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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A rare glimpse of what the members of the elite think: What are they going to do when things get really tough?

"A lot of these laws and regulations were designed back when the US had a finite amount of energy. Before the new technology was put into place."  Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, at the meeting titled "The Fight for EU Energy Security" held on April 11, 2019, in Brussels. Full video of the event.

Scott Fitzgerald said once that "The rich are different from you and me” and Ernst Hemingway is reported to have answered, “Yes, they have more money." Maybe this exchange never took place, but I believe that Hemingway was right: the rich are not really different from ordinary people, apart from having more money. That is, they are not smarter than us. Their riches are the result of luck and of a certain capability of being in the right place at the right moment, including being born from a rich father.

I think that the same conclusion is valid for the category we call the elite. They are not different from you and me: they are not smarter, they just have more power. The concept of elite, of course, is a little vague. Let's say that they are people who have a certain capability of putting into practice their beliefs and so have an impact on the world. The commoners (you and me) cannot do that: at best we can vent our frustrations on the Web: it is what I am doing here!

So, if something important happens in the world, it is because the elites want it to happen. The president of the United States can decide to bomb a foreign country and it will be bombed. Senators and MPs can create laws that will be valid for everyone in the country and it will be applied. The military may lobby to siphon ever-increasing sums of money out of the taxes paid by everyone to build more and more expensive weaponry, and they will normally get it. Rich people may move huge amounts of money to support the extraction of fossil fuels, and that's done, no matter whether it is a good or a bad deal.

As we go down in the hierarchy, these capabilities fade gradually and disappear at the fuzzy boundary that separates the elites from the commoners. The elites and the commoners behave in similar ways, although it may be possible that the members of the elite are more aggressive. But the point remains: some people, up in the hierarchy, can do things we can't do.

I am not inventing all this: it is the "Elite Theory" that says that the world moves the way the rich and the powerful want it to move. It has been well known for more than a century and probably it was well understood also in ancient times. A recent study that shows how commoners have little or no decisional power in a democracy was published by Gilens and Page in 2014 and their conclusion is that "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."

Not surprising, I'd say. But note that there is no such thing as a secret "government of the elite" of people dressing in capes convening in a dark hall in the basement of the White House, in Washington. It is just that the pushes generated by powerful people average to a certain direction according to their prevailing beliefs. And the world moves in that direction.

So, what do the elite think? Maybe we can get a glimpse of that from what Mr. Gordon Sondland said when speaking at a meeting about the EU energy security in April 2019. Among his many dubious statements, one stands above the others: "the US had a finite amount of energy before the new technology was put into place." That's the same as saying that the fossil energy available in the US is now infinite.

Now, Mr. Sondland is surely a member of the US elite. He is a rich man, reported to have donated $ 1 million to support Donald Trump's electoral campaign. No wonder that he was given the prestigious post of US ambassador to the EU. But that was not just a reward for previous credits: Mr. Sondland is perfectly suited for the job of peddling US natural gas to the Europeans. If you have time, listen to him speaking at that meeting. Smooth, self-assured, convincing, the kind of person who could sell whiskers to cats.

The interesting point is that I think Mr. Sondland really believes that the US energy is infinite because of technological progress (*). Of course, I can't get inside his head but it was said in such a matter-of-factly tone that I'd bet he does. It is a belief that fits well with the current debate in the media. Of course, just a fringe believe that hydrocarbons are physically infinite, but most people are now in a phase of complete remotion of the concept that such a thing as "depletion" even exists, to say nothing about being a problem for the foreseeable future. The same is true for climate change.

If we can take Mr. Sondland's sentence as representative of the way the elite think, I guess it proves that they are influenced by their own propaganda. As I said, they are not different from you and me: they watch CNN and Fox News, too. And, like most people, they are unable to reason in quantitative terms, they cannot understand complex systems, they have no knowledge of physics, and they use only extremely crude, intuition-based models.

That, I think, explains a lot of things about what's happening in the world today. The elites think that technology can provide "infinite resources" and that's why their financial branch is pouring enormous amounts of money into a money-losing enterprise such as shale oil. And it also explains why their military branch is so fixated with petty little wars while the ecosystem is going to Hell. They are just acting according to their beliefs.

Of course, that's what's happening now. What if something really big changes the elite's cherished beliefs? How about a new oil crisis? What about a truly gigantic climate-related disaster? That may open up some interesting scenarios. Overall, people's behavior is well described by something that James Schlesinger said, "People have only two modes of operation: complacency and panic." There is no doubt that the elites are in full complacency mode, right now but, if things get really tough, will the elite go into panic mode? And, if so, what happens?

Likely, the panicked elite will not react in a rational way: that's not one of the operating modes of human beings. Most likely, they will keep their trust in technology: if Mr. Sondland believes that it could make fossil fuels infinite, then more technology can solve other problems. If fracking ceases to work we can apply more technology and get liquid fuels out of coal, why not? Or maybe restart an all-out effort with nuclear energy, and damn the radioactive torpedoes. And climate change? Well, the scientists can think of some way of dealing with it: spray something in the atmosphere, put mirrors in orbit, whatever.

It could be much worse: the elite may decide that the problem is just that there are too many people consuming and polluting. Then, they could think of ways to solve it - you guess how. Or they may simply decide that, after all, what do they care about the commoners? They'll just work at saving themselves and the commoners will be left to reach the bottom of the Seneca Cliff, underwater. It is just what the Roman Elite did at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. And we will see the usual combination of lies, damned lies, and propaganda. Interesting times ahead.

(*) What if Mr. Sondland was lying and he knows perfectly well that the US fossil reserves are not infinite? That changes little in the situation, except that it would indicate that a larger fraction of the elite (including Mr. Sondland) is already in panic mode.


  1. The rich are fundamentally different. I can easily think of 10 people I know who are well adjusted people that step down from jobs in management positions because of the unethical behaviors they were being forced to carry out and I can even think of one individual I now think better of because they said they couldn't do it anymore. Point is, capitalism is a filter for psychopaths.

    just an example that can explain how some rich people have access to more information than the average commoner

    1. I've always been thinking that Stratfor is a scam. But, who knows? They may know things we don't know.

    2. Stratfor don't know anything of future and things to come

      prof, I'm still waiting for the title of your next book, -Seneca curve or things like that. I think I'll buy it via Amazon, you mentioned about that on

      Is it already available on Amazon? What is the title?

  3. That is what I like about you, Mr. B. You come at things from a different direction than most Americans. Not as dazzled by your grandfathers success as we are. I think we do tend to give the elite far too much credit. Your explanation makes far more sense. Keep up the good work, and thank you.

    1. Thanks, James. Here, many people tell me that I am too Americanized. Maybe I am somewhere in between, right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!

    2. I second what James said even though I live next door to America - they are so damn loud their ravings carry clear across the 49th parallel.

      Russian born Peter Turchin, who studies, among other things, the history of elites behaving badly is another thinker who has a different angle than Anglos.

      'Intra-Elite Competition: A Key Concept for Understanding the Dynamics of Complex Societies'

  4. Hi Ugo,
    Nice post. I think that complacency quote is from James Schlesinger not Erwin Schlesinger [0].


  5. Those of you interested in EVs might be interested in the modifications I am making to my Electric Scooters to make them Cargo Carrying Long Range BEASTS capable of World Travel. I may be visiting Ugo at the end of Summer or Early Fall riding one of these Rube Goldbergian contraptions. :)


  6. reserves of shale gas in north america are more or less, two times the resources of all South Arabia

    That's why Mr. Gordon Sondland said:"the US had a finite amount of energy. Before the new technology was put into place."

    What is wrong in the Sondland's mind?!

    Simply he doesn't evaluate the key variables of a shifting world:

    1-overpopulation of planet Earth: there is no birth control policy, so demography will go on it own path, and overpopulation on Earth is an independent and uncontrolled variable from today until 2050.

    2-climate change is caused by the massive energy production by using fossil fuels (from the I °, II °, III ° world) no doubt about that.

    3-the methane hydrates melting in Siberia with positive feedback, is an uncontrollable mechanism by humanity: no doubt about that.

    4-greenhouse gases already released into the atmosphere, take long times to be reabsorbed naturally.

    Continents in the world are in different stages of socio-economic development, but this fact is not a problem, but it is an opportunity.

    5-Shale oil/gas techniques produce high negative externalities, in the medium and long run the costs of fertile land, fresh water, they will rise up, so the costs of natural disasters, migrations and wars, they will sooner or later be incorporated into the prices of fossil fuels.

    6-Earth terraforming technologies for catching and waterproofing and storing greenhouse gases will be ineffective

  7. The problem is that a too significant proportion of key decision makers have been brought up in a system that believes leaders coming out of the Law - MBa - Econ\Finance domain, have all it takes to make informed decision of geological scale !
    Not that a science background would ever guarantee a proper wholesome perspective of the Art Bartlett said: "you can always find a PhD that say's smoking is good for you" ; but it would go a long way.

    It's compounded by the fact that the token "democratic" puppet election process was a very 'hackable' one to begin with...

    It appears the system programmed so that the one and only 'Prime Directive' is that accumulated capital stays accumulated, has formed an increasingly degenerated leadership if only by allowing people who are simply rich to lead, even if nowhere near what can be considered 'Elite' in upbringing.

    I think society as a whole has degenerated. Leadership is important; if the 'Elite' are too disgusted by the farcical charades of the political process then we're going to get the bottom of the barrel.

    Good intentions and integrity isn't enough.
    Only when the [whole] predicament has been understood by a critical mass can we ever hope to filter out the hacks, the clueless and the hopelessly indoctrinated... ... maybe.

    1. @ Unhinged Because Lucid

      IPCC report on climate warming is a too conservative about the climate change:

      IPCC said North Pole will be navigable on summer/fall since 2050: in reality russians and chinese's ship is using the northern passage since 2010 more or less.

      IPCC said AMOC will shut down since 2050: in reality AMOC-THC already loose ONE THIRD of its all volume during the 1970s-1980s and THC had not recovery.

      IPCC said there is NO big blue bubble in northern Atlantic: satellite's data show a big cold bubble of fresh and less salty water in North Atlantic (because Greenland is melting)

      IPCC said North Pole ICE FREE will happen in the long run: prof. Peter Wadhams said north pole will be ICE FREE somewhere in the middle of the decade 2020s.

      IPCC said the sea level will rise 0.9mt in 2100 then +7mt of sea level rising somewhere in the 2100s decades: climatologists are saying the sea level will rise of 0.9-1.5mt before 2050, another +1.5mt before 2100, then +7mt somewhere in the decades 2100s.

      IPCC said methane hydrate bomb is not melting: satellite's data and plane's sampling on Alaska and part of Siberia, they already show a melting of methane gas emissions on summer/fall. Those emissions are not huge on comparing with human gas serra emissions made by fossil fuel. But positive feedback in Siberia can't be reversed, and positive feedback in the next future decades can only accelerate, because of climate change. So it is quite possible, natural gas serra emissions will turn from bad to worse, becoming an important factor or a bigger part than annual human gas serra emissions

      IPCC don't care about Hubbert curve, IPCC don't care about overpopulation, IPCC don't care about african demographic bomb, because those mega trends are not climate stuffs.

      IPCC said terraforming technologies will capture gas serra emission, so mankind will fix the climate change problem from 2050s. Survivable IPCC projections RCP2.6 and RCP4.5 are science fiction, because scientist are saying there are no terraforming technologies, nobody is investing money on them. In any case, Terraforming solutions will need long time to fix the climate change problem, and nobody on Earth have a f#cking idea how to feed those energy needs, without having new big gas serra emissions.

      At the end of the day, IPCC are saying more or less, the climate change issue will not produce massive negative effect on Earth before 2100. Great part of scientist are saying opposite things: climate change already is producing negative effects on Earth, and things can only turn from bad to worse before 2050, because Earth'climate can fall down into a Deep House Earth since 2050s (more or less).

      Because reality is far worse, I think it is quite clear that Governements, Parties, Mass Media are ignoring Climate Change mega trends, because there is no solutions and there is not enough time for doing something.

      I think I°,II°,III°world on Earth, will have full conscience of the deep impact of Climate Change, only when North Pole will be ICE FREE (somewhere in the 2020s decades). Unfortunately the north pole ICE FREE will be not reversible, and for sure it will bring a powerful cascade of many others climate tipping points...

      So my previsions are easy to tell:

      1-after a north pole ICE FREE, will explode clusters of tensions and hybrids wars everywhere on world but mainly on Africa and Asia.

      2-the hybrids wars will lead sooner or later into the PUNIC WARS II on Mediterranean area, and the YELLOW BUFFER ZONES will evaporate in 24H-96H.

      3-also, probably will detonate a massive partial-conventional WWIII in Siberia, somewhere in time, from 2040 until 2050s decade.

    2. Sorry, during the copypaste the date changed.
      The right sentence is this:"IPCC said North Pole will be navigable on summer/fall since 2100: in reality russians and chinese's ship is using the northern passage since 2010 more or less."

  8. But note that there is no such a thing as a secret "government of the elite" of people dressing in capes convening in a dark hall in the basement of the White House, in Washington.

    You are right Dr. Bardi, there is no ‘secret’ elite. But there is a government of the elite. If you want to know the companies and the names of the ‘elite’ people that govern you get yourself a copy of Giants The Global Power Elite by Peter Phillips. If you want to know how they govern read the following three books:
    Democracy Inc. Managed Democracy and The Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon S. Wolin,
    The Hidden Structure of Violence, Who benefits from Global Violence and War by Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree
    Conspiracy Theory in America by Lance de Haven-Smith.

    They'll just work at saving themselves.

  9. The elite. They are not different from you and me.
    Sorry Dr. Bardi, I disagree with you.
    The fact that the elite hold so much power they can control society and implement policies against the wishes of the people is proof they are different from you and me. Have you noticed the size of the demonstrations of the people to protest those policies when the elite meet to talk among themselves? The elite know the cause of climate change since the end of the 1960’s. The oil companies knew the hockeystick of CO2 emissions would occur and they even knew the ppm CO2 per year given the trajectory. The predictions they made at the time are spot-on! The elite knew there were no weapons of mass-destruction in Iraq and still they ruined the lives of millions of people. Do you remember the demonstrations of the people to show the elite they did not want that war? To knowingly and willingly kill a planet. Would you do that? It is not about them being smarter. The elite’s hunger for power and their greed is beyond the imagination of human beings. What type of species are they? You should not whitewash the elite by presenting them as people like us. They are not like us. If you have the power to destruct the planet, you also have the power to not destruct the planet. Power is not value free, it comes with a heavy load of responsibilities. The state of the planet is an expression of the elite’s state of mind. And their state of mind is driving ordinary people to despair. Local communities all over the planet are trying to save their environment from pollution. But the elite have made it unlawful to protest peacefully, they will either shoot you or you will end up in jail. Now the elites are trying to put the blame for the collapse of society on the people. They invent a New Renaissance because they think we lack morals. The elites do not only lack morals themselves, they are such cowards they cannot even face the fact that they are responsible for the mess we are in, not us their slaves, the people. If the all powerful elite do not want to destroy the planet and kill people, they should not produce and sell the products that enable the destruction in the first place. And if they fear their ennemies will do so if they don’t, they should look into their minds and wake up. The elite fear we are like them, not the other way around. However, they do not need to fear us, we are not like them. To show us they are serious about their morals, they may destroy their atomic bombs instead of the planet. Do you remember the huge demonstrations of the people against those bombs? Since it is probable the elite will just work on saving themselves and will produce ever more bombs in an attempt to do so, we may as well turn away from them and look after ourselves to the best of our abilities too. In the midst of collapse and with our backs against the wall let’s try to think and be different. Drop the materialist worldview dreamed up in the Renaissance period by an elite to quench their thirst for wealth and power. Let’s try a mental worldview, i.e. what you think and experience is who you are, if you hurt another being you hurt yourself. Drop the very notion of elite. Never again accept the establishment of an elite and rule ourselves by means of political anarchy. That’s my imagining. But please think up your own beyond collapse. For ways to climb out of the pit read The Ecotechnic Future by John Michael Greer, his book is a vision of the open-ended possibilities of a world we are called upon to create. You may use it as the point of departure for your own imagining of where we are heading and which tools we need to navigate the transition.
    Are these scientists experiencing the Cassandra Dilemma: seeing the potential calamity ahead yet not being heeded by much of society?

    1. I don't pretend to be well acquainted with elite, but over the years I've interacted with a certain number of powerful people, in Italy and elsewhere. My impression is that they are completely confused about the situation. In addition, they are strongly self-centered and convinced to be smarter than anyone else. Which describes the way most people are, by the way. In other words, I don't think there is a "conspiracy of the elite" against the commoners -- not yet, at least. The powerful people are simply throwing their weight around trying to show off, but they don't understand the situation.

    2. Let the elites struggle with their own demons. The commoners have collapse on their mind:
      Do Cassandra and the Chimera meet each other in the prediction of the Apocalypse in 2025?
      While the long-term trend points at a 3°C (or 5.4°F) rise by 2026, a 3°C rise could eventuate as early as in 2020 in case of a persistently strengthening El NiƱo.
      And now we are living in the dark times of the Kali Yuga, when goodness and virtue has all but disappeared from the world. But when did the Kali Yuga begin? And when does it end?
      The current upswing in extreme weather phenomena on one hand, and the initial signs of the awakening of a higher consciousness amongst humanity (paradigm shift?) on the other, may be indicative of the fact that the effects of the transitional period are already underway. We need to be aware of these greater cycles of time that govern human civilization, and the changes that are looming in the horizon.

  10. When an esteemed law professor of mine mentioned Julian Simon without laughing hysterically, I knew something was weird. I wonder if Mr. Sondland thinks it always takes less energy to extract the next barrel of oil

  11. What are they going to do when things get really tough?

    I suggest, probably some of them, they will disappear right here



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)