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

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronavirus for Non-Italians. Aka, "your government is not taking this seriously enough".

Number of cases per million inhabitants in various EU countries, compared to the level (10/million) China enacted its block, to date the most effective strategy to fight the infection. With 21.6 cases/million inhabitants, for instance, France is recommending people to... wash their hands.

Guest Post by Luigi Fiora

Let's start with some data.

1) Italy is the world's 9th largest economy (not for much longer).

2) It has a completely free and subsidized public healthcare deemed the second-best in the world by the World Health Organization's ranking of health systems in terms of performance. This is relevant, as people can afford to seek best-available treatment regardless of their social status/economic well-being (winking at you USA, your poor can't afford to be sick).

3) Having one of the twenty highest spending per capita in healthcare, our healthcare system and personnel are top-notch, if chronically underfunded and currently overwhelmed by the very high number of infected patients.

4) Italy has one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world, at roughly 75%. US and UK are below 60, Germany below 50. This means people can mostly stay at home without incurring extreme costs while seeing their income limited by their inability to work. Aka: it is bad here, it will be worse elsewhere. for the poorest particularly.

5) Italians have one of the highest savings rate in the world (8% of the yearly income, estimated at some 4.300 billion Euros) due to an overall skepticism in banks and economic fluctuations. While bad for economic growth in normal times, this means median Italian families can afford to consume resources while not working/producing. Again, other countries will have it worse, with high proportions of the population unable to stop working even if ill/quarantined, or risk starvation.

6) Places with low home ownership, no public healthcare, low savings and/or overall poor economic performance/infrastructures will be hit very fucking hard. Oversaturated hospital means more people will die by no being able to get needed care in time than die of the virus. Italian hospitals are already selecting who gets to be treated and who does not base on their likelihood to survive and estimated time they will need care for. People in desperate situations, who may have been saved in ordinary periods are ALREADY dying.

7) For once, I agree with my government's decision to shut down everything no matter the economic costs. The Chinese did that, and their infection rate is plummeting as more and more people recover. See the graph at the beginning of this post.


the virus already is a pandemic, due to it being undetected when asymptomatic, yet still able to spread. many governments are halting testing to avoid spreading panic. Shutting down and quarantining the majority of the population, avoiding interpersonal contacts as much as necessary is the only way to avoid hospital overfilling and uncontrolled panic.

This is IMPERATIVE: it takes 14 days for the effects of a block to take place. If France were to enact one today (they won't) (*), thousands of people will still go to the hospital and hundreds will die, having been infected in the past days. Quarantine is having a significant economic impact on Italy. For many countries not as lucky as us it will be crippling, and harder to enact as people cannot afford not working.

So my question to all of you who read this tedious post is: Why is YOUR government not shutting down everything?

We should do more.

(*) Note: this post was published on March 10, when France had not yet implemented a national block against the infection. 


  1. But then the Italian Higher Institute of Health report on CVD-19 mortality in Italy to 17 March found deaths are concentrated among the very old who have serious or critical existing conditions: people who are, to be realistic or unsentimental, "the already dying". Locking down societies, destroying hundreds of thousands of small businesses etc, would be justifiable to save millions of lives in a country the size of Italy but it won't.

    On Italy's own data, almost no one under 50 dies of CVD-19 unless they are already very seriously ill. Certainly ill enough to take extraordinary measures to protect themselves. Correct, we don't know who has the virus but we DO know who needs to be protected. So separate them from contact. Not everyone else from each other.

    China's response stopped the spread but also stopped immunity. Unless they shut their borders almost for ever, the virus will reccur repeatedly.

    Here in the UK, the societal damage being done by the authorities' response will eventually lead to more premature deaths and loss of quality of life among under-60-year-olds than the disease itself. I speak as a someone who's 64.

    Perhaps there is an Italian equivalent of the English expression "buyer's remorse". I think that when this is over and we add up the cost of buying not many years of poor quality life for people who enjoyed pre-Seneca Collapse lifestyles, which younger generations will never know, we may be more than a little remorseful.

  2. Corned Beef, Cabbage, Coronavirus & Collapse

    In case you missed Corned Beef & Cabbage this year because the locl Irish Bar was CLOSED on St. Paddy's Day, you can share (at least visually) the Corned Beef & Cabbage FEAST served up in Solitude here in my cave on the Last Great Frontier, where we still only have one reported case of COVID-19. :)


  3. Here in the US, as all infrastructure is broken, no social contract, competing cultures, the leaders were busy keeping business running so they could cash out of the stock market. The people are oblivious, still thinking We Are #1. In every measurable way, we are the poster boy of what not to do. It's still home sweet home, but it is a hot mess

    1. That is the result of having a fiat currency - backed by nothing but faith & belief in the Federal Reserve - which is neither - but the Third Central Bank of the United States. The best resources in the US have now been exploited - and what is left is becoming "unprofitable". The interest is coming due - and the poor quality of the remaining resources can't repay the debt. So Politicians take on more debt - in your name. Only a debt Jubilee will cure the financial ills - but will still not mitigate the problem of Human Overshoot.

  4. I have been researching and living this way of life for 15 years now. It started out a bit extreme but in the last several years my green prepping has matured into a way of life that is beyond the need to prep for just such an event as our current pandemic. It is about attempting to reduce globalism impact on my life and take steps to localize into a lower carbon life at the same time I maintain my status quo life of family and money making. Bills don’t go away and family is only so understanding of localism.

    Now that we are in an accelerated decline process I have come to some conclusions. One is the real danger of this pandemic is an economic reset. We will not be able to return to the world we knew a few months ago. The connections, wealth, and sentiment will have been altered by this. Whole industries will have been decimated. The economic system was set to reset by something. It was a bubble with little sense of reality with debt and asset values. There is a silver lining to all this if we make it though without too much damage and that is a reset that can force a degrowth on a population that otherwise would have been unwilling to contemplate. Now the leadership across the spectrum can have an excuse and people the understanding of the need.

    We are all going to suffer together. There is no hiding and few will get out of this without a haircut. The very rich will get the biggest hair cut because most of their wealth was digital and unsustainable anyway. This means that our society is now prepped for something different. Attitudes will now be altered by force of nature. This coming period of degrowth will likely mean an economic depression. This also means we will have the common crisis to reset to a new level of living and by default this will be on smaller scales. Gone will be globalism vast and dominating value chains that no government could resist or fight. A wounded globalism will result. Now the people will blame globalism for their pain as they forget the riches it has brought in the form of products. Many do not realize how powerful an economic engine globalism is but at an expense to resilience and sustainability.

    This will be a double edge sword for the green movement because the renewable revolution of solar, wind, and EV’s will be greatly damaged but so will fossil fuels. Big corporations will be held more accountable. Gone will be the top activity of enriching themselves with stock buy backs and huge pay packages. Normal people who experience food and shortages of things will reevaluate growing their own food but also investment in things that offer common sense resilience and sustainability. We will see the vast unfunded liability of safety nets and pensions evaporate into this depression. This means gone will be the sunbelt retirements. People will work the rest of their lives. Home economics will return in importance. A lot less leisure and travel are in our future and this is a good thing.

    In other words, the discretionary binge of the last 20 years will be gone. Consumerism, Travel, and energy intensive fun stuff will be gone as we know it. This is good stuff if we can find the strength to make it through what is ahead. If we are not careful and cooperative, what is ahead is very dangerous. It means food and things in shortage. It also means globalism will not give us the SafetyNet for localized famine or disaster response. There is also the ever-present danger of WWIII. As you spend your time self-isolated reflect on these conditions. If you can react positively to what was inevitable anyway. Do it in anticipation of a different world that will be more realistic. We can get through this and be a better people with less planetary damage.

    1. "In other words, the discretionary binge of the last 20 years will be gone".

      In simpler terms it would be described as Overshoot - Industrial Civilization was doomed from the start - It seems as though most would like to find a "work around" to the dilemmas created by Industrial Civilization.

      Dilemma: "a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones".

      So if we accept that there is no acceptable or palatable answer to Industrial Civilization - then we must make another choice - that is to live with(in) Nature - and it's natural bounds - accepting the consequences as they come.

      Human Beings are a unique species on Planet Earth - Possessing only 23 pairs of chromosomes - vs natural Primates having 24 pairs of chromosomes.

      Human Chromosome 2

      This video segment from NOVA: "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" reveals how genetic evidence helped to confirm an important component of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection: the common ancestry of humans and apes. In particular, it explains that humans have one fewer chromosome pair in their cells than apes, due to a mutation found in chromosome number 2 that caused two chromosomes to fuse into one.

      I do believe that Dr. Richard Duncan in his work -

      The Olduvai Theory:
      Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age
      Richard C. Duncan, Ph.D.
      Institute on Energy and Man,
      June 27, 1996

      said it best:

      In 1989, I concluded that the life-expectancy of Industrial Civilization is horridly short. This hypothesis was defined in terms of a measurable index, world energy-use per person, and named the "transient-pulse theory of Industrial Civilization." I sketched its maximum point at 1990, followed by a persistent decline (see Note 1)

      The bottle of Yeast is full - resource depletion in increasing - Humans continue to breed and crowd out Nature - and a balance needs to be restored - by whatever means.

    2. "We are all going to suffer together."

      Very well put! I also came to this realization in the past decade while reading, thinking, and writing about peak oil and civilizational decline and considering various strategies.

      John Michael Greer's refrain when he moved to the Rust Belt was "collapse now and avoid the rush", which he modified around 2016 to "the rush has begun," while moving himself and his wife to a New England city. We cannot extract ourselves from the worst effects of collapse and survive as hermits. Even hermits rely on society, and farmers all the more so. The best we can do, I think, is build a social safety net.

  5. "The best we can do, I think, is build a social safety net".

    I don't disagree - except what should we do with those who practice activities which destroy or endanger that safety net?

    Limitations to the safety net must also be enacted - for it to be effective and last long term.

  6. I would recommend that people in self-isolation read again "The Andromeda Strain" a 1969 novel by Michael Crichton. When I was young it was marked as SF, but it's also techno-thriller.

  7. “In 1989, I concluded that the life-expectancy of Industrial Civilization is horridly short.”

    "The best we can do, I think, is build a social safety net".

    As a green prepper practicing relative “decline in place” lifestyle I agree fully with the above two references. A relative decline in place lifestyle means one foot in the status quo with the other foot attempting to find the bottom in the muddy pond of decline. Industrial civilization life expectancy has shortened but remember this is a systematic process that may be a stair step down, I hope! That said the behavioral component of my REAL Green adaptation is about the journey and that journey is a retreat in force not a panicked route. I have been prepping for 15 years but it is more than prepping in recent years it is a lifestyle of things but also adapted behavior. I knew this day would come someday but stopped trying to find the bottom like get rich quick people do thinking of buying the dip. In my early days of peak oil I made so rash changes that were painful at the time but serendipitously changed my life to a more local and permaculture way.

    I am prepped very well now but really that prep will suffer entropic decay and natural attrition relatively quickly. Real prep is a local safety net of community and things produced. Most places have been delocalized and some worse than others. Some places will never rebuild a social safety net of localism because they are fully globalized in overshoot of consumption and or population. Some places will adapt albeit at a very dangerous pace to a new level of sustainable activity. This is a process that might not happen horridly short for the individual depending on their local. For some it will be horridly short others not so bad. I do also believe life-expectancy in historic time of Industrial civilization will be quick but that is not individual time. They say time speeds up the older you get and the same can probably be said of late stage industrial civilization.

    I humbly recommend first start with whatever Kubler Roth stage you are in and begin the process to acceptance of the end of life as we know it then go forth in optimistic pessimism. We don’t know the details of the end of this life as we know it but the trend is obvious to the awakened. This optimistic pessimism is what people do in acceptance. The optimism is the hope found in the journey. Life is a journey not an end. The end game is always the same and that is death. In our case, for most, this pandemic is more of a death of a way of life of things and ideas. The modern narrative of techno optimism is going to die with an economy dying. A big vacuum has been created. It will be a time for those who follow this truth in sober wisdom that do relatively better than those who hang on to the past in delusions of “failure is not an option”. Failure just happened.

  8. Northern Italy, Switzerland, lichtenstein and Luxembourg seem to be all at the extreme end of cases per million. Italy is very extreme by number of deaths. Very hard to reconcile Luigi's comments and data with the outcome today, march 23

  9. "Failure just happened'.

    Extinction/Failure closes one door and opens another.



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)