Thursday, February 28, 2019

What Will Climate Deniers say When the Climate Disaster Arrives?

Image from a fellow Cassandra

It is all the fault of the scientists, they didn't explain to us clearly enough what the problem was.

I am sure you alarmists will take this as an excuse to raise new taxes.

I couldn't detect any sea level rise. It was the city that sank.

Socialism is bad anyway.

It is all a fault of those Russians. They can do much more than just troll the Internet!

Al Gore is fat.

Now, what did Greta Thunberg do to avoid this?

I think that shouldn't prevent us from bringing democracy to Iran.

C'mon! Just a planetary catastrophe is enough for you to forget the Climategate mails?

Well, maybe the cost of cleaning up will make the GDP grow.

Tell me again about this "Seneca Cliff". . .?

I bought myself a Prius, why wasn't that enough?

Don't worry! We'll make America great again!

Eric the Red was right. Greenland is really green!

Why can't you see the good points of it? Think of how many jobs we can create with building dams!

Protect the Earth, you say? Silly! Look at what she did to us!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Winning the War of Climate Communication. Is Greta Thunberg the Memetic Weapon we Needed?

Who speaks on behalf of young people about climate? Greta Thunberg does. She is the embodiment of the concept that what matters in communication is not the message but the messenger. Only a believable messenger can pass a believable message. And she is believable: she has a direct stake on the issue, it is HER future she is defending, just as the future of the people of her age. She is defending her future from old people who think only of their immediate satisfaction. They are the virus destroying the planet, she is the cure.

Years ago, I think it was in the mid-1980s in Berkeley, I was berated at length and in colorful terms (to say the least) by a young mother for not having buckled up her 4 years old daughter, a classmate of my son, while I was transporting her in my car. As partial justification for my inexcusable wickedness in that occasion, I can say that, as far as I can remember, at that time there was no mandatory seat belt law in California (and also that the car I drove at that time, a Dodge Dart, was so old that I think it didn't have seat belts in the back seats!). But never mind that:  I was wrong and she was right.

The story of that day in Berkeley came to my mind more than once in the debate on climate change. You see, today we tend to think as obvious that seat belts are saintly things that save lives. But it was not so obvious in the 1970s and in the 1980s: we forgot about that, but there was a strong debate on the matter with some people maintaining that there was no proof that seat belts actually saved lives. According to a 2006 article by John Adams, risk expert of the University College London, mandating the use of seat belts in 18 countries resulted in either no change or actually a net increase in road accident deaths.

Think about that using the eyes of those people who deny the validity of climate science: you could ask what proof do we have that seat belts make you safer? Of course, we can play as much as we like with crash tests using sophisticated dummies, but hey, those are just models! You know how these debates go over the Web, once they start, they never arrive at a conclusion. And nothing is done.

So, why do we wear seat belts but don't do anything about climate change? It is because there are people like the lady who berated me in Berkeley who want everybody to wear seat belts. They are parents, siblings, spouses, they have a stake in the safety of the members of their families, they don't care so much about subtleties, demonstrations, and statistics, they can see that if their child is belted she won't smash into the windshield with her head in case of a collision. If you argue that they are wrong, they will say you are a monster (as I was told I was, that time in Berkeley) and they'll be perfectly right. It is because these people have argued, pushed, and worked in favor of seat belts that today there are mandatory seat belts laws.

Now, about climate change: who is arguing about people's safety? Mostly, scientists. And there lies the snag: scientists do not have a direct stake in the issue of climate. Most scientists, old or young, seem to be interested mostly in their carers. And if the climate situation is so bad as scientists say they are, why do they still take planes to attend their silly international meetings? Scientists are not here to save the planet: they are there to write papers, speak at conferences, teach formulas to their students, they are just boring people.

In practice, scientists are the worst possible messengers to pass the climate change message. Not surprisingly, they haven't had too much success, as we all know. Imagine that if -- that day in Berkeley -- instead of a young woman berating me I had been facing a white-haired scientist showing me data and diagrams. I am a polite person, but I am sure I could have told him something not so polite, instead of the apologies I told to the mother of my son's friend.

That's the problem, and it can be solved only by a change of paradigm in the memetic struggle: We need to change the message, but more than that we need to change the messenger. And there we are: Greta Thunberg. You see the difference? She has a stake in the issue: it is her future that's being jeopardized by old men, the future of her generation. She has a right to speak, she has a duty to speak, she has the force to speak, and she does that. And the message she carries is extremely strong. It is a meme that diffuses in the memesphere and even the dark forces of denial will have a hard time stopping it.

Of course, it is not enough to be young, to be intelligent, to be motivated to succeed in this task. The memetic war is no child's play. It is a deadly struggle, even though, normally, only virtually so. But even a smart young lady as Greta Thunberg needs to be supported - in a certain way "weaponized." And that's what has been done by the people of "wedonthavetime." She is not just a different messenger, she carries a different message: it is "I want you to panic" -- it is a much powerful message than the edulcorated version carried by scientists ("see, folks, we don't want to trouble you but, well, there might be a little problem...").

Greta Thunberg is now an awesome memetic weapon to fight the battle against the dark forces of ignorance and of denial.

We still have a chance.


How to neutralize Greta Thunberg. I think that today just the thought of Greta Thunberg scares the bejesus out of the people of the anti-science crowd but I am sure they are already thinking of strategies to fight her. So far, the best they could concoct has been to ignore her, but some kind of smear campaign is likely in the near future. It was already done 50 years ago to silence Rachel Carson, the author of "Silent Spring" by defining her a "histerical priestess of nature". Already a few days ago, Ms. Angela Merkel hinted that Greta Thunberg is part of a hybrid warfare attack waged by the Russians against Europe: you can't imagine what these evil Russians are capable of! And, of course, if Ms. Thunberg makes the smallest slip in one of her speeches that can be twisted and packaged in order to make her look racist or anti-semitic, then she is dead in the water. But the most effective campaign against Greta Thunberg might come from her potential allies, people on "the left" who think she is not radical enough and that the very fact that she is helped by PR experts is an insult to the intelligence of humankind. Among this nefarious band, the deranged people belonging to the NTHE (near term human extinction) sect are the worse. They believe that we are going to go extinct soon anyway, so there is no need to do anything and we can continue to live as we did before and so Ms. Thunberg and her ilk should just stay quiet, go home, and die in silence. They are very vocal and could do real damage, fortunately, so far they are a tiny minority

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Seneca Cliff According to H.P. Lovecraft

It is strange how sometimes fiction manages to catch human feelings and ideas in ways that are not easy to articulate in terms of facts and models. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) has been one of the world masters of the horror genre, managing to flesh out some of our deep fears.

We can read Lovecraft's story "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" as an allegory of our times. The prosperous and shiny city of Sarnath had a dark origin, the violence against the previous inhabitants of the region. The drama unfolds with all the characters mentioned in the story aware that they'll have to face some kind of retribution for what they did and yet refusing to admit that. And the retribution came to Sarnath in a form not unlike what the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca had noted when he said that "growth is sluggish, but the way to ruin is rapid," the Seneca Cliff.

In our case, we know what we did to the Earth's ecosystem. We know about the greenhouse gases, we know about the slaughter of other species, we know about the pillaging of the Earth's resources. We know all that but, like the inhabitants of Sarnath, we refuse to admit it. What kind of retribution can we expect in the future?

It is curious how the knowledge of the horror we did to our planet takes the shape of the tales of the horror genre. It is something modern, the ancient just didn't have it. Think of Dante Alighieri: his Comedy is all about ghosts, but there is no horror anywhere in modern terms. Think of Shakespeare's Hamlet, there is a ghost, a skeleton, a dark castle, but no horror elements. Why?

But, if it is true that for everything that exists there has to be a reason, there has to be a reason also for us being obsessed with horror and monstrous creatures. And I think it is because we are creating them. Just turn on your TV and watch the news, don't you have the sensation of living a horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft?

Yes, the news looks today like a horror story, complete with eldritch monsters, dark creatures from the abyss, Cthulhu, Nyarlatothep, Azhathot, Shub-Niggurath, and all the others, coming from the lost city of R'lyeh. And you wouldn't be surprised to see that the tv announcer looks like one of the inhabitants of the destroyed city of lb that once stood in front of Sarnath, screaming at you from the screen, Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! 

And we will be forever prisoners of the monsters we ourselves created.


The Doom that Came to Sarnath
by H.P. Lovecraft - 1920

There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.....

Read the whole text on the blog "Chimeras".

Monday, February 18, 2019

No Monday Post this Week

Sorry, folks, no Monday post on Cassandra this week. I am in bed with a nasty bronchitis -- I feel like a whale after having eaten an accordion.

Nothing serious, but it will take a few days for me to recover. Keep following the blog, I plan to restart next week


Thursday, February 14, 2019

And now we are officially starting to slide down the Seneca Cliff for the airlines: The A380 goes the way the Concorde went

And there goes the A380, too. You would think that the European aerospace industry wouldn't repeat the mistake they made with the Concorde, would they? But they managed not only to repeat it, but too make it bigger.

At the time of the Concorde, everyone said that the future was with supersonic passenger planes. At the time of the A380, everyone said that the future was with large wide-body planes. Now, I wonder what else they could concoct if someone doesn't stop them, and I can easily think of them doing something even worse. Fortunately, with the EU in the sad state it is, maybe they won't have that chance.

In any case, a just punishment for those who think they can predict the future by extrapolating the past.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What's Emperor Trump Doing? He is Busy at Splitting the Empire in Two

Donald Trump seems to be doing what Roman Emperors like Diocletian, Constantine, and Theodosius did long ago: splitting the empire into two halves. Trump may not have consciously decided to do that, but an Empire can only be as large as it can afford to be and the American Empire can't afford anymore to dominate the whole world.

Flavius Theodosius Augustus "The Great" (347- 395 CE) was the last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire. His success was probably due in large part to his habit of plundering Pagan temples for the gold he needed to pay his troops. But Pagan temples were a limited resource and Theodosius himself seemed to understand that when, shortly before his death, he partitioned the Empire between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. Afterward, the empire would never be united under a single emperor again.

The Roman Empire had been a strong centralized power during its heydays, but it never was very interested in creating an ethnical and linguistic unity among its subjects. The Roman authorities understood that it was less expensive to tolerate diversity than to force uniformity -- a typical policy of most empires. So, the Empire remained split into two main linguistic halves: the Latin-speaking Pars Occidentis and the Greek-speaking Pars Orientis. Theoretically, Latin was the official language but, in practice, the Empire remained a bilingual entity and, during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Roman elite would tend to speak Greek -- considered more refined and classy than Latin.

The split of the two sides of the Empire was not just linguistic, it was economic as well. The Pars Occidentis remained based on mineral wealth which, in turn, fueled the Empire's military power. The Pars Orientis was more based on commerce and manufacturing and it exploited its favorable geographical position as the terminal of the silk road that connected China to Europe. During the expansion period, the military strength of the West made it dominant but, with the exhaustion of the gold mines in Spain, it lost the resources needed to pay for its oversized military apparatus. In time, the Western Empire became unable to control even its own territory and it squandered its remaining resources in huge border walls. It collapsed and vanished during the late 5th century CE. The Eastern Empire lasted nearly one millennium longer but was never able to rebuild the power of the old Roman Empire.

Fast forward to our times, and it is clear that the American Empire is facing the same situation that the Romans were facing around the 2nd century AD. Like the old Western Empire, the American Empire's economy is mainly based on mineral resources: crude oil in particular. But, with the gradual exhaustion of these resources, the empire cannot afford to dominate the whole world anymore.

Emperor Trump seems to have an uncanny ability to understand the situation, even though he may not be an expert in Roman history. His actions are perfectly understandable in light of the plan of splitting the empire into two halves. One half (Pars Occidentis) will still be dominated from Washington, the other half (Pars Orientis) will have Beijing as its capital. The Western Part will retain the original Imperial language, English. The Eastern Part may switch to Chinese.

Consistently, Trump is planning to abandon Afghanistan and also Syria, both too far and too expensive to defend and he also was not interested in an all-out confrontation with North Korea. But he seems to consider South America as part of the Western dominion, so he is moving to take control of Venezuela. Trump is also acting to destroy the hegemony of the dollar as world currency. Apparently, the idea is that the Western Empire is safer from financial disasters if the dollar becomes the Western currency only. So, the economic sanctions enacted against Iran, Russia, and other countries are forcing the Eastern Empire to develop new currencies and financial systems independent of the dollar.

Clearly, Emperor Trump is facing strong resistance. Just as many Roman Emperors, he not completely in control of the Imperial military apparatus and a sizeable opposition is trying to maintain the American Empire alive in is most extended and expensive form: dominating the whole planet. But the direction is clear and the situation is simple: an Empire can only be as large as it can afford to be. The gradual depletion of the mineral resources and the increasing costs of pollution are making a global empire impossible.

The Globalized World Empire was a beautiful creature as long as it prospered, but it was burning the dynamite stick at both ends. The time of global dominance is gone and the Empire is now in a convulsive phase: retreat is the most dangerous military maneuver and it is best executed maintaining an aggressive posture. Which is exactly what Emperor Trump is doing with his threats of war. But it is also true that the game of chicken is the second most dangerous game known (the first is the Russian Roulette). So, the retreat of the Western Empire may not involve just a rapid Seneca Collapse, as it was the case for the old Roman Empire, but a final blast of fireworks in the form of a nuclear war which would end civilization as we know it. Not pretty, but that's the way things are.

There remains one point of contention: is Western Europe in the Orientis or in the Occidentis part of the Empire? Surely, Britain tends to remain part of the Western Empire because of its linguistic ties with the United States. But the non-English speaking parts of the former EU don't have this link and they have strong - practically unbreakable - ties with Russia as an energy supplier. So, they might become part of the Eastern Eurasian Empire.

It seems that Trump understands this point very well, too, and it is in these terms that you can interpret his lashing out at the NATO allies at last year's G7 meeting. Trump's message to the states once forming the European Union was simply, "Sorry, fellows, we can't afford to defend you anymore unless you pay us more money than you can afford to pay." In this sense, Western Europe could play the role of Britain and Dacia during the 3rd and 4th century CE, abandoned by the central Roman Government and left to fend off by themselves against the barbarian invaders. Who knows? History rhymes again and we might even have a new King Arthur.


Was the fall of the Western Roman Empire a Seneca Collapse? Yes, by all means it was. Look at this:

From Taagepera, Size and Duration of Empires, 1978 -- the vertical scale is in million square miles

See also "Can Donald Trump be the last world emperor?"

And you may also be interested at how Theodosius's daughter, Galla Placidia, managed to keep the Western Empire together even without plundering temples. The story is here.  

Note also that I used the term "understanding" but that doesn't mean that Trump consciously understands the deep reasons of why he is doing what he is doing in the sense of moving intentionally to the splitting of the empire. He is simply reacting to the stimuli he perceives and he moves accordingly. (which is, BTW, what we all do!!)

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Sower's Strategy: Norway Leads the Way Toward the Energy Transition

This is me, Ugo Bardi, in Oslo, February 2019. Norway is the country with the largest fraction of electric vehicles in the world. The Tesla in the background is not mine. 

I gave the name of "The Sower's Strategy" or "The Sower's Way" to the idea that we should use our remaining fossil resources to build the renewable energy infrastructure needed to replace them. The calculations by myself, Sgouridis and Csala show that it can be done: after all, this is what our farmer ancestors did when they saved some of the crops of the current harvest as seed for the next harvest.

For some reason, the idea that we should wisely invest the energy we have, while we still have it, seems to be incomprehensible to some people who maintain that fossil fuels are evil (which is true) and that for this reason anything you can make with fossil energy is evil, too, including renewables (which is not true). So, the penetration of the "Sower's meme" has been modest, up to now. But from a recent trip of mine to Norway, I noted that the Norwegians put this strategy into practice, even though they probably never heard of the name I gave to it!

Norway, as you surely know, used to be among the largest oil-producing countries in the world, the largest in Europe. The peak was around 2002 and by now production has declined to about half of what it was during the glory days. (data below from Rune Likvern)

The gas production in Norway has not yet peaked but it is plateauing and it is time for the Norwegians to think about a future without oil. So, what did the Norwegian government do? They followed the Sower's strategy using the revenues from oil sales to build up a more and more energy independent system. (and zero dependence on nuclear energy!)

Right now, Norway produces about 100% of its electrical power from renewable sources, mainly hydroelectric power. About one-third of all vehicles bought today in Norway are electric, a continuously growing fraction, with a total of about 13%. Adding the plug-in hybrid vehicles, we get a grand total of 24% of the circulating vehicles. It seems reasonable that it will be possible to achieve the target of 100% of electric vehicles in Norway by 2025.

The Norwegian system is not yet 100% renewable power as a fraction of the total consumption, it is at present around 60%, but it is already a great result if compared with that of other countries: the UK, with a similar climate as Norway, lags behind with less than 9%. Italy, with all the sun it has, doesn't do better than about 16%. So, Norway is well placed to be the first developed country in the world to achieve the great transition to a fully renewable energy system.

There remains a lot to do, of course: after having eliminated fossil powered cars, the internal heating of buildings needs to be electrified -- it is possible. Then, there is a need to reduce plastic use, not counted as energy consumption but still a product of fossil fuels -- also that can be done. Finally, there is the issue of agriculture, right now completely based on fossil fuels. The challenge is difficult, but not impossible. Electric machinery can replace diesel powered machines in agriculture, while the Norwegians are well placed to develop the manufacturing of fertilizers using electric power, bypassing the cumbersome and polluting Bosch-Haber process (look at the site of N2-Applied, it can be done!).

Surely, you may say, it has been easy for the Norwegians: they have made so much money with selling oil! Not so obvious: think of Saudi Arabia, they made even more money with their oil and do you know what fraction of their energy consumption comes from renewable sources? 0.01% according to the World Bank! Apparently, it is not enough to be rich in order to be wise -- but that seems to be part of the way the universe works.

To finish this post, here is me (Ugo Bardi - left in the picture) in Norway, together with Jorgen Randers (right in the picture), one of the authors of the first "Limits to Growth" report of 1972. As you can see, we catastrophists are not sad!

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Biodiesel Disaster: Why bad Ideas are Always so Successful?

This is a modified version of an article that was published on "Il Fatto Quotidiano" in Italian on Jan 31, 2019

Behind the simian mask, there is yours truly, Ugo Bardi, sitting at his desk.  The sign is in Italian, but you can understand that it is against biodiesel and in favor of Orangutans. 

Sometimes it happens that you are asked a question that forces you to reflect. So, a few days ago, I was at a public meeting on energy and climate and I was telling about the work we do at the university and with the Club of Rome. In the debate, someone asked me: "But, professor, from all these models of the world you make, after all, what did you learne?".

Some questions are not easy when the topic is complex and you have to summarize the answer in a few sentences. And you have to come up with something right away! But I think I could put together a good answer when I said, "The main thing we've learned is that the models work well. Even the famous model of 'The Limits to Growth' that the Club of Rome had proposed in 1972 still describes reasonably correctly the state of the world today. But this has a consequence: the system is predictable because it tends to move in a certain direction. And this means that changing things is very difficult ".

The problem of the difficulty of changing things, even when it would be necessary, came back to me by later on, when reading a recent report on biodiesel. This stuff is really terrible: it causes deforestation and destruction of the fertile soil. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, it is much worse than traditional diesel fuel.

But, you could say, at least biodiesel replaces a non-renewable fuel obtained from oil. In practice, the problem is that we are not getting very far with the replacement. Making the appropriate calculations, we find that, today the production of biodiesel is about 2.7% by volume of the total production of diesel (the details of the calculation are at the end of this post). Considering that biodiesel contains less energy than diesel fuel, it is just over 2% of the total. And for this miserable 2% we destroyed forests all over the world and massacred untold numbers of orangutans?

Maybe you do not care about orangutans or ancient forests, you just want fuel for your diesel SUV. And you could tell me, couldn't biodiesel production be increased? The problem is that there are not many forests left to be razed in the world. To produce more biodiesel we should start using land that is currently used for food production. This means starving people to feed the cars: and we risk to get to that for real if we continue with current trends.

But how is it that we put ourselves in this absurd situation? The beauty is that the idea was to make an "ecological" fuel. Ecological my xxxx! But it is what I was saying before. The system (and the system is us) tends to maintain its trajectory. When we realize that there is a problem, in this case, the lack of diesel fuel (peak diesel), as well as global warming, we launch ourselves towards the solution that seems to keep things as they are. By replacing diesel oil with biodiesel, it seemed to be possible to fix everything with no change or with just minimal change. We use a renewable fuel and we keep our stoves on wheels running. But it doesn't work like that. We only created a lot of damage without getting anything useful.

What we should have done, and we are still in time to do, is to move from the noisy and inefficient internal combustion engines to vehicles that use electric motors powered by renewable energy, much more efficient and non-polluting for real. Of course, this requires making investments, changing habits. Thus, the knee-jerk reaction of so many people when the idea is proposed is "I do not want to change anything, give me biodiesel so that I keep my diesel car". It is understandable, but we are in an emergency situation both for the climate and for the availability of fuels. And change we must.

h/t Virna Quintini  and Veronica Aneris


It is curious that nobody on the Web seems to have bothered to do the calculation of how much biodiesel is actually produced in comparison with fossil diesel. I tried to find the data and the result is a bewildering mess of different units, claims, and counterclaims. Of course, if you are a good conspiracy theorist, you would suspect that the people producing biodiesel don't want to make it easy for us to understand how minuscule is their contribution to the world's fuel production. But, eventually, I could put together a calculation that seems to be correct and that Antonio Turiel kindly checked and validate. And, yes, the contribution of biodiesel to the world's diesel consumption is minuscule. So, let's go with the numbers. gives 1577 Kboe of biofuels (the people who use these weird units should be killed by a lightning strike coming from God herself). I think it means one million and a half barrel of oil equivalent per day. And then, it is reasonable to say that biodiesel could be a fraction of that, as you say, ca 0.65 million barrels per day. That makes 237 million barrels per year. One barrel is 42 gallons, indeed we have some 10 billion gallons per year, a datum which corresponds to one provided by the biodiesel journal. Again, these people he should be struck by lightning for using these units. So far, so good.

Then, back to IEA, they say that the world diesel production was 1234442 thousand tonnes in 2016, or 1234 million tons, or 1.2 billion tons. One toneq corresponds to 6.88 -- 7.33 barrels (depending on the assumptions), let's say it is 7 barrels/ton. The result is that the world diesel production is some 8.5 billion barrels/year, which is a reasonable number considering that the total oil production is some 90 million barrels/day, or 32 billion barrels/year. Converting this to gallons, we need to multiply by 42, and we get 350 billion gallons/year

To recap, the good results are

DIESEL production is 9 Billion Barrels/year OR 350 billion gallons/year

BIODIESEL production is 0.237 Billion Barrels/year OR 10 billion gallons/year

Which means that the total production of biodiesel is 10/360= about 2.8% in volume. A little more than 2% considering the lower heat content in biodiesel.

The poor people who had devised the SI system must be twitching in their tombs when they think at the mess that is the story of the zillion units used in this field.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Tolstoy on War: The Systemic Vision of a Tragedy

Leon Tolstoy set his novel, "War and Peace" (1867) during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia of 1812. But he had not witnessed that war -- rather, Tolstoy had fought in another senseless and bloody war, the Crimean War (1853-1856), an experience that deeply influenced his thought. Tolstoy had a deep vision of the tragedy that wars are and his viewpoint is similar to our modern one based on statistics, although obtained by intuition only. Above, a painting by Vasilii Nesterenko (2005) that celebrates the Russian defense of Sevastopol in 1855.

From Tolstoy's “War and Peace” (1867)

To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolénsk and Moscow and were killed by them.

To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence—apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes—to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army and the war could not have occurred.

<..> Without each of these causes nothing could have happened. So all these causes—myriads of causes—coincided to bring it about. And so there was no one cause for that occurrence, but it had to occur because it had to. Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

<..> it was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real power—the soldiers who fired, or transported provisions and guns—should consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals, and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes.

<..> When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it?

<..> And so there was no single cause for war, but it happened simply because it had to happen”


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)