A Blog by Ugo Bardi

Collapses are the way the universe gets rid of the old to leave space for the new. It was noted for the first time by the Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) and it is called today the "Seneca Effect."

Sunday, January 29, 2023

How to Create your own Shadow Government: why Worshiping Baphomet could be a Good Idea

Shadowy organizations said to be engaged in world domination are often depicted as worshiping evil deities. The image above shows a group of Templar Knights adoring a statue of the demon Baphomet. It looks silly, but if you are serious about world domination, you should consider Baphomet -- or some equivalent evil deity -- as a patron of your organization. Here, I explain why. 

Not long ago, a friend of mine explained to me that he was completely sure that our elites are not just evil, but they actually practice worship of an evil deity called "Baphomet." I must admit that I was skeptical, even though he showed me an image found somewhere in the dark web, purportedly showing the hierarchy of the worshiping organization. Yet, after some mulling over, I came to think that there is something in this idea. Much more than it would seem at first sight. 

Of course, I understand that you are probably already moving your mouse to click away from this page. But, if you don't succumb to the anti-conspiracy memes implanted in your brain, let me try to explain what I have in mind. I am not saying that Baphomet could exist for real (although, who knows?) but, in our times, when politicians "create their own reality," astral entities such as Baphomet may have assumed a memetic consistency that makes him (?) a force to be reckoned with. An AI called "Baphomet" could actually be worshiped. And that could form the basis of a "shadow government."

Shadow Governments and the First Adorers of Baphomet

Suppose you want to build a shadow government to take control of the state. It is a good idea for several reasons, the main one being that you don't have to report to anyone or justify what you are doing, so you can do a lot of evil things that normal governments have a harder time doing. Then, if you can rule from the shadows, you save yourself a lot of hassles and, if things really go bad, you may avoid most of the blame. But how to create such a hidden government? 

There have been historical cases of governments dominated by an "éminence grise," someone who has a great influence on the leader(s). One is that of the Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, said to have been the actual ruler of the Roman Empire as long as he could control his pupil, Emperor Nero. Unfortunately for Seneca, Nero eventually decided that he wanted to rule alone and got rid of his old master by ordering him to commit suicide. 

So, if you want to build a working shadow government you need to do much more than have an old man whispering words of wisdom in the ear of the leader. You need a hidden structure that controls all the layers of the apparent government. It needs to be a true alternate government, even though hidden from sight. But how could such a structure be created? How could it function? Let's see if we can learn from one of the first known attempts in this sense: the Knights Templar

You surely know that the Knights Templar were a monastic order of warriors that existed for approximately two centuries, from 1100 AD to 1300 AD. They started by helping the Christian pilgrims who traveled from Europe to Jerusalem. In time, the order became a multinational organization that collected donations from the faithful and could lend and borrow money. They became rich, very rich. They even developed their own militia. 

The problem for the Templars was that the Crusades ended in a colossal failure -- so they had to retreat to Europe. At this point, it is possible that the Templars tried to use their resources as a tool to gain political power in Europe. They were a truly international, multilingual organization that operated very much like a mafia, not unlike our modern European Commission. Why couldn't they take over one or more of the several European governments of the time? In practice, the attempt was a failure. In 1307, the King of France cracked down on the French branch of the order. The Templars were accused of all sorts of crimes, including sodomy, worshipping the devil, blasphemy, heresy, and other similar niceties. The leaders were arrested, put on trial, and several of them were burned at the stake. Their treasure was confiscated, and the order was officially disbanded by Pope Clement V in 1312. 

Still, the Templars were successful for nearly two centuries, and they may provide a blueprint of how a shadow organization may operate. In practice, all secret organizations dedicated to controlling the government need to develop four mechanisms. 

1. A "front" -- a fake organization that makes them look like something legitimate.
2. A "carrot" -- something that entices new members to join. 
3. A "stick" -- something that punishes traitors and defectors. 
4. A "leash" -- a way to control the functionaries of the real government.

The Templars had all these mechanisms. First, they had a front as a charitable organization dedicated to liberating the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem from the rule of the Muslim Heathens. Their good fame brought them donations and inheritances and money was surely a good "carrot" to attract new members. Of course, to maintain their reputations as fighters for Christian ideals, the Templars had to define themselves as "pauperes" ("poor") and they could not use the money they had for personal purposes. But money is just a tool to obtain the thing that humans mostly want: sex. And, often, people are attracted by forms of sex that the society of their time does not accept as legitimate. 

Take a look at the Templars' seal, here. Some people interpreted it as a reference to homosexuality and, indeed, at their trial, the Templars were accused to engage in homosexual practices (the term "sodomy" was commonly used at that time). It was considered a heinous crime during the Middle Ages. We don't know if the accusation was based on something real but, in any case, there would have been people attracted to the order just because of the fame it had in this sense. We may not exclude that other forms of sexual entertainment were included in the membership in the order. Those were strong "carrots" for new adepts. 

A further carrot for the adepts came directly from the religious slant of the organization. During the Middle Ages, medicine was not as prestigious as it is nowadays with us, and people wisely tended to avoid doctors and their awful concoctions (it is becoming a good idea again). So, the Templars offered the adepts a highway to heaven because of their good deeds and donations. It seems to have been a popular concept for our ancestors during the Middle Ages. 

As for the stick, all close-knit religious or political organizations tend to threaten their members with the most awful punishments if they dare betray their companions. There are plenty of possibilities for physical punishments, but an even better way to ensure that members will not lapse is to engage them in forbidden activities. And here comes the story of Baphomet, a demon with a goat head, goat's legs, human torso, wings, and more. One of the many representations of demons in ancient Christian iconography. 

For us, prostrating in front of an ugly statue of a horned demon looks like some kind of Halloween fun, but during the Middle Ages worshipping the devil was a serious crime, punishable by death. So, once an adept had worshipped Baphomet, betraying the order was tantamount to confessing to being a devil worshipper. The same was true for sodomy: it was not just a carrot, but also a stick. That ensured that betrayals were very rare. 

Finally, as a "leash," the Templars could simply use money for corrupting people in positions of power. The corrupt officers didn't need to be enrolled in the secret organization. They would simply be paid to do what the organization would tell them to do. And, if they didn't, they could be threatened, removed, or physically eliminated. The modern mafia works in this way, and there is no doubt that it works very well. 

Secret orders in our time. New Baphomet adorers? 

Following the Templars' idea, let's try to imagine how a modern secret society could take the role of a global shadow government. First, the front organization. Liberating the Holy Sepulchre is no more a popular goal for us, but there are plenty of activities that we consider worthy of our admiration and our donations. How about health care for the poor? It should work. 

Then, the carrot: how do we reward the faithful adepts? Sex remains one of the most powerful carrots around. In our society, sex is often easily available, but some sexual activities are considered abominable just as much as, in the Middle Ages, sodomy was. For us, it is typically sex with underage people. So, even billionaires would be interested in an organization that promises them sex with young women or men under the umbrella of humanitarian activities. Once an adept falls into the trap, it works as both a carrot and a stick. The organization has a powerful blackmail weapon to keep the adepts silent and continue providing donations. 

There is more in terms of a powerful "carrot." In our times, people are not so much concerned about a place in Heaven, while modern medicine can claim to be close to using mRNA technology to provide some sort of immortality serum. It doesn't matter that such a serum does not exist, so far. The organization would promise a fast lane to it, as soon as it becomes available.

Does this organization also need to engage in rituals of adoration of evil deities, such as the sinister Baphomet? In our times, cults of Pagan deities are not supposed to be punishable and are not even regarded as evil. Yet, there is something in the idea of the "forbidden cult" that makes it attractive. "Baphomet" doesn't need to be a silly statue of a horned demon. It could be a code word for all the secret activities involved in the core of the organization and, why not? It might include actual rituals of worshiping evil deities. 

This reasoning leads us to see our global shadow government as an organization operating in the healthcare industry. It would have a front based on financing research in the most advanced fields of genetic engineering for the benefit of humankind.  Let's call it, say, "Great Association for Vital Improvement." A parallel organization would manage a shady ring of juvenile prostitution, maybe based on an island in the Caribbean. It would cater to the rich donors and also to the scientists involved with the organization, (even top-level scientists are sensitive to carnal temptations). If worse comes to worst, the leaders of the sex trafficking organization can be considered expendable, they may well "commit suicide" when they become an embarrassment.

Finally, the organization would have an inner circle of leaders who would use their financial power to create a "leash" to influence the activities of governments all over the world. The top leaders might be some of the hyper-rich people who accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars. They would be able to control the media and ensure that dissenting opinions would be censored on the Web. With money and sex, almost anyone can be corrupted. Then, with near-complete control of the world's media, the leader(s) could set up huge campaigns aimed, for instance, at depopulating the planet. 

It could work. But it would face the same risks that the Templars faced and that, ultimately, doomed them. Playing with huge amounts of money is always risky. In our time, criminals are not anymore burned at the stake, as was the use during the Middle Ages, but our jails seem to be a good environment for committing suicide for people who have become an embarrassment to someone powerful. And, in the end, the sword is always stronger than the banknote. So, an organization like the one I have described could be assembled, but it would also risk being wiped up by a military ruler who decides he has had enough.  

Fortunately, I am completely sure that nobody set up such an organization, so far. 


 A list of the posts on "Seneca Effects" of the series "The Age of Exterminations" 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Ugo Bardi: Traitor to Catastrophism. (or, why collapse is not an event, but a process)

You, Reginald, three times traitor you: Traitor to me as my temporal vassal, Traitor to me as your spiritual lord, Traitor to God in desecrating His Church. (T.S. Eliot, "Murder in the Cathedral") 

About ten years ago, my friend and colleague Massimo Nicolazzi wrote that the inversion of the declining trend of oil production in the US could not be neglected any longer. I commented by saying that it was a short-lived flare that couldn't last for long.

It turned out that Nicolazzi was right and I was wrong. By now, the growth of the US oil production curve has been lasting for more than ten years and is still ongoing -- it was not just a short-lived flare. Of course, it cannot last forever but, for the time being, it changed everything. For instance, it propeled the American Empire back to the path of world domination that the Neocons theorized in the 1990s. 

Does that mean that Hubbert's "peak oil" theory is wrong and must be discarded? Of course not. It only means reinforcing some of the basic rules of complex systems. For instance, the one that goes "complex systems always surprise you," and also, "never take an example as a rule."

So, when dealing with collapse (that I call the "Seneca Cliff) we should always remember that collapse is not an event, it is a process. Collapses have a history, they are the result of the interaction of several factors, and the same processes that generate collapse can also generate its opposite, which I tend to call the "Seneca Rebound." It is normal. There is nothing definitive in the universe, and collapses exist because the old must leave space for the new. 

Recently, for another unexpected change, I identified a new trend: the rapid growth of renewable energy production worldwide. A trend that can be well described by some recent studies in terms of the EROI (energy returned for energy invested) of renewables having become several times larger than that of fossil fuels. No wonder we are seeing -- or we'll soon see -- a revolving door effect in energy production. Fossils are out, renewables are in. History rhymes, as it usually does!

Then, just like Nicolazzi's statement about tight oil was hated by peak-oil hardliners (including me), my statements on renewables were understood as a mortal offense by catastrophistic hardliners. You can't believe how nasty their comments have been: apart from branding me an incompetent, an idiot, and ignorant of the basic laws of physics, catastrophism seems to be strictly linked to conspirationism, so people have been writing that I cannot tell the truth because I am blackmailed by the powers that be (no, really, someone wrote exactly that!). 

The problem is the science of complex systems is never black or white. It doesn't allow for absolute truths, nor it is sympathetic to people choosing between complacency and panic (the two functioning modes of human beings according to James Schlesinger). The science of complex systems is, well, complex and it needs a little mental flexibility to be understood. Not that it takes superhuman mental capabilities, not at all. It is just that you need to free yourself from the schematic way of reasoning that's normally imposed on all of us by the media. 

I tried to explain these points in my book "Before Collapse" -- which has been recently translated into Spanish. Jorge Riechmann wrote a preface to the Spanish edition where he does an excellent job of summarizing the main points of the book. He calls me "a very optimistic collapsologist," which may be a good definition as long as you understand that it does not mean that collapses do not exist. They do. It is just that we have to learn to live with them. 


The preface of the Spanish version book "Before Collapse," translated into English. The English version can be found at this link

Collapse Better (Notes about an optimistic book on collapses)


(Published as an introduction to Ugo Bardi's book Antes del colapso, published by Los libros de la catarata in 2022). 

1 At the height of the June 2022 heat wave, French anthropologist Sylvain Perdigon recalled how in 2014 a French TV "weatherwoman" presented the hypothetical weather forecast for August 18, 2050 as part of a campaign to alert about the reality of climate change. Now her forecast of extreme temperatures for that distant day had become the actual forecast for mid-June 2022.[1] The weather forecast for 2050 is now the real one.

As far as the ecosocial crisis and climate tragedy are concerned, everything is systematically going systematically worse than expected, as Ferran Puig Vilar often reminds us. For example, the damage that climatologists expected to become visible in the middle of the 21st century is already here with us. "Humanity seems to be bent on playing a deadly game of Russian roulette where the Earth's climate is a loaded weapon," writes Professor Ugo Bardi in this book.

2  We are living an end of the world. Not the end of the world: Mother Earth will still be there. The basic levels of life on Gaia[2] - bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae, lichens, and many kinds of plants - are extraordinarily resilient. But the world as we have known it - the familiar and easily habitable Earth of the Holocene - is unraveling before our eyes; and the desperate efforts of many people to cling to that familiar - and now entirely unrecoverable - normality do not alleviate our situation, but rather aggravate it.

It is not the end of the world - it is not the death of Gaia, it is not the end of life on planet Earth - but it is the end of our world. What does one do in such a situation?

3. For example, read Ugo Bardi. People close to Libros de la Catarata already know the Florentine professor: it was an excellent idea to translate and publish in 2014 his book The Limits to Growth revisited, a thorough and clear-sighted analysis of that very important 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, the first of the reports to the Club of Rome. Now that it is fifty years since the publication of that pioneering work (using the modeling of the world system thanks to system dynamics), which allowed us to understand the tendency to overshoot followed by collapse that characterizes industrial societies, it is a good time to recover that first book by Bardi in Spanish - and it would be an excellent accompaniment to the one you now hold in your hands, dear reader, curious reader.[3][4] The Limits to Growth Revisited, the first book by Bardi in Spanish, is an excellent accompaniment to the one you are now holding in your hands.

4.  Ugo Bardi, theorist of complex systems (those systems that exhibit strong feedback effects, he defines at a certain point in this book),[4] has been reflecting for more than a decade on the "Seneca effect" starting from a first intuition in 2011;[5] in the spring of 2017 he published The Seneca Effect: Why Growth is Slow but Collapse is Rapid (Springer, 2017); then, in 2020, Before the Collapse, this second book on the Seneca effect that is now translated into Spanish. If one had to call someone a collapsologist in the proper sense, for his commitment to an understanding as objective and rational as possible of this kind of phenomena, it would be Professor Bardi, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florence.

The strong interconnection between the subsystems of a complex system can lead, as a result of the impact of a perturbation on one or some of these nodes or subsystems, to the collapse of the entire network. Thus, the development of complex systems often responds to what Professor Bardi calls the Seneca mode: it is an asymmetrical process, where growth is slow and decline is very marked. Catastrophe comes much sooner than our intuition would expect and tends to catch us unawares.

You will also be dealing, in these pages, with Seneca's precipices, Seneca's bottlenecks, and Seneca's rebounds: the Cordovan philosopher gives a lot of play in the hands of the Florentine physical-chemist.

5.  If in a book the word overshoot appears already in the preface, as it does here, we have an indication that it is probably going to talk about essential things.

And speaking of ecological overshoot followed by collapse, I would like to point out here what seems to me to be an internal contradiction between the explanations proposed by our author. At one point he argues that "if the American elites have decided that there is no hope of saving the whole world, the logical thing to do is to go into 'deception mode' and let most people die": that is why Donald Trump and the Republican Party are climate deniers. It is not that they ignore the reality of basic biophysical facts, but that they accept a large-scale genocide from which the elites will be spared. At a later point, however, the Florentine professor suggests otherwise: "No one seems to understand that the problem, today, is not one of expanding their country's borders, but of ensuring the physical survival of their citizens in the face of potentially disastrous events related to climate change and ecosystem collapse." So where does that leave us: ignorant elites or genocidal elites?

6. Bardi insists many times that "collapse is not a mistake, it is a characteristic feature" of complex systems in the Universe we inhabit (p. 40). While we cannot avoid many collapses (and every complex system will collapse, given enough time), we can at least try to prepare for them and collapse better. Before the Collapse (a title that suggests a double meaning: before the collapse, yes, but also facing the collapse) is a good guide for that journey, and the frequent touches of humor with which the author de-dramatizes his subject of study, in itself - it is not necessary to insist on it - very dramatic, are appreciated. Along with humor, the broad contextualization (ultimately in a cosmic and Big History context) is another resource that helps to de-dramatize.

7. Something very appealing about Professor Bardi is his interdisciplinary appetite. An appetite that finally takes shape in a very broad culture, not only on chemistry and physics matters but also on humanistic subjects (with special emphasis on history): his work offers many materials for that Third Culture (building bridges between natural sciences, social sciences and humanities) that Francisco Fernández Buey was asking us for.[6][7].

8. Collapse is not a failure of complex systems, insists the Florentine professor, but a feature of their mode of functioning: the Universe is like that. Would this be a pessimistic position? But pessimism is forbidden in our ranks! If one does not manifest at least a sufficiently muscular optimism of the will, one risks severe reprimands.

Well: against the compulsory optimism to which so many prescribers would like to subject us left and right (because pessimism, it is often said, demobilizes and works as a self-fulfilling prophecy), Bardi's rational effort to understand the dynamics of collapse is very much to be welcomed. (I confess that, having disastrously exhausted the cycle of emancipatory mobilization of 15-M movement (the Spanish "indignados", the "outraged"), hearing the adjective "illusionary" in contexts of political debate makes my guts churn rather than lift my spirits). And for those who prefer not to think of any kind of collapse without sanctifying themselves, you already have the energetic and counter-apocalyptic Rosi Braidotti, or the more proximate Zamora Bonilla.[7] 

9. Bardi is a very optimistic collapsologist. Anyone who has followed his involvement in the debates on energy transitions over the last decade knows this. This optimism manifests itself for example in an article such as "The Sower's way: a strategy to attain the energy transition",[8] his particular Parable of the Sower also evoked in this book, full of confidence in the technical possibility of a smooth transition to renewable energy sources. However, his socio-political realism leads him to temper this technological optimism: such a transition would be possible, yes, but it is extremely improbable judging by the political course our societies are following.

The CIA director and US Defense Secretary James Schlesinger is credited with an observation that Bardi takes up several times in this book: human beings would have only two modes of operation, complacency and panic. To disprove him, it would be necessary that our processes of reflection and deliberation allow us to truly prepare ourselves (on a socially significant scale) for a future whose configuration we will never know, but whose structure of ecosocial collapse is today very discernible. The entire effort deployed in this work is intended to provide us with intellectual tools for that task.

10. Along with the story of the Roman Empress Galla Placidia, Japan in the Edo period is a second great positive historical example from which we can learn in thinking about transitions to sustainability. "What the story of Edo Japan tells us matches what we know about complex systems: they tend toward stability. In other words, our current fixation on growth may just be a quirk of history destined to disappear in the future when we are forced to live within the limits of the Earth's ecosystem." However, warns Bardi in 2020 in words that take on a somber resonance in 2022, "there is one condition we urgently need for this: peace, as the Edo experience tells us." Far from progressing a pacification of international relations that would allow us to cope with the processes of ecosocial collapse underway, on February 24, 2022 the invasion of Ukraine by Russia accelerated a generalized militarization that precipitates us in the opposite direction to where we would need to move.

In these fateful times, El País editorializes with exaltation about the European Union as a "new geopolitical power" (March 1, 2022). David Rieff, on the next page, also stresses that "Europe is entering a new era of hard power". Where we would need gaia-politics and an unprecedented level of international cooperation, the old geopolitics of destructive competition between nation-states and the blocs they are shaping is deepening: a world of "Combatant Empires" (Rafael Poch de Feliu) [9] And the general framework is an ecocide that includes in its bosom all kinds of promises of genocide.

The already very bad world we had is being transformed, before our wide-open eyes, into a much worse one. "It should never have come to this" could be the answer to almost everything that is happening to us. But we are already there, and from there it is up to us to act now... Recalling, for example, these verses by Brecht:[10]

When the war begins/ your brothers may be transformed/ and their faces may no longer be recognizable/ but you must remain the same/ they will go to war, not/ as to butchery, but/ as serious work. Everything/ they will have forgotten. But you/ must not forget anything.// They'll pour firewater down your gullet/ like the others. But you/ must remain sober.

11. Bearing in mind all the play that the so-called Spanish "senequismo" has given in the history of ideas in our country (with outstanding contributions such as those of Ángel Ganivet or María Zambrano), and how at times the Roman Stoic philosopher born in Cordoba has come to embody the sage par excellence in the Spanish popular imagination (in such a way that the expression "he is a Seneca" is used to praise the wisdom of someone), it is not bad that the common thread of Bardi's reflection is precisely a thought of the Cordovan philosopher. Namely, what Seneca said about collapse in one of his letters to Lucilius: "It would be a consolation for our weakness if things could be restored as soon as they are destroyed; but the opposite is true: growth is slow, but ruin is swift."[11] We will decline, but we could collapse.

We will collapse, but we could collapse better. Bardi outlines a Seneca strategy that can help us in this: accept that change is necessary and that, in many cases, opposing it leads to a more rapid collapse. Accepting the inevitable will allow us to better prepare ourselves to collapse (and perhaps even avoid collapse): "Seneca's strategy is not to oppose the tendency of the system to go in a certain direction, but to steer it in such a way that collapse does not have to occur. The key to the strategy is to prevent the system from accumulating so much tension that it is then forced to discharge it abruptly." Towards the end of the book, a notion of eco-stoicism is suggested,[12] just before recalling the stimulating and novel story of Galla Placidia, the last Roman empress.

12. Seneca also wrote: "Live each day as if one day were your whole life". Not bad advice for times as difficult as ours. Of Bardi we can also say: this guy is a Seneca!


[1] Tweet of June 15, 2022: https://twitter.com/sylvaindarwish/status/1537181101357256704

[2] It is worth remembering here that Ugo Bardi is one of the scientific defenders of the Gaia theory: see for example his essay "Gaia exists! Here is the proof" on the blog Cassandra's Legacy, 4 August 2019; https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2019/08/gaia-exists-here-is-proof.html . For his idea of Gaia as a holobiont, see for example https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2020/06/gaia-is-one-of-us-onward-fellow.html

Bardi, whose intellectual effervescence cheers us up and sometimes overwhelms us a bit, recently started a new and stimulating blog on the Proud Holobionts (see e.g. https://theproudholobionts.blogspot.com/2022/06/survival-of-fittest-or-non-survival-of.html ). The introductory text of that blog reads:

We are all holobionts: groups of organisms that help each other. As humans, we could not survive without the microorganisms that populate our bodies. But all living creatures on Earth are holobionts, and the ecosystem itself is a giant holobiont (which some call 'Gaia'). The holobiont concept can also be used for real and virtual non-biotic structures, enterprises, states, ideas, and ideologies, as well as the behavior of ideas ('memes') on the World Wide Web. The term holobiont was pioneered by Lynn Margulis in 1991. She was also co-developer of the Gaia concept.

[3] Bardi recalls part of his analysis of The Limits to Growth in the first chapter of this book, "The Science of Doom: Shaping the Future".

Allow me a small digression. The denialism of biophysical limits that prevails in the dominant culture can be well studied through two exemplary cases: what may be called the "Georgescu Roegen affair" and then "The Limits to Growth affair" in the 1970s (regarding the former, see our book Bioeconomics for the 21st Century. Actualidad de Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, edited by José Manuel Naredo, Luis Arenas and Jorge Riechmann in Catarata, Madrid 2022). And then, from the 1990s onwards, the refusal to confront global warming, which is spectacularly illustrated by the "Nordhaus case", is impressive. William Nordhaus, one of the most belligerent economists against The Limits to Growth from 1972, was awarded the so-called "Nobel Prize" for economics in 2018. In his acceptance speech in Stockholm, this neoclassical economist suggested that the "optimal policy" to address climate change would result in "acceptable global warming" of about 3°C by 2100 and 4°C by 2150! Climatologists (and scientists from other disciplines), unlike neoclassical economists (who unfortunately have come to dominate their discipline, cancelling out rivals who advocated more reasonable economic theories), believe that global warming of this magnitude would be catastrophic (probably incompatible with the mere survival of the human species). This is the madness of the BAU (Bisnes Comodecustom)...

[4] "A system is complex if, and only if, it exhibits strong feedback effects. Every day we are confronted with complex systems: animals, people, organizations, etc. It is not difficult to understand what is complex and what is not: it depends on whether the reaction to external perturbations is dominated by feedback or not. Think of a rock compared to a cat..."

[5] See his blog https://thesenecaeffect.blogspot.com/

[6] Francisco Fernández Buey, Para la Tercera Cultura (edited by Salvador López Arnal and Jordi Mir), El Viejo Topo, Barcelona 2013.

[7] Good commentary in Asier Arias, "¿Quién son los contra-apocalípticos?", in the handcrafted compilation of texts in the digital magazine 15/1515 issue -8 ½, Spring 2022, p. 69-77. Also at https://www.15-15-15.org/webzine/2021/09/11/quienes-son-los-contra-apocalipticos/

[8] Ugo Bardi, Ilaria Perissi, Denes Csala and Sgouris Sgouridis: "The Sower's way: a strategy to attain the energy transition", International Journal of Heat and Technology vol. 34, Special Issue 2, October 2016; DOI: https://doi.org/10.18280/ijht.34S211 ; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316337020_The_Sower's_way_to_strategy_to_attain_the_energy_transition.

[9] See for example Rafael Poch, "Lo que nos van explicando sobre la guerra," ctxt, May 1, 2022; https://ctxt.es/es/20220501/Firmas/39740/Rafael-Poch-Rusia-Putin-ucrania-guerra-origen-otan-europa-estados-unidos-imperios-combatientes-consecuencias.htm

[10] Bertolt Brecht, Más de cien poemas. Hiperión, Madrid 2005, p. 211.

[11] I give the translation of Francisco Navarro, Epístolas morales de Séneca, Madrid 1884, p. 370.

[12] We could speak of a Taoist eco-stoicism that is articulated in considerations like this: "Like all human beings, the Stoics had their limits, but I believe that Seneca and others like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius understood a fundamental point that most of their contemporaries forgot, just as we often forget. It is that complex systems are best handled by 'going with the flow' rather than trying to force them into the shape we want. This can actually make things worse, as another modern-day philosopher, Jay Forrester, told us when he talked about 'pushing the levers in the wrong direction'."

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Age of Exterminations: How to Kill a Few Billion People

Bill Gates has been accused of having publicly declared (*) his intention to exterminate billions of people in order to reduce overpopulation. It is not true; Gates never said anything like that. Unfortunately, though, that doesn't mean we can rule out that some powerful elites are actually planning mass exterminations. It has already happened in the past, there is no reason to think that it won't happen again. The problem is not with overpopulation itself, but with the concept of "utilitarianism" that empowers the elites to take action without being bound to moral principles. We saw it happening with the Covid pandemic. We must rethink our implicit assumptions if we want to avoid even worse disasters in the future. 

With 8 billion people alive on Earth, it is reasonable to believe that the planet is becoming a little crowded and that life would be better for everyone if there weren't so many people around. But we should not neglect the opposite opinion: that we have resources and technologies sufficient to keep 8 billion people alive and reasonably happy, and perhaps even more. Neither position can be proven, nor disproven. The future will tell us who was right but, in the meantime, it is perfectly legitimate to discuss this subject.

The problem is that we don't have a discussion on population: we have a clash of absolutes. The position that sees overpopulation as a problem has been thoroughly demonized over the past decades and, still today, you cannot even mention the subject without being immediately branded as a would-be exterminator. It happened to Bill Gates, to the Club of Rome, and to many others who dared mention the forbidden term "overpopulation." 

The demonization is, of course, a knee-jerk reaction: the people who propose population planning would be simply horrified at being accused of supporting mass exterminations. But note that there is a real problem, here. Exterminations DID happen in the recent past, and they were carried out largely on the basis of a perceived overpopulation problem. During the Nazi era in Germany, the idea that Europe was overpopulated was common and it was widely believed that the "Lebensraum, the "living space," available was insufficient for the German people. The result was a series of exterminations correctly considered the most heinous crimes in human history. 

How was that possible? The Germans of that time were the grandfathers of the Germans of today, who are horrified at thinking of what their grandparents did or at least did not oppose. But, for the Germans of those times, killing the Untermenschen, the inferior races, seemed to be the right thing to do, given the vision of the world that was proposed to them and that they had accepted. The Germans fell into a trap called "utilitarianism." It is one of those principles that are so embedded in our way of thinking that we don't even realize that it exists. But it does, and it causes enormous damage. 

In principle, utilitarianism wouldn't seem to be such a bad idea. It is a rational calculation of the consequences of taking or not taking a certain action based on generating the maximum good for the maximum number of people. So defined, it looks both sensible and harmless. But that's the theory. What we have is a good illustration of the age-old principle that "in theory, theory and practice are the same thing. In practice, they are not." 

For a good illustration of the problems with utilitarianism in our current society, you can read an excellent post by Simon Sheridan. A typical example of the basic feature of utilitarianism is the diagram in the figure. 

In this case, the choice looks obvious. You act on the lever to direct the trolley to the track where it causes a smaller number of victims. Easy? Not at all. The example is misleading because it assumes you know the future with absolute certainty. In the real world, there is no such thing as certainty. There exists such a thing as a "fog of life," akin to the "fog of war." Just like no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, no Gannt chart survives contact with a real calendar. And, if you made a mistake in your evaluation, you may direct the trolley along the wrong path.

A good example of the damage caused by utilitarianism is the recent Covid pandemic. To refresh your memory, take a look at this 2020 post by Tomas Pueyo, which was one of the starting points of the disastrous ideas of "flattening the curve" and "Covid zero." On the basis of models that predicted millions of victims caused by the virus, a series of measures were proposed and then implemented. They were supposed to be both short-lived and harmless, at most a minor inconvenience: lockdowns, social distancing, face masks, and the like.  

I don't have to tell you that all the assumptions at the basis of these ideas turned out to be wildly off the mark. The pandemic was much less deadly than the models said it would be. The "flattening of the curve" just didn't happen despite the measures lasting more than two years instead of two weeks. "Covid zero" turned out to be not just a dream but a nightmare. Finally, the measures were far from harmless (for instance face masks positively harm health). The psychological damage was immense, especially to children, with people deprived of their jobs, their social life, and even the possibility of comforting their sick relatives. And people died as a result of depression and lack of proper medical care. Just as an example, Sheridan reports that "two infants in South Australia needed to be flown interstate for life saving surgery but were denied because the borders were closed due to covid. They died." This was real damage done to avoid possible damage. A classic case of misfiring utilitarianism: the trolley was directed along the wrong path. 

Now, back to overpopulation, we are in a similar situation but more dramatic. We have models telling us that a combination of resource depletion and pollution (especially in the form of climate change) could lead not just to millions of victims, but billions. If the models are right, what do we do? Unfortunately, if you really believe that billions are going to die if nothing is done, then you could make the case that killing a few billion people now would save more billions later. It is the same logic of the trolley dilemma, aka, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Would you bet that, today, nobody in the higher spheres of power is thinking about something like that? That is, can you rule out that someone is planning to exterminate a few billion people in order to "save humankind?" Go back to the history of the exterminations planned and carried out by the German Nazi government and you'll see that this idea is not so farfetched. During the pandemic, the "anti-vaxxers" were singled out, insulted, isolated, demonized, fired from their jobs, and more. Just like the German Jews in the 1930s. Fortunately, the animosity against the anti-vaxxers seems to have fizzled out before it could evolve into a mass extermination. But it was clearly heading in that direction, and we don't know whether it could pick up steam again in the future. 

The problem is not whether the models are right or wrong. Models can be extremely useful if you understand their limitations. But if you use models as oracles, then doom is guaranteed. That's exactly what happened with the Covid pandemic. Is it the same for the world models that predict humankind's doom. Are they right or wrong? The answer is simply "we cannot be sure." They might be completely wrong or perfectly right, or even too optimistic. But you should never ignore the models. They are not oracles, they are maps of the future. A good map tells you about the roads that lead you where you want to go, but it is up to you to choose the one to follow.

So, how do you avoid misusing the models? You need to approach them differently. There is an alternative to utilitarianism. It is called "personalism." It is both a religious and a philosophic stance that sees the human person as sacred, the basic value, not exchangeable with anything else. It is the principle of "First do no Harm" ("primum, non nocere") that we derive from the Hippocratic Oath. 

Personalism doesn't mean that you can do nothing against emergencies, but blind faith in science must be tempered with moral sense and the capability of understanding the value of the human person. If you are in a condition of uncertainty, then try at least not to worsen the situation by taking hurried and unproven measures. It is a point forcefully made by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick in a post titled, "Don't just do something, stand there!" His point is that physicians are often overtreating their patients in their hurry to "do something." And they may do more harm than good. 

In his post, Kendrick proposes to apply to medicine the OODA principle: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is not philosophy. it is "a practical concept designed to function as the foundation of rational thinking in confusing or chaotic situations". It was developed by the Air Force Colonel, John Boyd. It means that you refrain from acting until you have at least a certain degree of understanding of what happens. It is the military equivalent of the medical principle "do no harm." OODA is a good idea, but it can be interpreted in various ways. It is the same problem we have with the "Precautionary Principle" -- it may be interpreted in terms of avoiding rash decisions, but also in the opposite way (**). Personalism, instead, has a deeper relevance and is less ambiguous. If you say that life is sacred, then it is. 

Applied to the Covid pandemic,  the approach based on personalism (and maybe on OODA as well) would have avoided drastic and harmful actions taken in a moment of great uncertainty. Sick people would have been cured, but those who were not sick would have been left in peace. Vaccination would have been recommended, but not made mandatory. It was done in Sweden, which didn't suffer more damage from the virus than countries that, instead, took a drastic approach to the pandemic. 

How about climate change? In this case, the risk is not just millions of victims, it is truly "existential." That is, the climate tipping points might well kill us all. Even without tipping points, we have plenty of negative effects ongoing. Droughts, sea acidification, seawater rise, melting ice, extreme weather, and more. This said, it is also clear that the system we are modeling is hugely complex and hard to predict. We have no idea of when, where, and how fast, a climate tipping point could manifest itself, despite the dull certainty of people who define themselves as believers of the "near-term extinction" concept. Humans may well go extinct in a non-remote future, but there is no reason to hurry up in that direction.

In a personalistic framework, we deal with climate change by applying the "do no harm" principle. It means first of all avoiding panic. There are hasty actions against climate change whose consequences are unknown and could cause more harm than good. Apart from mass exterminations (obviously!), geoengineering or CO2 capture and storage are good examples of potentially disastrous "solutions" which might not be such. Then, "do no harm" does not mean "do nothing." It means taking actions that we believe are effective, but also that we are reasonably sure are not harmful. 

For instance, assuming (as it is very probable) that fossil fuels are an important factor causing climate change, we should make sure that phasing them out doesn't harm people. A lot of people, everywhere, are living at the edge of survival, and forcing them to stop using fossil fuels without offering substitutes is tantamount to killing them. They need alternatives: efficiency, PV panels, wind turbines, and the like. Think also of "degrowth," is it a good idea? Not for those living at the edge of survival: asking them to degrow means, again, killing them. (***)

So, should we also do something to reduce population growth? Why not, as long as we don't harm anyone? The Chinese government did that with the "one-child" policy. You may argue that it was not a good idea, and also that it didn't work. But it is also true that nobody was killed and nobody was harmed. The policy may have been the main factor that contained the Chinese population to manageable levels. (I told the story in some detail in a previous post). Population planning at the world level could be a good way to stunt the action of those evil people who may be planning to obtain the same results by means of mass exterminations. 

Unfortunately, given the way the pandemic was managed, it is perfectly possible that we will soon go into "panic mode" about climate change. That may well lead humankind to make truly horrible mistakes. But this is the way humans are. Maybe one day we will learn, but that will take time.  


An excerpt from Sheridan's post about utilitarianism and its disasters. Read the whole post on his blog.

Many people could recite the most basic formula of Utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. Utilitarianism is a form of what is sometimes called consequentialism which just means that the ethical value of actions should be judged by their consequences. If you, purely by accident, blundered your way into creating the greatest good for the greatest number, your action is deemed of higher value than if, with the best of intentions, you failed to create anything good.

Now, of course, Utilitarianism is a big topic and there are numerous sub-variants which are attempts to answer the objections made to the doctrine. Probably the main objection has always been that Utilitarianism implies that killing an innocent is justified if it saves the lives of others. This is one of those classic arguments that always seems confined to university faculties at universities and can usually be counted on to draw the cynical response that it’s “just semantics” and “nobody would ever have to make that decision in real life.”

Well, during the last three years, exactly these kinds of decisions were made. To take just one of the more egregious examples, here in Australia two infants in South Australia needed to be flown interstate for life saving surgery but were denied because the borders were closed due to covid. They died. The justification given, not just by politicians but by everyday people on social media, was the utilitarian one: we couldn’t risk the lives of multiple other people who might get infected with a virus. The greatest good for the greatest number.

(This raises the other main objection to Utilitarianism which is that it must rely on speculative reasoning. We can only predict more people will die based on some model. But we can never know for sure because, despite what many people apparently believe, we are not God and we do not control the future).

The death of those children was a low point even for the corona hysteria and is, in my opinion, one of the lowest points in this nation’s history. Combined with the countless other episodes of people being denied urgent medical care, the elderly residents of nursing homes left without care for days because one of the staff tested positive and all the staff were placed in quarantine, the people unable to be at the side of loved ones who were on their death bed, the daily cases of police brutality, or any of the other innumerable indignities and absurdities, for the first time ever I found myself being ashamed to call myself an Australian.

(*) Publicly expressing one's evil plans is a typical trope of modern fiction. It is called the "badass boast." It shouldn't be needed to say that this is not something that happens in the real world but, strangely, many people seem to believe that it does. For instance, Osama bin Laden is commonly believed to have confessed his role in the 9/11 attacks in New York in a videotape.

(**) About how the precautionary principle could have been correctly applied to the Covid pandemic, there is an interesting paper by Vianna Franco et al. -- highly suggested.  

(***) That degrowth or "zero-growth" is not a good idea was clearly understood by Aurelio Peccei, the founder of the Club of Rome, already in the 1970s, See this post on the subject on "Cassandra's Legacy."

Sunday, January 8, 2023

The attack on Western Europe: you cannot win a war if you don't understand that you are fighting one.

Image: Earth against UFOs (1956)

A typical science fiction trope is that when the aliens invade Earth, they do so in secret, capturing the minds of single earthlings rather than coming in with bombing raids. The task of the hero, then, is to convince the authorities that Earth is under attack before it is too late. Something similar may be happening with the war in Ukraine. Europeans, just like most Western citizens, still don't seem to understand what's going on, but the idea that it is a war directed against Western Europe is slowly gaining traction in the memesphere. It has not yet reached the mainstream discourse, and it probably never will. But some ideas don't need to be shared by 51% of the people to start having an effect on politics. The message that Europe is being crushed by its supposed allies and its own government may eventually reach the "critical mass" needed to be heard and acted upon. I have already discussed this subject in some of my recent posts, "What is the next thing that will hit us" and others. Here is Noah Carl's recent take on his blog, published with his kind permission. His conclusion is that:

"geopolitical developments since the start of Russia’s invasion certainly look convenient from the perspective of US hawks: Russia’s military has been severely weakened; Nord Stream 2 has been sanctioned and sabotaged; US LNG exports to Europe have surged; European companies have started relocating to America; and the NATO alliance is stronger than ever. 
US hawks 1; everyone else 0."

America's war against Europe
What was Uncle Sam up to in Ukraine?

by Noah Carl

Image: US Navy, FA-18 launch during Inherent Resolve, 2014

When it comes to explaining how we ended up with Russia launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Europe proceeding to cut itself off from its main energy supplier, there are two main camps.

One camp says that Putin is an imperialist bent on recreating the Soviet Union, who invaded Ukraine (a country he doesn’t consider real) in order to expand Russia’s territory and population. According to this camp, there’s nothing the West could have done to prevent Putin’s invasion short of allowing Ukraine to become a hollowed-out vassal state, or arming Ukraine to the teeth in the faint hope of deterring Russian bellicosity.

The other camp says that Putin saw US/NATO involvement in Ukraine as a threat to Russian interests (including both the security of Russia itself and the interests of ethnic Russians in the Donbas), and he invaded the country as a way to neutralise that threat. According to this camp, the West could have prevented Putin’s invasion by enforcing an agreement along the lines of Minsk II, i.e., one that enshrined Ukrainian neutrality.

The key element here is US/NATO involvement, since without such involvement Kiev would never have risked provoking its larger and more powerful neighbour. Despite this, few in the second camp try to explain why the US/NATO got involved in Ukraine. Or if they do, they chalk up to “misguided policy” or “policy mistakes”; US officials were just too wedded to the principle that every state can choose its own alliances.

Yet there’s an alternative possibility: the US got involved in Ukraine in order to provoke Russia; it took the various actions that it did, starting in 2008, with the aim of inciting conflict between Russia and Ukraine (though not necessarily all-out war).

Why would it do this? Two primary reasons. First, to get a geostrategic rival bogged down in a costly and protracted conflict, thereby degrading its economy and armed forces. Second, to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia, thereby limiting future cooperation between them and cementing the power of the US-led NATO alliance.

The first reason is self-explanatory – the US wants its rivals to be less powerful. But the second requires further elaboration. What would the US have to gain by driving a wedge between Europe and Russia? In short, reduced European strategic autonomy and increased reliance on the US.
American primacy

As the journalist Mike Whitney notes, if relations between Europe and Russia are relatively friendly, there is less need for NATO, less need for expensive US-made weapon systems and less need for a US military presence on the continent.

But wouldn’t all that be a plus from the US point of view? Like former President Trump, don’t most Americans want to stop subsidising Europe’s security? They might, but that’s not how many in the US foreign policy establishment see things. Which raises an important point: when I refer to what “the US wants”, I’m really talking about what certain elements within the foreign policy establishment want (“US hawks” is a useful shorthand).

As Hastings Ismay, the first Secretary General of NATO, is reputed to have said: the purpose of NATO is not only “to keep the Soviets out”, but also to “keep the Americans in, and the Germans down”. Although Ismay was an Indian-born British general, his quip undoubtedly reflected the views of the organisation’s main backers, the Americans.

This awkward truth was not lost on more nationalistic European leaders at the time. Noting that “Europe is useless if it doesn’t control its own defence,” the French President Charles de Gaulle described NATO as “a machine to disguise the stranglehold of America over Europe.” He added, “Thanks to NATO, Europe is placed under the dependence of the U.S. without seeming to be”.

And you don’t have to go back to the sixties to find evidence that US hawks see NATO as vehicle for exerting influence over Europe, rather than as a costly burden on American taxpayers. In 1997, the Project for the New American Century (a thinktank closely tied to the Bush administration) published a report titled ‘Rebuilding America’s Defences’, which explained how the US can “preserve and extend its position of global leadership”. Regarding Europe, it noted:

The region is stable, but a continued American presence helps to assure the major European powers, especially Germany, that the United States retains its longstanding security interest in the continent. This is especially important in light of the nascent European moves toward an independent defense “identity” and policy; it is important that NATO not be replaced by the European Union, leaving the United States without a voice in European security affairs.

Of course, American subsidisation of European security is hardly something that had to be forced on unwilling European leaders. Most of them were quite happy to spend less on defence, while prioritising election-winners like better healthcare, larger pensions and a bigger safety net. At the same time, increasing talk of European strategic autonomy evidently worried some US hawks for whom American “leadership” of the West remains crucial.

Given their overriding objective of maintaining American “leadership”, US hawks see friendly relations between Europe and Russia as a threat. This is not to say they want a major war to break out; rather that they would prefer those powers not to trade and integrate with one another. One development they found particularly concerning, as the writer Niccolo Soldo notes, was the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Launch ceremony for the first leg of the Nord Stream pipeline.

If completed, the project would have substantially increased Russo-European economic interdependence, setting the stage for friendlier relations and more cooperation in the future. NATO might have then been left without a raison d'être, underlining calls for an independent European defence policy. In addition, because pipeline gas is so much cheaper than LNG, the project’s completion would have effectively shut US companies out of the European energy market.

Here’s what Viktor Orbán reportedly told the journalist Sohrab Ahmari when asked about the potentially devastating consequences of Europe’s energy sanctions against Russia:

"The most cynical Hungarian answer is that that is exactly what Washington wants to bring about: to downgrade German manufactures and sever the energy-manufacturing synergy between Russia and Germany, to end Europe’s aspirations to “strategic autonomy” and induce a total dependence on America."

In light of all this, US hawks took various actions to try to spark a conflict between Ukraine and Russia; and they refrained from taking actions that might have prevented one. Which is not to say they started the whole thing: conflict between Ukraine and Russia was in the making long before the US ever got involved. But Americans did inflame and exacerbate the situation in ways that made hostilities more likely.

That’s the theory, anyway. And it is just a theory. I’m not saying I completely buy it. However, it is sufficiently plausible to be worth discussing.

In the remainder of this article, I want to discuss pieces of evidence that are hard to explain without assuming US hawks were trying to incite conflict between Ukraine and Russia and/or drive a wedge between Europe and Russia. Before continuing, I would point out even if the theory is true, this doesn’t absolve Russia of responsibility for the death and destruction it has wrought in an illegal, unjustified and increasingly brutal war.

Can states choose their own alliances?

As noted above, an alternative explanation for US behaviour towards Ukraine is that American officials were too wedded to the principle that every state can choose its own alliances. Despite being well-intentioned, they weren’t willing to compromise on NATO’s open door policy, and as a result made a series of misguided decisions that put Ukraine and Russia on a collision course.

The first thing to say is this probably is true of some officials. The US foreign policy establishment is not a single “actor”, and different individuals and agencies within it are often at cross-purposes. Some favour one course of action, while others favour another.

However, what’s also true is that many US officials don’t accept the principle that every state can choose its own alliances. This was made abundantly clear when the Solomon Islands signed a new security agreement with China earlier this year. “If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence,” the White House warned, “the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly”.

In other words, the US does not believe the Solomon Islands has the right to form a military alliance with China – America’s main geostrategic rival. One US hawk even wrote an article advising Western leaders not to rule out a “deterrent intervention” in the Solomon Islands.

Now, it’s possible that all the officials handling America’s Ukraine policy are sincere believers in the principle that every state can choose its own alliances – and it’s only the ones handling America’s Pacific policy that take the contrary view. More likely is that most officials pay lip service to such principles when they work in America’s favour and then ignore those principles when they don’t.

Indeed, the US has long maintained the Monroe Doctrine, according to which other great powers must not interfere in the Western hemisphere. As recently as 2019, national security advisor John Bolton claimed the Doctrine is “alive and well”. Officials from Cuba and Venezuela – two countries heavily sanctioned by the US – have attested that it remains extant.
The Bucharest Summit Declaration

According to the camp that emphasises US/NATO involvement, all the trouble began when NATO declared at the April 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members”. Putin apparently “flew into a rage”, warning that “if Ukraine joins NATO, it will do so without Crimea and the eastern regions. It will simply fall apart.”

In January, Ukrainian leaders had signed a statement asking to join the NATO Membership Action Plan. And although NATO did not offer Ukraine membership at the Summit, it still took the unprecedented step of announcing its intention to admit Ukraine in the future. As contemporary accounts make clear, this was done at the behest of the US against significant opposition from France and Germany. Here’s what the New York Times wrote:

President Bush threw the NATO summit meeting here off-script on Wednesday by lobbying hard to extend membership to Ukraine and Georgia, but he failed to rally support for the move among key allies … Mr. Bush’s position that Ukraine and Georgia should be welcomed a Membership Action Plan … directly contradicted German and French government positions stated earlier this week.

Bush’s decision to “lobby hard” for Ukraine’s membership is particularly noteworthy in light of two cables that were sent earlier that year by the US Ambassador to Russia, William Burns (who is now CIA Director). The first, titled ‘NYET MEANS NYET: RUSSIA’S NATO ENLARGEMENT REDLINES’, noted the following:

Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia's influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests … Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war.

The second clarified that “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all red lines for the Russian elite (not just Putin)”. Burns added, “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.”

What’s more, opinion polls at the time showed that a large majority of Ukrainians were opposed to NATO membership. In a 2008 Gallup poll, 43% of saw NATO as a “threat”, compared to only 15% who saw it as “protection”. And in a Pew Research survey, 51% were against joining the organisation, compared to only 28% in favour – ‘Ukraine Says ‘No’ to NATO’ ran the headline.

So despite opposition from key European allies, opposition from the majority of Ukrainian citizens, and vehement opposition from Russia, Bush “lobbied hard” for Ukrainian membership of NATO. It’s difficult to see why he would have done this unless he was actively trying to stir up trouble.
The “Revolution of Dignity”

The next major provocation those in the second camp mention is Western support for the “Revolution of Dignity”, which saw the replacement of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government with one made of pro-Western nationalists. Aside from hand-picking the next Prime Minister, US officials repeatedly met with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right and anti-Russian party, Svoboda.

Over the years, Tyahnybok has made numerous inflammatory comments about Jews, Russians and others. In 2012, the EU officially denounced Svoboda as “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic”, while calling on other parties in the Ukrainian parliament “not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party”.

Svoboda only received 10% of the vote in the 2012 elections. Yet it somehow managed to obtain almost a quarter of cabinet positions in the government that came to power after Yanukovych was toppled. This led two analysts to write in Foreign Policy, “The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s current government … are, indeed, fascists”.

Biden shaking hands with Oleh Tyahnybok at the Ukrainian parliament, April 2014.

The question is: why did US officials (including John McCain, John Kerry, Victoria Nuland and even Joe Biden) repeatedly meet with Tyahnybok – a man whom in any other context they would have surely denounced as “racist”. And as Ukraine’s main backer, why did they allow almost a quarter of cabinet positions in the interim government to go to Svoboda?

This would be like Chinese officials travelling to Canada, publicly backing a pro-Chinese protest movement, and then meeting with a staunchly anti-American politician known for making inflammatory comments about Jews.

Given how easy it would have been for US officials to “disavow” Tyahnybok and his party, while still expressing support for all the other pro-Western parties in Ukraine, the most plausible explanation for their behaviour is that they were trying to antagonize Russia.

Sanctioning Nord Stream 2

We’ve all seen the clip of Biden ominously warning, “if Russia invades … there will be no longer Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” And most of us have also seen the clip of Victoria Nuland stating, “I want to be clear with you today: if Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward”.

Less well known is that in the years leading up to Russia’s invasion, about dozen other officials openly threatened to “end”, “halt”, “stop”, “kill”, “cancel”, “shut down”, “take out”, “terminate” and “put an end to” Nord Stream 2. Footage of these individuals has been compiled in a video by the journalist Matt Orfalea. Their number include both Republicans and Democrats, indicating that opposition was bipartisan.

In 2017, the US sanctioned Russia in an effort to thwart Nord Stream 2, prompting sharp rebukes from European leaders. Then in 2019, the US Ambassador to Germany wrote “threatening letters” to several German companies involved in the pipeline’s construction – a move that was met with “incomprehension” in the German foreign office. Yet by July of 2021, U.S. officials had “given up on blocking the pipeline’s completion” and were “scrambling to contain the damage”.

You might claim that US officials were just looking out for Europe, given the risk that Putin might one-day shut off the gas without warning. However, they could have expressed their concerns through diplomatic channels while recognising that the decision of whether to proceed was ultimately one for Europe. Openly threatening to “kill” a project in which several of your supposed allies are involved is extraordinary behaviour.

This would be like members of the European Parliament talking about “killing” the tanker fleet that brings Saudi oil into the United States. No other Western country’s officials talk about their “allies” in such terms.

Moreover, if the Americans were so concerned about Europe having a reliable energy supply, they could have offered to subsidise LNG exports (even though these could never replace all the gas imported from Russia). Instead, the US is now selling Europe vast quantities of LNG at market prices, which are substantially higher than those paid for Russia’s pipeline gas – leading to accusations of “profiteering”.

Again, it seems difficult to believe US opposition to Nord Stream 2 stemmed purely from sympathetic concerns about the security of Europe’s energy supply. More likely is that it was motivated in part by the goal of exporting less-competitive LNG, as well as by the broader goal of limiting Russo-European interdependence.
Other datapoints

There are several other datapoints consistent with the theory that US hawks were trying to incite conflict between Ukraine and Russia and/or drive a wedge between Europe and Russia.

In the famous leaked phone call where Victoria Nuland specifies who the next Prime Minister of Ukraine will be two weeks before Yanukovych was toppled, she says “And you know, fuck the EU”. While this is hardly a smoking gun, it illustrates the willingness of US officials to completely disregard the preferences of their European counterparts. (Nuland happens to be married to Robert Kagan, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century.)

As I mentioned in a previous article, the US government-funded RAND corporation published a report in 2019 on strategies to “overextend and unbalance” Russia, one of which was “providing lethal aid to Ukraine”. The report explicitly stated that those strategies “would not have either defence or deterrence as their prime purpose”, but rather would be designed to “unbalance the adversary … causing Russia to overextend itself militarily”. So US decision-makers evidently were looking at how Ukraine could be used to weaken Russia.

In February of 2021, Zelensky banned three pro-Russian TV stations linked to then-opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk. This was “not only a defensive move”, Zelensky’s former national security advisor told Time Magazine. The decision to go after Medvedchuk, a personal friend of Putin, was “calculated to fit in with the U.S. agenda”. It’s not entirely clear what he meant by this, but banning pro-Russian TV stations is not the kind of “agenda” you’d associate with diffusing tensions.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, Russian officials (whether you believe them or not) repeatedly stated that the “main issue” was NATO expansion. They were rebuffed by their American counterparts, with Derek Chollet later confirming that the US “refused to talk about NATO expansion with Russia”. And as the journalist Aaron Maté notes, Zelensky all but admitted Russia’s core demand was used as bait. He told CNN:

I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five – just say it directly and clearly or just say no. And the response was very clear, you're not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open.

If you have no intention of admitting a country into NATO, and publicly renouncing that country’s membership might help prevent a war, you’d have thought it would be worth doing. But apparently not to the Americans.

For the last six years, US elites – particularly the Democrats but also the “never Trump” Republicans – have been absolutely obsessed with Russia. They exaggerated the scale of Russian interference in the 2016 election, up to the point of calling the election “stolen”. They endorsed baseless stories about Russia paying bounties to the Taliban for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. And they falsely claimed that the Hunter Biden laptop story was “Russian disinformation”.

By itself, of course, this doesn’t prove anything. But given the role of US intelligence agencies in spreading many of the false or exaggerated claims, it hints at a concerted effort to make Americans view Russia less favourably – similar to what happened in the run-up to Iraq. I’m not saying Russia deserves to be viewed favourably. As I’ve already mentioned, they’re prosecuting an illegal, unjustified and increasingly brutal war. But it’s noteworthy how obsessed US elites became with Russia.


The theory I’ve discussed in this article – that elements within the US foreign policy establishment incited conflict between Russia and Ukraine in order to overextend Russia and reduce European strategic autonomy – is far from proven. Practically all the evidence for it is circumstantial; there are no leaked State Department documents that would constitute a smoking gun.

Having said that, I find the totality of evidence harder to explain under the hypothesis that US officials were really trying to reduce the risk of conflict between Russia and Ukraine; or that they care so much about the principle “states can choose their own alliances” that they decided the risks of taking the actions they took must outweigh the benefits.

Whatever else may be true, geopolitical developments since the start of Russia’s invasion certainly look convenient from the perspective of US hawks: Russia’s military has been severely weakened; Nord Stream 2 has been sanctioned and sabotaged; US LNG exports to Europe have surged; European companies have started relocating to America; and the NATO alliance is stronger than ever. US hawks 1; everyone else 0.

For further reading on this topic, I would recommend this article by Mike Whitney, this article by Niccolo Soldo, this article by Aaron Maté, this article by Michael Hudson, and this article by Thomas Fazi.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A Post for the New Year: Do we Still have a Chance to Avoid Collapse?

The article below is an attempt to propose (once more) to the general public the main results of "The Limits to Growth" study of 1972. It is a brief text that appeared in a major Italian newspaper (Il Fatto Quotidiano) on Dec 30, 2022. The limits of length of these articles are, typically, under 800 words, so I had to be extremely synthetic (for an in-depth assessment, see our recent book, "Limits and Beyond"). Mainly, I was curious to see how people would react to my rather blunt statements. 

One good thing about "Il Fatto" is that there is no censorship on comments (except for extreme cases) and so people are free to express themselves as they like, including insulting the authors of the articles ("Liar!" "Idiot!" "Snake Oil Seller!"). As I said in a previous post, I listen to everyone and I trust no one. So, even the most rabid and insulting comments are a chance to grok somethingFor this article, as for many others on "Il Fatto," I received personal attacks because I am too catastrophistic, and also because I am not catastrophistic enough. Some comments are nearly completely incomprehensible and, as usual, people tend to take refuge in impossible nuclear dreams. But I received also a few comments from people who seem to have understood how things stand. We'll see how the debate evolves, for the time being, I am reporting a few translated comments after the main text. 

Happy new year, everybody! 

2022 has been a difficult year for climate and energy. But there is still some hope

Di Ugo Bardi -30 Dec 2022

The year 2022 was a year of great transformation and great difficulty. To assess what lies ahead in the coming year, we might start with the fact that 2022 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of the 1972 study The Limits to Growth. It was not a prophecy, but an analysis of current trends. It said that, if nothing changed, we could expect the beginning of an irreversible decline of the world economy in the first decades of the 21st century. The result of the combined effect of natural resource depletion and pollution.

These are phenomena that occur over a multi-decade span, but the events of 2022 are in line with the trajectory already outlined 50 years ago. Today, the "World System" looks like one of those old cars that loses parts all over the place, consumes fuel like a truck, and pollutes like a coal-fired power plant. In addition, the mechanics not only do not know how to fix it, but they spend their time fighting each other.

We are in trouble on all fronts, first and foremost with fossil fuels. After the Covid-19 crisis of 2020, production showed some recovery, but only a partial one. As for natural gas, Europeans had become accustomed to cheap Russian gas, and this year they got a nasty surprise. Replacing Russian gas will not be easy, and surely the costs of liquefied natural gas are much higher. Not to mention the costs of the infrastructure needed to handle it. And let's say nothing about coal, which is expensive, impractical, and polluting. As for nuclear power, the costs are truly out of this world. It is discussed seriously only where dictatorial governments can afford to embark on expensive and uncertain ventures.

Then there is agriculture, for which fossil fuels are needed for fertilizer and all production operations. At present, the world's agricultural production is fairly stable, but prices are rising everywhere. This is putting the poorest in dire straits. According to FAO data, we are close to having one billion hungry people, and the numbers are growing. In parallel, the growth of the world population has seen a remarkable slowdown. Globally, it is still growing but, if current trends continue, in a few years we may see the beginning of an irreversible decline. On this point, The Limits to Growth was even too optimistic, proposing that the human population could continue growing despite the economic downturn.

About climate, The Limits to Growth saw climate change (part of the general pollution problem) playing a major role only after the beginning of the collapse of the economic system. It may be that, even in this area, the analysis was correct. For the time being, climate change caused regional disasters, rather than global catastrophes. That does not mean we can ignore the problem. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to increase and, with it, the earth's temperature. At the same time, no one seems to care about doing anything serious about it anymore, as seen with this year's Cop27.

In short, we are in bad shape. It certainly seems that The Limits to Growth was even more prophetic than its creators themselves expected.

But there are also positive findings that the 50-year-old study could not account for. One is the discovery that the Earth's ecosystem can have an important cooling effect on climate. Not that this will get us off the hook but, if we treat both forests and marine ecosystems better, we can do something good to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. Another positive factor is the disruptive growth of renewable energy, which today has such low prices that it has no competitors.

If we can get a few decades of peace, perhaps even just one or two, we can expect solar and wind power to replace most fossil fuel energy production. By coupling renewables with higher efficiency of use, we could greatly reduce the problems of both energy availability and emissions.

Can we do it? Maybe we can. And if we work at it, the most pessimistic scenarios of the Limits to Growth will not come true. So happy new year to all!


Some examples of comments (translated from Italian)

From "Diomedes01" (insults)

The usual idiocies of the end of the year! The author is not an ecologist but an anti-nuclear and is willing to write baloney. The IEA wrote that the most economical energy ever is nuclear energy in any way you count! Instead the author says it is the most expensive when the most expensive are renewables that are made competitive by excluding from costs more or less everything! At the end of the day for the author better fossil and gas than nuclear and we talk about green transition! Ha ha ha.

From "Cortisol0" (nearly completely incomprehensible)

... If we are to have any hope people like you must be relieved of the social role you have, as you of how to solve this crisis from innate human behaviors incompatible with having developed science and technology that combined in tools=machines allow you to release and apply monstrous amounts of energy modifying both the natural energy flow, and the ecosystem, you will never admit it, as it is to develop precisely science and technology claiming endless growth, that the current environmental disaster is being produced and it is only possible with your PRIMARY contribution and denying that it is the fault of this combined conjugate because you are the most guilty of all and once it emerged you would be immediately prosecuted popularly for it and your career and life would be irremediably ruined, while the state and its power demand more and more science and power for weapons and social control, so you pretend to seek a solution when the solution as the initial act is to eliminate this dynamic you are part of with the state.

From "MarcoMx" (good understanding of the matter)

"One is the discovery that the Earth's ecosystem can have an important cooling effect on climate." I'll bet a coffee on that. The planet will not watch unresponsive to our stupidity, it will find a way to cool itself, plants and greenery we are late in defending will grow them themselves. If, however, in the equation we were able to bring the war factor, including armaments and related costs, to zero, or almost zero, the equation would become solvable without much difficulty. We would have much more resources for everything, hunger, energy transition, and pollution. By the way, the popularizers of the climate crisis almost never talk about the burden of weapons and wars (to think the worst...). But one only has to look at the figures to see that it is decisive, over $2 TRILLION each year.  If we fail to do this, well then all the consequent problems we deserve, including eventual extinction. In that case, we would be left with billions of cell phones full of the latest selfies ... the aliens who find them after thousands of years will come to the inevitable conclusion, "What a cocksucker civilization."