close to saving capitalism from this collapse.

    10. @ alien observer
      I read all your long post, I don't want have a fight with you, I respect your ideas.

      I agree with you in one point only: keynesian and monetaristic economists are stupid, they still think that an infinite grow could exist on Earth.

      Facts are different and they still don't catch it: into a fossil fuels paradigm the number of people living in sustainable way on Earth, are falling, because climate change modifies the Earth and it is as like Earth get smaller. Into a termodynamic solar-hydrogen paradigm the number of people living in sustainable way are more than ones on fossil fuel paradigms, because it is like if Earth get bigger, but it doesn't mean that even into the new energy paradigm, Earth haven't limits: Earth limits are real

      For the rest that you write, sorry I do not agree with you, because IMHO most of what you wrote are not economy stuffs.

      For sure, Economy is not and hard Science, Economy is a Social Science but despite that, some relations run like Gravity law. For example:

      Marx was not an economist but he was like Smith, Ricardo, Matlthus, ecc... they were classic pre-economists, and Marx failed his theory because Capitalism trasformed itself in 1929 into a Market Economy. Market Economy is a complex system with lots of economc actors: national actors, international actors, and everybody are living on Earth. What keynesian and monetaristic economists still don't catch it, it's a simple fact: if Earth is in trouble, also mankind is in trouble.

      Capitalism: well, I'm sorry, what you still call Capitalism, it exist only in your mind, or into books of history.

      I tell you a couple of things, which they run like hard science laws:

      if interest rate raise up then the course of bonds (at constant interest rate) fall down.

      If the scarsity of an economic good raise up then its price climb up too.

      If you don't want to pay your debt, then don't do debt and if you do a default you have to know that nobody will loan you even a penny in the future.

      If the price of an economic good raise up, then new actors into the market start to offer substitute goods.

      During the developt phase, New Markets of I°,II°world go slowly to saturation, but once you start the developt phase then an high rate of profit spread out for the economic actors, and a keynes inflation emerges, because it is a sane indicator of the economic process is going to saturation.

      Saturated market remain saturated, even firms offer a new products for a new market segment.

      High inflation destroy and kill firms. No firms no jobs, no taxes, non public wealth, no defence ecc...

      Printing too money is a really bad idea.

    11. If you are a I°country then your markets are saturated so doing debt is not a good idea. If you know that in the future your Nation will be in trouble but you don't care and nowdays you do debt then it's a really bad idea.

      There isn't a firm who lives forever even the firm adapt itself into a changing economic enviromnent.

      Into saturated markets keynesian policies are futiles, because the value of the demand elasticity are opposite than not saturated markets.

      Into saturated markets there is a natural tendency of firm assimilation, because market are saturated and firms need efficiency, so just like a natural ecosystem, the numbers of firms usually tend to an oligopoly/monopoly, and the State have to watch out and rule the market for protecting consumers and competition. In other words: Market Economy ever does more with less.

      I know that sometimes market is not perfect for some economic services for people, but this is the reason why Market Economy is a more complex system than Capitalism.

      Market Economy runs well into saturated market and even into not saturated market, but insane politician and Catholic Church don't understand the need of a demographic control.

      Last but not least, it's a matter of Clausewitz:"War is the continuation of politics by other means" this implicates that the actions of the nations depend on the economic enviroment, or if you prefere: what Nations did and what Nations do and what Nations will do, it's in fucntion of what kind of context Nations interact themself.

    12. There was one point in my arguments I felt I had not really gone into enough, that is the assumption I made that there is a certain unwillingness and ignorance in the natural science based "doom" community concerning political and social issues.

      I feel after your post that I dont need to anymore.

  12. "And that could have devastating consequences on the modern empire we call 'globalization'."

    Our globalized world is a product of supreme human intelligence, extreme social Darwinism, empowered by the supreme fossil fuels and 500 years of technological advancements.

    It is this combination that can not be overestimated and how it will fiercely, brutally and deadly protect what has been achieved since the steam engine!

    Resource depletion? Why not chunking the world into two, one might be forced into collapse, the other continues 'business as usual' - for another century or two?

    As coal peaked in Britain in 1913, Churchill switched the fuel of his Navy to oil, when not a drop of oil was discovered anywhere in the British isle then, and his army went and invaded Iraq in 1914.

    Since then, Iraq, as resourceful as California, has been forced to collaterally collapse no less than 5 times, and the nation very little enjoyed any of its massive resources, if at all.

    Why this model cannot be continued for another 100 year, creating a Two-Tier World, in the process? Why all the world should be collapsing at once, not in pre-organised and well-sized chunks? - The more resources deplete, the more chunks are dropped?

    The question here is, will Huxley's assumed "Over Organisation" (see his late 1950's speeches and BNW-Revisited) be orchestrating the Two-Tier World by creating a smaller 'Iraq' inside every nation, with no exception, or the Two-Tier World will not mix-and-match but stay far and apart, like in our current geopolitics?

    The time has come for thinkers and philosophers to keep lessons from the Romans in mind but to be brave and explore more novel scenarios for any potential Collapse of the future!

    The bottom line is that theories in Economics and Social Contracts, produced since 1700, are to be re-written, though, as we have discovered now humans can NOT manufacture energy: the fact that Churchill has likely been made aware of 100 years ago, but the majority of humans will likely take another 100 year to fathom!

    1. Social darwinism?
      "theories in Economics and Social Contracts, produced since 1700"?


      Again, why beat around the bush, use non applicable terms, invent strange new terms or long winded explanations instead of calling it capitalism?

    2. "The time has come for thinkers and philosophers to keep lessons from the Romans in mind but to be brave and explore more novel scenarios for any potential Collapse of the future!"

      I totally aggree, but it seems that these philosophers do not even reach those who are aware of the ressource crisis we face.

      I follow blogs about our climate and ressource crisis for a decade now. Nothing frustrate me more than the unwillingness of this community to see that there have been philosophers and social thinkers out there since capitalism exists to explore it critcally and suggest different approaches to think aboutsociety.

      These philosphers are worth reading and their academic status has a reason. Reading Michel Foucault, Noam Chomsky, Pierre Burdieu, Jürgen Habermas, Marcuse, Marx, Horkheimer, Adorno, Althusser, Hanna Arendt, David Graeber, Stuart Hall, Antonio Gramsci, Judith Butler, Bruno Latour, Kant, Wallerstein (and all those I have forgotten) really, I mean really enhances the understanding of human society as much as reading Einstein, Planck, Feynmann etc. enhances your understanding of physics.

      I dont understand what the natural science community thinks these people nave been doing?

      The lack of konwledge about social theory in our world today is embarrasing, much more so than even the lack of knowledge of natural sciences.

    3. "I dont understand what the natural science community thinks these people nave been doing?"

      What naive has been done since the inception of the steam engine is the assumption that Energy is a playground for humans on Earth, when it's actually a prison.

      Only now "The Tragedy of the Commons" has been quantified by physics when the proven realisation that energy cannot be manufactured - became public.

      When the all-born after 1712's steam engine, Adam Smith, Malthus, Keynes,"Michel Foucault, Noam Chomsky, Pierre Burdieu, Jürgen Habermas, Marcuse, Marx, Horkheimer, Adorno, Althusser, Hanna Arendt, David Graeber, Stuart Hall, Antonio Gramsci, Judith Butler, Bruno Latour, Kant, Wallerstein (and all those I have forgotten)" - have not said where excess-energy should be coming for a community to sustain itself a prosper from, Economics, Philosophy, Social Contracts and many other fields must be re-invented again. Until then and past our abundant fossil fuels age, it will come, yet again, from human slavery and conquer!

      Your statement, "I dont understand..." is honest. We are just starting to comprehend the adverse gravity of Energy on us.

    4. @ Entropy^2
      There's already a method to explore the future, instead of searching pattern without considering the hystoric differences, IMHO it's better to get an helpful hand from business economy, it's its matter to look for future unpredictable events with high impact. This economic discipline is part of the Strategic Pianification, or if you prefere you can call it: Scenario Planning and OODA loop. Those disciplines comes from military stuffs and are pretty smart and powerful tools.


      I agree about the fossil fuel paradigms: from Coal to Oil paradigm, for sure mankind can not manufacture energy, but people consume energy, coming from the distant past.

      Lets consider the Thermodynamic solar power plant and Hydrogen paradigm:
      In this case, mankind could really manufacture energy.

    5. "..In this case, mankind could really manufacture energy."

      And then, mankind will manage and create another Sun and spin off another universe, and another...

      Why we don't stick to solving our real problems rather than escaping into illusions and fantasies wasting another precious 100 year, playing ourselves smart?

    6. You really do not want to go there with me, as you obviously did not really read anything but make up your theories as you go. This is ok I guess, but we are standing on the shoulders of giants and we could as well make use of their work.

      I just want to mention one social theory :"Cultural Materialism", a social theory first released in 1968 by Marvin Harris. (Final version released 1977)

      Building on Marx dialiectic Materialism and much of Thomas Malthus work Harris suggested this theory for studying diiferences and similarities of cultures by essentially comparing modes of production.

      Central to his approach was the use of sustainable energy produced by a culture and the argument that societies collapse if they reach an overshoot. (This was way before the release of Limits to growth.)

      This is a copy from here:

      Drawing on the research from several disciplines, Harris suggested that much of human prehistory and history could be understood as a series of intensifications,
      depletions, innovations, and collapses. Population growth, increasing control over energy sources, inequality, and technological innovations were the driving forces of
      the sequence. Harris used this approach to explain the origins of agriculture, the rise of ancient states, the industrial revolution, and the collapse of several ancient cultures such as the Maya of Central America.
      Harris called his last chapter “The Industrial Bubble.” ...

      Yes, he also applied his theory on the fall of the roman empire.

  13. @ alien observer
    I listened the file
    it seems to me that mr. Wallerstein doesn't catch the main point: Climate Change and overpopulation on Earth.

    -Climate Change is not a matter of Market Economy ONLY, because China and North Korea are comunist countries and even comunist countries burn fossil fuel for their antrophic reason. So climate warming is not matter of economy systems but it is a matter of antrophic using of fossil fuels for doing energy.

    -Overpopulation is not a matter of Market Economy because China is a comunist nation and India is an Economy Market system and both did something to control their demographic trends. ONU is a futile place where nobody does anything of helpful for mankind, they never ever didn't promote and financed a demographic policies control for Africa. Catholic Church is in charge too about overpopulation issue, because Catholic Church always knew for long time the real context in Africa from its catholic missionaries on the ground and even now, with 1.2BILLION of people in Africa, Catholic Church doesn't want any demographic control in Africa.

    For sure I agree in one point only: keynesian and monetaristic economists are crazies, they still think that an infinite growth could exist on Earth.

    1. I really do not want to lecture, because I know that it will not change anything, but please, China is no communist system, its hardcore capitalsim through and through. Its no democracy, but capitalism does not have to be.

      Please for a minute try realising for whom and why china is producing and why china changed from communism to embrace capitalism. This can be researched easily online. (As certainly is india)

      The thing most misunderstood is that calling the system we live in capitalism is just the correct academical term and initially without any inherent judgement.

      It does not state there are no other systems that ccould ruin our planet the same way, but capitalism is the dominating system in our world and it does. Critically questioning it is just what we need to do if we want to do the next steps.

      Also capitalism and markets are not the same thing (I really cant believe I have to say that). Not capitalism is also automatically Stalinism, as many seem to believe. Capitalism is not markets. Markets do not need the capitalist.

      It seems to me the more rooted capitalism gets in a certain country, the less the inhabitants of that country actually understand what capitalism really is.

      In short, capitalism is a system where a certain group of people (the capitalist) uses capital (i.e. by owning the means of productioon) to make more capital.

      Capitalism is making money with money!

      Yes, many of the social philosophers follow a marxist school of thought. This is not surprising, because marxist critical analysis only came into being as an academic reflection on capitalism. Its the best thought out and valid critical reflection on capitalism, that is why it was ssuccessfull and political actors (like Lenin) used it as a legitimation of their claim for power.

      There are of course other perspectives on capitalism also. Today in the social sciences structuralism, post structuralism, (new) materialism, postmodernism are currents in social theory that reflect critically on our society.

      There is also a widespread misunderstanding in the natural science community about what the theoretical approach of the humanitities in comparison to the "scientific method" is.

      No social theory claims to be "the truth" or hold up to "falsification". That does not suggest that social theory is less valid than physics. If you question the theory and the application of the scientific method in todays science you can actually find a lot of flaws. This does not devalue the scientific methods successes.

      In social philosophy gainig insight into a complex issue is a question of perspective. Theory suggest perspectives that enhance the insight and offer (more) objectivity.

      In general, being able to study problems from many perspectives will give you more insight. This is not as easy as it sounds.

      Studying a social philosopher will gain you another perspective from which to examine the problem you are exploring, but can be hard work.

      The best way to understand very complex issues, like our world and its collapse, is being able to understand the "scientific method" perspectives AND the philosophical perspectives. In the end you might want to be able to have an INTERDISCIPLINARY approach.

      We will need to share the wisdom gained in all disciplines to overcome our current predicament. Why dont we?

    2. Sorry Prof Bardi and thanks for going along with this, but the Africa thing is just too terrible a statement for me to let it stand.

      What is overpopulation? Why do you suggests that it is happening in Africa but not in Europe.
      I admit that the catholic chorch has a role in the issue of reproduction. Actually reading Michel Foucaults thoughts about Bio-Politics would gain you much more insight how and why this, or any power structure for that matter, works.


      Overpopulation from the standpoint of overexploitation of ressources can only be a happening if we see an overshoot.

      If we look at the calculations of the Global Footprint Index, this overshoot does not exist in Africa, not in India and not in China. But it happens in the USA, in Germany and in Italy. So please stop supporting any more cultural chauvinism and try to be exact in what you talk about.

    3. @ alien observer
      @ Entropy^2
      There's already a method to explore the future, and IMHO it could be a good idea to get an helpfully and friendly hand from business economy. The discipline Strategic Pianification comes from military stuff, and it could be pretty handy, because it looks for future unpredictable events with high impact, it is also named as Scenario Planning and OODA loop.

      There's no reason to copy and repaste same texts so:
      look at the comment 65C02moviesApril 10, 2018 at 3:59 AM
      look at the comment 65C02movies April 18, 2018 at 1:45 AM

      As I already said, I don't want have a fight with you, I respect your ideas, but I do not agree with you, because IMHO most of what you wrote are not economy stuffs.

      So, I like very much also Science Fiction, I blog about that, and I usually write short stories in italian languagge, under copyleft. May I suggest to everybody to have a smart talk with Ezezel :-) he is an alien, I mean, he's a real alien: he comes from Kapyten_b (where is another proxy alien base), he is a silent observer of the mankind :-) from the little alien base on Mars :-) and for sure, he will tell you everything about the 5TH PROTOCOL

      If you want, have a short and nice reading.

  14. "Wallerstein doesn't catch the main point: Climate Change and overpopulation on Earth."

    Of cours he does, but its not in his departmnet. He is a sociologist, not a climate scientists or demograph, so society is what he talks about. If you listen closely you will hear im talk of "the price for the input" (into capitalist production processes). So just makes a bracket all around those issues and leaves the specifics to his fellows in the other faculties.

    Just as natural scientists shy away from political and social issues, sociologists and political scientists shy away from natural science issues.

    That is how the academia thinks it has to work and something I guess we have to live with.

  15. Why am I so insistent about this?

    Albert Einstein was a very influencial scientist and he is greatly revered by almost everyone today, even though it was in no small parts his work that made the Atomic Bomb possible and he himself was an active and outspoken socialist/communist. See Albert Einstein: Why Socialism:

    It would feel very strange if we would use his political opinion and the drop of the Bomps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that let to thousands of teriible and unnecessary deaths to totally dismmiss his scientific work and only speak his name in contempt.

    On the other hand this is exactly what has been done to Karl Marx.
    For social sciences Marx is as important as Einstein is for Physics or Darwin is for Biology. Yet there is a widespread reluctancy outside of the social sciences to consider Karl Marx a scientist or even utter his name, let alone to consider reading his work.

    This contradiction is of course a result of cold war anticommunism ingrained into the brains of the western population. It was pictured as if Karl Marx was directly responsible for the massakers and Gulags of Stalin.

    Yes Karl Marx was a communist and he actually wrote the communist manifesto, but this political activism needs to be seperated from his unquestionable academic achievements. Karl Marx did not live to see a communist revolution and never had any part in the misdeeds of the communist governments that (ab)used his work. He only took pity in the suffering of workers in early caitalism and asked the relevant questions and gave answers about why they are exploit5ed.

    The difference between Marx and Einstein is that Marx work was critical of the ruling elite and the ideology they lived by. He actually had the same problem that the Natural Science, especially climate science, faces today. Michael Mann is being treated in a very similar way by the current US government as Karl Marx was by his.

    All science, even natural science, is politics, but that is felt only when the scientific results do not please the political powers that be. Thus the gap between the likes of the "Manns" and "Marxes" needs to be closed if we want to change anything.

  16. It seems that we have similar problems:



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)