The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts

Friday, April 7, 2023

How to Make Your Google Masters Happy: Fixing the Privacy Policy of Your Blog


As I told you in a previous post, for months, Google has been pestering me with notices that there was something wrong with the privacy policy of my blog and that if I wouldn't fix it, they would start doing dark and dire things, such as making my blog invisible to search engines. Now, after many attempts and much struggle, I can tell you that the saga is over.  So, I am posting these notes that may be useful for you in case you find yourself in the same situation.

The problem had to do with the privacy regulations of the EU and the EEA, aka the "General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): I had to obtain consent from the user for something not explicitly described in the ominous messages I was receiving. Fixing the problem turned out to be a small Odyssey. 

1) Using search engines The first thing you normally do in these cases is look over the Web to see if someone has already solved the problem that plagues you. About this specific question, I immediately found myself facing a wall of sites claiming that they can solve the problem for you if you just pay some money. Mostly, they looked like traps, but I was dumb enough to pay $29 for a "personalized policy declaration" that came with the request of a further payment for hosting it on their site. I took care myself to create a subpage of the blog to host it at no cost. 

First lesson learnedskip the sites that ask you money to fix this problem unless you are a commercial site and you need to do it quickly. 

2. The text I downloaded may have been a good policy declaration, but Google still wasn't satisfied and I later learned that they didn't give a hockey stick about that. 

Second lesson learned: you can spend a lot of time (and also money) fixing the wrong problem.

3. I contacted Google's customer service at -- yes, they have a customer service to help people fixing exactly the GDPR problem. Amazingly, I got in contact with someone who seemed to be a real person -- the messages were signed "Gargi," which is an Indian male name. After a few interactions, he finally told me what Google wanted. It was simple: I just had to add the sentence "cookies are used for ads personalization" in the "consent banner." And that was it. Gargi even sent me a screenshot of what the banner should look like. It was a step forward. 

Third lesson learned. Human beings can still be useful for something. 

4But who controls the cookie banner? I had never placed a cookie banner on my blog, and I saw no such a thing appearing when I loaded the blog. Other people told me that they didn't see any banners on the first page of my blog. I had always interpreted the lack of a banner as a consequence of my blog not being a commercial one. But, no, the trick was a different one. After much tinkering and head-scratching, I discovered that my browser (Chrome) keeps track of previous decisions and didn't show the banner again to people who had already accepted the cookies. I could see the banner if I erased the cookies from my main browser, or used a "virgin" browser. The beauty of this trick is that not even the people from Google's customer service seemed to know it; so, at some moment, they started telling me that my blog had no cookie banner, and I had to explain to them that they just weren't seeing it, but it was there. Once they understood this, it was no more a problem. But it took time. 

Fourth lesson learned: Truth may be hidden, and often is. 

5. How do you change the text of the cookie consent banner? One of those things that look easy but are not easy at all. First, you have to access the HTML code of your blog, which is not an easy task by itself. It is like open heart surgery: you make a mistake, and the patient dies. Then, even if you know how to manage HTML, you soon discover a little problem. There is NO CODE for the cookie consent banner on the HTML page of Google's blogs. The banner is dynamically generated from somewhere, Google knows where, and it is not accessible with the tools provided by Google's blogger. 

Fifth lesson learned: Google plays with you like a cat plays with a mouse.

6. It means that there has to be a widget for the cookie banner, right? Yes, there is such a widget that you can set as showing a cookie banner as you like it to be. The problems are that 1) it cannot show the banner at top of the page, where these banners normally are, and 2) it doesn't replace the Google-generated banner. So, the result is that you have two different banners in different areas of the screen at the same time. Apart from the awful effect on the way your blog looks, it is not surprising that Google was still not happy with this solution

Sixth lesson learned: Some solutions are not. 

7. How about trying chatGPT? Eventually, chatGPT gave me the right hint. It said that it was possible to insert a cookie banner script in the main HTML page of the blog. I tried the scripts provided by chatGPT and none worked, but those provided by helpful human bloggers did. I found that scripts (unlike widgets) can supersede the Google-created banner. After some tweaking, Google was finally happy. 

Seventh Lesson learned. ChatGPT is your friend, but it is a bad programmer   



The good thing about this story is that I learned something, but it was also a sobering experience. The way Google managed it was so bad that I can only understand it as an explicit attempt to discourage small bloggers who are not making money from their blogs and who can't afford a professional maintenance service. Just why harass poor bloggers to do something that Google could do easily on a banner that it is wholly managed by Google? I mean, do you realize the time lost to do such a simple thing as adding a single sentence to a banner? 

It seems clear to me that at Google they don't like blogs in general. Even though they offer a blogging platform, it is a poor service for several reasons. Yet, Blogger also has several good points, the main one being that it is free. Then, it offers you possibilities of customization that other "bare-bones" platforms (e.g. substack) do not provide. For someone who just wants to express his/her ideas in public, it can still be a good choice. But, after this experience, I am wary. Google knows what they have in mind next in Mountain View. So, I may switch platforms in the near future. For now, "The Seneca Effect" blog is still there, alive and reasonably well, even though shadow-banned by the Powers That Be. And maybe these notes could be useful for you.

Final lesson I learned: I, for one, welcome our new Google masters 


Here is the script to control the text of the cookie consent banner to be cut and pasted into the HTML code of a blogger blog after the </head> tag. It is simple, but it wasn't so simple to understand what was needed. 

<script type='text/javascript'> 

  cookieOptions = { 

    msg: &quot;This site uses cookies for ad personalization, to analyse traffic and to deliver some Google services. By using this site, you agree to its use of cookies.&quot;, 

    link: &quot;;, 

    close: &quot;Okay!&quot;, 

    learn: &quot;Learn More&quot; }; 


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Help Needed: can someone check the Privacy Policy of the "Seneca Effect" blog?

Folks, Google keeps pestering me with requests for an appropriate "EU User Content Policy"; but it never tells me what exactly is wrong with it. The only message I receive from them is

Customer ID: ca-pub-7714140901520074

Our policy review indicates that while the site(s)/app(s) below have a consent notice in place, its wording fails to meet the requirements of our policy:

So, maybe someone more knowledgeable than me could take a look at the page where I have the policy specifications. It is here I tried several versions of it, but Google never seems to be happy with it. 

Thanks a lot for any help you can provide!


This is the letter I keep receiving from them. 

Client ID: ca-pub-7714140901520074
Dear Publisher

On May 25, 2018, we updated Google’s EU User Consent Policy to coincide with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force. This Policy outlines your responsibility for making disclosures to, and obtaining consent from, end users of your sites and apps in the European Economic Area (EEA) along with the UK.

It has come to our attention that the attached site(s)/app(s) do not comply with our Policy, because they:

do not seek to obtain consent from users, and/or
do not correctly disclose which third parties (including Google) will also have access to the user data that you collect on your site/app. You can view these controls and the list of ad technology providers in your Ad Manager, AdSense or Admob account.
do not otherwise meet the requirements of Google's EU User Consent Policy.


If you have guidance or confirmation from a Data Protection Authority that the domains listed do not require a consent notice or that they otherwise already comply with applicable privacy laws, including GDPR, please contact us. We will review any guidance you have received from a regulatory body and take action accordingly.
Action Needed

Please check the site(s) or app(s) listed in the attached file and take action to ensure they comply with our Policy. We will re-review your site(s) or app(s) regularly and monitor your account. We may take action, including suspension, if the Policy violations have not been resolved by Apr 5, 2023.

Policy Requirements

The EU User Consent Policy outlines your responsibility as a user of our ad technology to: 

Obtain EEA along with UK end users’ consent to:
the use of cookies or other local storage where legally required; and
the collection, sharing, and use of personal data for personalization of ads.
Identify each party that may collect, receive or use end users’ personal data as a consequence of your use of a Google product.
Provide end users with prominent and easily accessible information about those parties’ use of personal data
Find Out More
You can refer to our Policy help page for more information on complying with Google’s Policy including a checklist for partners to avoid common mistakes when implementing a consent mechanism. We also recommend that you consult with your legal department regarding your compliance with the GDPR and Google’s policies.
Need some help?
Contact us, we are here to help!
The EU User Consent Policy Team

Update "Ticket" received from Google

Google Logo
Hi Ugo Bardi,

Thank you for reaching us out.

Your website <Customer ID: ca-pub-7714140901520074> is flagged for non-compliance with the EU User Consent Policy.

Please check the website flagged and take action to ensure you comply with our Policy by referring to the resources shared. We will re-review your websites regularly, monitor your account and you will be contacted if Google has confirmed the issue has been fully resolved.

Please note when we review a website, we will accept different approaches to compliance as long as they meet our policy requirements.

  • We expect users to see a clear consent notice on your website so that they can take affirmative action to indicate their decision, e.g. clicking an “OK” button or an “I agree” button.
  • We expect users to be told how the site will use data. We suggest you make clear that their personal data will be used for personalization of ads and that cookies may be used for personalized and non-personalized advertising on the first layer of Consent notice.
  • We expect users to be informed about how Google will use their personal data when they give consent on your site. We encourage you to link the Google’s Privacy & Terms site to your Privacy Policy page provided it is accessible through your consent notice.

This is not an exhaustive list, please refer to the external checklist to avoid common mistakes when implementing a consent mechanism, and the help page has examples of consent notices. 

You can also update the consent notice and let us know so that we can request the Google’s Policy team to re-audit.


NB: If you need to reference this support ticket in the future, the ID number is 3-4137000033827

Your feedback is crucial; it helps us understand how we can better meet or exceed your needs.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Fighting Shadow-Banning. The Seneca Blog Lands on Substack


The new face of the "Seneca Effect" blog on Substack. It is an attempt to circumvent the shadow ban imposed on the blog by the powers that be. Maybe it will do better on Substack than on the Google blogger platform, where it is now, although I am not sure: never underestimate the power of the PTBs. In any case, for some time, the two platforms, Google Blogger and Substack, will go in parallel and publish the same posts.

"Shadow Banning" (also "soft banning", or "ghost banning") is a clever way to make someone disappear from the Web, without giving the impression that he or she has been censored (*). It simply consists in making one's website disappear from the first pages of the search engines. It works: you get lost in the vast prairies of the Internet and your readers can't find you anymore. It happened even to Donald Trump when he was still president. 

The "Seneca Effect" blog underwent the same treatment. You can see it on this record from "Google Analytics.

You see that the blog was gaining popularity at the end of 2022, especially when I set up a new domain called "" Then, something happened in late December. The trend went through a reversal, going down and plateauing at about half of the level they had one year before. And it keeps going down. 

For a while, I thought that it was due to the catastrophists leaving the blog in droves when I published an optimistic post on renewable energy. That made some of them not just disagree but whipped them into a positive frenzy of personal insults against my modest person. Catastrophists are a curious bunch of people, always reminding me of Groucho Marx's quip about not wanting to belong to a group that accepts people like you as members. But, after a few months, the effect of a single post should have disappeared. But no... the blog continues to decline in terms of audience. 

Of course, the PTBs will never admit that they are shadow-banning someone. But the symptoms are clear. Just use your search engine, and you'll see that the "Seneca Effect" blog comes way back in the list of the results, preceded by other sites dealing with Seneca matters, and even by my old site, "Cassandra's Legacy," which I had to abandon more than one year ago because it had been banned (not so softly) by Facebook. Even Wikipedia does not cite the Seneca blog on its page on the "Seneca Effect," only the old, and not updated anymore, Cassandra blog. Not surprising, since they are notoriously in the hands of alien monsters from outer space. 

Only Bing, miraculously, shows the blog on the first page when you search for "Seneca Effect." I would never have imagined becoming a fan of Bill Gates!

So, life is hard for shadow-banned bloggers, and it is little comfort to be in a group that includes Donald Trump and many others (and, again, about not wanting to belong to a certain group....). Shadow banning is like one of those curses of fantasy novels that plague people forever unless they go through special rituals or difficult tests, say, slaying a dragon. But slaying the Google dragon is surely much more difficult than getting rid of Tolkien's Smaug. 

So, the only possibility to circumvent soft banning is to change the name of your site, or change platform. For the time being, I am trying a move to Substack, which seems to be less subjected to Google power and, for now, not practicing censorship. You can find the Seneca version on Substack at this link. (**)

Will it work? I don't know. For the time being, the two platforms, Google Blogger and Substack, will go in parallel, mirroring each other. And we'll see. 


One point on which I am not sure is how Substack's popularity relies heavily on monetary support for authors from readers. Maybe it is a good idea and I don't despise a little compensation for the work I am doing: after all, I take royalties on the books I sell. Also, on Blogger, I have a small advertising banner that brings me about $25 per month (!!). I keep it there mainly as a way to get a feeling of the number of people who stay on the page long enough to notice the banner. In that case, though, the advertisers pay, not the readers. But I feel a bit queasy about asking readers to pay to read my posts. If I activate paid subscriptions on Substack, I would do that only as an option for readers to show their support, but not as a requisite to read the posts. But what do you think? 

(*) Shadow banning doesn't need the Internet to exist. It is a much older story. Just as a quick note, I would like to mention the treatment inflicted on the great mathematician Vito Volterra in the 1930s, as a result of his opposition to the Fascist government in Italy. He was not physically harmed, jailed, or his movement restricted. He was just ignored: gradually marginalized, fired from his position as president of the Italian Research Council, and later even from his position as university professor. None of his colleagues dared to defy the ban, and up to the 1960s, it remained politically incorrect to mention him and his work in Italy (see this article by Giovanni Paoloni)

(**) I have another blog on Substack, "The Proud Holobionts," dedicated to the ecosystem, climate, biology, and the like. It is also a mirror of the same blog on Google's blogger. 


Note added after publication: the "Seneca Effect" blog seems to be also tainted on chatGPT. The AI bot names it, but when asked to provide a link for it, it provides the wrong one. 

Can you suggest a blog to learn about the Seneca Effect?

Yes, there are several blogs and websites where you can learn about the Seneca Effect, a phenomenon named after the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca who observed that "growth is slow, but ruin is rapid." Here are a few suggestions:

"The Seneca Effect" by Ugo Bardi: Ugo Bardi is an Italian chemist and professor at the University of Florence who has written extensively on the Seneca Effect. His blog, "The Seneca Effect," is a great place to start for an introduction to the concept. He has also written several books on the subject, including "The Seneca Effect: Why Growth is Slow But Collapse is Rapid."

"Cassandra's Legacy" by Ugo Bardi: Ugo Bardi's blog, "Cassandra's Legacy," covers a wide range of topics related to sustainability, including the Seneca Effect. In addition to his own writing, the blog also features guest posts from other experts in the field.

"Our Finite World" by Gail Tverberg: Gail Tverberg is an actuary and analyst who writes about energy, economics, and the limits to growth. Her blog, "Our Finite World," covers a wide range of topics related to the intersection of energy and the economy, including the Seneca Effect.

"The Automatic Earth" by Ilargi and Stoneleigh: "The Automatic Earth" is a blog that covers economic and financial news from a perspective that emphasizes the limits to growth. The blog covers a wide range of topics related to the Seneca Effect, including the impact of resource depletion on the global economy.

These blogs and websites are great resources for learning more about the Seneca Effect and its implications for sustainability, economics, and the future of our planet.

Can you provide links for the above suggestions?

Certainly! Here are the links to the blogs I mentioned in my previous response:

"The Seneca Effect" by Ugo Bardi:

"Cassandra's Legacy" by Ugo Bardi:

"Our Finite World" by Gail Tverberg:

"The Automatic Earth" by Ilargi and Stoneleigh:

I hope you find these resources helpful for learning about the Seneca Effect!

After much prodding, the dumb thing spouted out the truth:

"It's possible that my training data may not have included the correct information regarding the link to Ugo Bardi's "The Seneca Effect" blog, or that I misinterpreted the context of the original question. In any case, I apologize for any confusion my earlier response may have caused and hope that my subsequent responses have been helpful in providing the correct information."

Friday, June 10, 2022

Does anyone still care about climate science?

The logo of my old blog, Cassandra's Legacy. I am a little nostalgic about my old friend, the Trojan prophetess who had been an active blogger for ten years. But she had attracted the ire of the powers that be, so I had to move to a new blog, this one under the auspices of the ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Poor Cassandra still seems to be a target, as I report in this post. 

You know that the Prophetess Cassandra was cursed so that she would never be believed and, at the same time, being always right. So, recently I noted that a post written in 2018 on my old blog, Cassandra's Legacy, had as title "Why, in a Few Years, Nobody Will be Talking about Climate Change Anymore."  And, as usual, Lady Cassandra, was right. Nowadays, nobody seems to care anymore about Climate Science -- zero, zilch, nada, null -- no interest. It is gone beyond the horizon of the events as if sucked into a black hole. Greta Thunberg? Who is she?

Strangely, though, a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see that the Powers that Be targeted again the Trojan Prophetess for an old post on Climate Change. 

It is common on Facebook and Twitter that you see your posts removed because they "violated the community guidelines," whatever that may mean. But, on the Blogger platform, it was new for me. And yet, it happened. They removed a post on Climate Change that went back to 2014. Puzzled, I asked them to reinstate it, and they did, after just a couple of days. What Google takes away, Google may give back. 

With the best of goodwill, I could not find anything in that post that could have awakened the censors. Sure, it was "catastrophistic" but it didn't mention the current bugaboos (you know what I mean). They mentioned "malware" as the cause for deletion, but there was nothing of that sort in the post (and, after all, they reinstated it exactly as it was). I tend to think that someone got offended by this post and complained to them. So, maybe someone still cares about Climate Science! But we'll have to wait to see Troy on fire before admitting that the Prophetess was right.

I am reproposing the post here, on the "Seneca Effect" blog. 


Cli-fi: ten assorted doomsday scenarios

From "Cassandra's Legacy" 2014.

Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art.

In fiction, it is possible to extrapolate the consequences of normal phenomena to their extreme forms and to examine events that could happen, no matter how they are perceived as unlikely. Hence, the interest in "climate fiction" ("cli-fi") as a way to explore the possible consequences of climate change in situations much more extreme than those of the usually sanitized scenarios presented by scientists.

It seems that, so far, only a few of the many possible climate related catastrophes have been explored in detail in movies and novels. So, I have prepared here a list of ten apocalyptic scenarios, all related to climate change (of course, many more can be conceived). "Scenarios" and "fiction" are closely related concepts, except that the latter doesn't necessarily have to follow the laws of physics. In this case, none of these scenarios is physically impossible; but they are stretched a bit (a lot) for increased fictional dramatic effects. The list may serve as a source of inspiration for those of us who are trying their hand at writing cli-fi novels. The scenarios are arranged in an approximate order of increasingly catastrophic events. 

1.  "The Great Coal Flame" (or "Saddam squared"). A giant coal fire which can't be extinguished. We all know how, in 1991, the Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait dynamited some 700 oil wells, generating giant fires. The damage generated was not terribly catastrophic, and the fires could be extinguished in less than one year, choking them at the mouth of the wells. However, we can think of something more difficult to stop if we imagine that the fire could affect a large coal deposit. There already exist underground coal fires which have burned for centuries and seem to be impossible to extinguish. Let's imagine something much bigger, maybe as the result of a tactical nuke landing by mistake (or purposefully) on a major coal mine. The result would be a giant fire covering an enormous area; it would be probably much more difficult to  extinguish than the localized oil well fires of Kuwait in 1991. Maybe this would not be a global disaster but, already now, uncontrolled coal fires account for about 3% of the world's CO2 emissions; if a major coal mine were to catch fire, the resulting disaster could considerably accelerate the process of climate change. To say nothing of the damage generated in terms of ashes, sulfur oxides, mercury, and other poisonous chemicals.

2."Super-Calving." or "Heinrich's return". The rapid collapse into the sea of large amounts of ice. "Calving" is a well known phenomenon in which large masses of ice detach themselves from ice shelves and create icebergs. Normally, the process causes no damage to humans (except for special cases, such as for the "Titanic"). But imagine that very large chunks of ice were released at a much faster rate than the present one. It has happened in the remote past in episodes known as "Heinrich's events" described as "Armadas of icebergs crossing the North Atlantic". The process could disrupt navigation in areas near large ice sheets, such as near Greenland and it could also generate giant waves - not tsunamis, but large enough to cause damage at considerable distances. Then, the presence of large amounts of ice floating in the ocean would have significant effects on climate and on the oceanic thermohaline circulation. The combination of these phenomena would disrupt commerce and transportation in a vital area for the world's economy. Not really a worldwide disaster, but a big disaster anyway.

3."HyperstormsGiant storms wreaking disasters. An increase in the frequency and the size of hurricanes is expected to be a consequence of climate change. In some conditions, hurricanes could become truly enormous and in this case they would take the name of "hypercanes", continent-size super-storms which reach the stratosphere, with side effects such as destroying the protective ozone layer. Because of this effect, it has been speculated that some of the past mega-extinctions were due thypercanes. It is believed that sea surface temperatures high enough to create hypercanes can be generated onlby exceptional circumstances, such as by asteroidal impacts. However, it is not impossible that a combination of factors related to global warming could generate larger and larger storms. Now, already in the present conditions, hurricanes are a major destructive force on human-built structures, imagine something much bigger and even more destructive..... The damage would be mostly local, unless we manage to unchain a true hypercane which would create worldwide havoc by destroying the world's ozone layer.

4. "The great ring of ice disaster". The melting of the Northern ice sheets generates earthquakes and tsunamis. The "ring of ice" is a region which encompasses a number of geological faults in the Northern Hemisphere. This is already a volcanic active region, but the melting and the Greenland ice sheet would generate further instabilities. Greenland "floats" over the underlying semi-fluid mantle and would rise up when freed of the mass of ice that covers it (this is called "isostatic rebound"). The result would be the destabilization of the geological faults in the area: an increase in volcanism, earthquakes, large coastal landslides, and perhaps the sudden release of large amounts of methane from frozen hydrates. The most disastrous results would be Atlantic tsunamis, a phenomenon which so far has been very rare, but that would be enhanced and made more common by climate change. Tsunamis originating in Greenland could hit especially hard Scotland, Norway, and Ireland, but also the Northwestern continental European coast (Holland, in particular) disrupting or destroying an industrial and commercial hub fundamental for the whole Europe. That would surely have worldwide repercussions.

5. "The Big Freeze" (or: "the Younger Dryas reloaded")A rapid cooling, something of the order of −5 °C (23 °F) of the Northern Hemisphere. The tumbling into the ocean of the Greenland ice sheet could shut down the North-Atlantic thermohaline circulation. As we have seen in the movie "The day after tomorrow," that would generate a rapid cooling of the Northern Hemisphere. It is believed that something similar has already occurred during the period called the "Younger Dryas", around 12,000 years ago; probably  caused by the sudden release into the Atlantiof the cold water of a lake ("Lake Agassiz") when the ice dam that kept it locked in place gave way. (yes, it is the plot of the second film of "the ice age" series, the one titled "The Meltdown"). In the case of the Younger Dryas, the freeze appears to have taken place in a few years. Imagine if something similar were to happen today: the consequences would be, well, unimaginable, even if we were to assume they would affect only the Northern Hemisphere.

6. "The great sea onrush" The sea rise generated by the rapid melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets wipes out most of the coastal cities and infrastructures. The disappearance of the ice sheets of Greenland and of Antarctica is not so much a hypothesis as a virtual certainty, given the present trends. That would lead to a sea level rise of some 7 meters (24 feet) from Greenland alone, plus about 3 meters from West Antarctica, and further contribution from the slower melting of other ice sheets. However, it is normally believed that this event would unfold in centuries or millennia and that humans would have time to adapt (perhaps). After all, as it is often said, what is affected by the sea rise "is only real estate". But let's imagine that the process were much, much faster - taking place in a few decades or even less, at least for one of the two most unstable ice sheets in the world: Greenland and West Antarctica. You would not see the onrush of giant waves submerging coastal cities, as in the "2012" movie, but the sea rise would still be so fast that there would be no time to build levees or to relocate buildings and facilities inland. The result would be a frantic rush inland, while vital industrial and transportation infrastructure would have to be abandoned. A true global disaster.

7. "Tickling the tail of the dragon" (or: "Shooting yourself with the clathrate gun"). A giant, human caused methane release and the consequent rapid rise in temperature. Let's imagine that some well intentioned people try to solve the energy crisis by extracting methane from buried hydrates (or clathrates) at the bottom of the ocean. Now, imagine that by drilling inside these clathrate reservoirs triggers a self-reinforcing release phenomenon. Just like BP didn't know how to stop the Macondo well leakage, the companies drilling - say - in the Arctic Ocean, would discover that they don't know how to plug the hole they have drilled and that, even if they could, more and more holes are appearing by themselves. The result is a massive release of methane in the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide. As a consequence, the "worst case" IPCC scenarios unfold in a few years instead of a century. The results? Well, possibly all the four previous scenarios: collapse of the ice sheets, oceanic thermohaline shutdown and all the dire consequences. But also extensive climate disruption and the desertification of temperate region. You wouldn't speak anymore of "drought in California" for the same reasons why you don't normally speak of "drought in the Sahara desert." California would become like the Sahara desert (and not just California). Totally global disaster.

8. "Goldilock's disasters" or "The great climate rebound"Geoengineering can backfire. We can imagine multiple disasters arising from well-intentioned but ill-conceived efforts to reduce global warming. Spraying particulate in the upper atmosphere, or maybe putting giant mirrors in orbit, would cool the earth, but we don't know how it would affect the weather patterns. For instance, it could weaken the Indian Ocean monsoon and condemn at least a billion of people to starvation. Or, one could go too far in the opposite direction and cool the planet too much, (too much of a good thing) with effects similar to those of a nuclear winter. Maybe we can also imagine that a major economic crisis defunds the geoengineering effort. Or, imagine that a major spin campaign convinces people that it was a hoax or useless (that's possibly the most realistic element of this scenario). Then, as the sunscreens fall, the earth returns to warming with a vengeance, as it would do after a nuclear winter and temperatures shot up so fast that, before screening can be resumed, it is too late. And that's truly global!

9. "The world as a giant gas chamber". What if CO2 turns out to be not as harmless as it is commonly believed? CO2 is often defined as "plant food" and it is believed that it cannot negatively affect human health until it reaches concentrations over at least 10 times the present values. However, it is also true that our species evolved in conditions of CO2 atmospheric concentrations below 300 ppm and that the present concentrations of 400 ppm have never been experienced by our ancestors. As the concentration of atmospheric CO2 keeps building up, we could reach concentrations four of five times larger than those which have been the rule for the past million years or so. CO2 is a reactive molecule which, among other things, would affect the blood pH and it has been argued that concentrations over 425 ppm would already have negative effects on human health; to say nothing of much higher values. So, if we discover that we have transformed the planet into a giant gas chamber, what would we do? 

10 "Venus, the ultimate disaster."  Temperatures could go up high enough to kill everything. The "Venus Scenario" is an extreme version of the "runaway greenhouse" effect. As temperatures go up, more and more water vapor is pumped into the atmosphere. Since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, it causes further warming of the atmosphere. At its extreme limit, the process could self-reinforce to the point that the oceans would completely evaporate. Temperatures could become so high that carbonates in the crust would be decomposed and that would create a dense atmosphere saturated with CO2. Add some sulfuric acid generated by volcanoes and you have transformed Earth into something very similar to Venus. Temperatures would reach several hundred degrees C at the surface; no liquid water, no life. Right now, the solar radiation arriving on the earth is believed to be not high enough to generate the kind of feedback that would transform earth into a twin of Venus. But there are always uncertainties in these calculations and the "Venus scenario" cannot be completely ruled out. The only escape from the Venus catastrophe would be leaving Earth for another planet, supposing that humans were able to build spaceships early enough. This is, clearly, the ultimate catastrophe: the sterilization of the whole planet.

It is fiction, it is only fiction, but........

See also another list of climate disasters. Also the source of the above image

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Who is the Emperor of the World? The New Age of Epistemic Dominance

 King Kamehameha 1st of Hawai'i (1736 - 1819) practiced the art of gift-giving during his reign, as it is typical of kings and rulers. It is remembered  that he said, "E 'oni wale no 'oukou i ku'u pono 'a'ole e pau." "Endless is the good that I have given to you to enjoy." In our times Google seems to have taken the same attitude: it gives us gifts in the form of free data. In view of the concept of "epistemic coup" proposed by Shoshana Zuboff, Google is rapidly becoming the Epistemic Emperor of the world.

In Roman times, it was a good thing to be the Emperor: you had gold, palaces, women, slaves, and lots of privileges, including the power to put anyone to death at your will. Emperors were supposed to be semi-divine creatures, enthroned by the Gods themselves but, in practice, they would soon become balding old men (if they survived to old age, not easy given the competition). So, why would anyone obey them?

Not a difficult question to answer. The Roman Emperors practiced a game that all rulers practice. It is called "gift-giving." It is part of the concept of sharing: something deeply embedded in the nature of human beings, ultimately a manifestation of empathy among humans. 

Sharing naturally creates social bonds that generate the hierarchical patterns that allow society to structure itself. In a harmonious society, the leaders govern without the need for force. They rule by their prestige, in turn obtained by judicious use of gift-giving. Gifts need not be in monetary forms: a leader becomes one because he or she shares knowledge, wisdom, or other skills. Of course, societies are never perfect and, in the real world, governance is a combination of positive and negative enhancements: the carrot and the stick. But the carrot is way more effective than the stick: for a leader, a live follower is much more useful than a dead enemy.

The Roman Empire was a monetized society, but the gift-giving game was played without involving money when the Emperor graciously provided the plebeians with "panem et circenses," (bread and games). If the plebeians were not happy enough, the Emperors could switch from the carrot to the stick, and employ the armed forces stationed in Rome, the Guardia Praetoriana, to teach the rabble a lesson. Of course, the Pretorians needed gifts, too, and they usually got them in the form of money. No Emperor could survive for long without large, sometimes extravagant, payments to the troops supporting him.

But, where did the Emperors get the resources they needed to provide gifts to their followers? Of course, from taxes. It was a tool that they would often use also to impoverish and eliminate potential competitors. The poor were normally too poor to be taxed and so the Emperor, though no Robin Hood, played a useful role in terms of wealth redistribution. Otherwise, wealth would have mostly accumulated in the coffers of the wealthy nobles (just as in our times it accumulates in the bank accounts of our financial tycoons). The Roman system was far from perfect but, as long as there was something to redistribute, it worked. When the Roman state collapsed, there was nothing left for the Emperors to tax or rob, and nothing to redistribute. No gifts, no empire

Here is another example of how ancient rulers tended to rule by their prestige. Below, you see the plaque on the monument to Ferdinando 1st, grand-duke of Tuscany from 1587 to 1609, still standing in Florence today. It says "Maiestate Tantum" meaning that, like King Kamehameha of Hawaii, the Duke ruled "by prestige only." That's the way of the good rulers. Note the bees collecting around the queen bee!


Fast forward to our times, and you can clearly see how we still practice a simple, non-monetized form of gift-giving on Christmas. But that is just a relic of old times. In practice, the Western society was built over a century or so by a gift-giving system larger and more pervasive than ever seen in any society in history. Politicians get elected by promising gifts to their voters, but they mainly provide gifts to lobbies, corporations, and power groups. And the lobbies give back awesome gifts to politicians. In the flurry of transactions, something trickles down to ordinary people. It is this network of givers and receivers that keeps the Global Empire together. Or, at least, has kept it together so far. It is a hierarchy based on money: the more you have, the higher you are on the social ladder.

In practice, you don't climb the social ladder by showing around the balance of your bank account. You do that by the mechanism called "conspicuous consumption." The more you consume, the higher you go. 

"Consuming" means, ultimately, to throw away old stuff and replace it with new stuff -- it is a practice that has much in common with the ancient usage called "potlatch" of the North-Western American Natives. In a potlatch, a chief would show his social worth by destroying valuable things he owned, "consuming" them. In our case, conspicuous consumption is done on a much larger scale and it is normally monetized. But you probably understand that if you can buy stuff and then throw it away it is only by means of a gift from the powers that be: the salary you receive for doing something that you know is useless, too.

And here you see the problem. With the gradual depletion of the mineral energy resources that power our society, consumerism is toast, just like the Roman Empire was when it ran out of gold. At some point, people will have to discover that the "money" they cherish so much is no more than numbers in a computer memory, and that these numbers can be erased at will by the powers that be. For a start, no more mass tourism and no more dining out. Then, in a short while, the flow of trinkets arriving from Amazon will dry out, too. It is coming, it has to.

No money, no conspicuous consumption. But how will the elites maintain their power? Right now, they seem to have decided to go for the stick, but governing by force is expensive and it has never really worked. What we need is government by prestige, but based on what? Right now, the prestige of our politicians seems to be more or less at the same level as that of leeches and other invertebrates. Evidently, some change is necessary. 

A hierarchy doesn't necessarily have to be based on money -- especially if money becomes useless when there is nothing left to buy (I called this "The problem of the shipwrecked sailor"). All hierarchies are, ultimately, based on prestige, and prestige can be gained in many different ways. For instance, early medieval Europe was poor and and "consuming" things (that is throwing away the old for the new) would have been considered a sin of vainglory. Prestige was the result of knowledge: the access to the sacred books of Christianity gave to the Christian church a prestige and a political importance that today we can't even imagine anymore. (*)

Once we get rid of consumerism (we must), we will move to a form of prestige based on knowledge. It is not just prestige: those who know more have more power, just think of what we call "insider trading." But, on the whole, prestige is the main output of knowledge. Those who know more -- or have access to more data -- are higher in the hierarchical scale. 

And we arrive to what Shoshana Zuboff calls the "Epistemic Empire" -- government by knowledge. Of course, our knowledge is not anymore stored in holy books, it is stored in the Web. Those who control the Web, control the world. The ruler of the Web is the emperor of the world: an epistemic emperor. 

So, who controls the Web? The struggle is ongoing, but the outcome starts to be evident. Imagine you were transported to Imperial Rome, how could you say who is the ruler of the place? Easy: the one who gives the most gift to the public: smaller rulers couldn't match the Emperor's largesse. In our times, it is just as easy: take a look at which internet company is giving away the larger number of gifts: by far it is Google

Let me write down a list of the free tools that Google provides.

  • Google Blogger
  • Google Books
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Data Studio
  • Google Docs
  • Google Earth
  • Google Jigsaw
  • Google Mail
  • Google Maps
  • Google Marketplace
  • Google Mobility
  • Google Ngrams 
  • Google Pay
  • Google Scholar
  • Google Translate
  • Google Trends

and many more. Just take a look at this page

It is amazing that Google gives you for free such huge databases as "Google Earth" and "Google Ngrams." No other Web entity does anything comparable. The financial tycoons, Musk, Gates, Bezos, and the others are unbelievably stingy in comparison, they look like petty provincial tyrants. Other entities do provide data for free, for instance, the World Bank, NASA; and even the CIA, but the scale is much smaller. Then, Wikipedia, but that seems to be rapidly becoming mostly a battleground of paid trolls. Facebook, then, doesn't give you anything, it only takes from you. Most of the new social networks seem to be interested mostly in showing you cute kittens and scantly clad young ladies. As for the world's universities and scientific research centers, they are a sad bunch of misers. They pretend to be creating knowledge but, in effect, they get money from the public and give nothing back to the public. Finally, governments are giving you only propaganda and fake news, the equivalent of counterfeited money. There is absolutely no data coming from governments and their mouthpieces called "The Media" that you can really trust.

So, Google plays the role that the Emperors of once would play, that of redistributing some of the wealth that the system creates. In return, just like the Roman citizens of old times, you have to pay back with your taxes. How? Not in monetary terms, of course, because the gifts you receive are not monetary. You pay data with data. By using Google services, especially their search engine, you give data to Google: it is an exchange, a gift-giving system. With the data you provide, Google builds up its knowledge, and with it, its dominance. And Google can afford to give you back knowledge as a gift. It is the dominance of the Epistemic Emperor of the world: Google.

One thing we know is that powerful entities always strive to increase their power. So, Google is clearly poised to sweep away the whole band of bloodsuckers that we call "universities" and take over the task of public instruction, something that governments don't seem to be able to supply anymore. At the same time, Google had already tried to oust its only remaining competitor, Facebook. The now-gone "Google+" didn't succeed at that, but, as we all know, revenge is something that is best served cold. The clumsy censorship machine that Facebook created is backfiring. Lots of people still use Facebook but hate it deeply and would love to leave it if they just could find something equivalent. Not that Google doesn't censor, but it does so in a much subtler way (see the Google Jigsaw site). So, the destiny of Facebook may be written in the cloud. Don't forget that FB rose on the ashes of a previous social network, the now-forgotten Friendster. Sic transit gloria!

And from now on? The huge and proteiform Google virtual machine can only continue expanding, not necessarily destroying the competition, but merging with it in an even larger machine. Google may take over one public service after the other, replacing even the state. After "Google University," we may see a "Google Police," a "Google Court," a "Google Retirement" a "Google Bank" (actually, it is already there) and, why not, a "Google Government." Government for Google, by Google, in the name of Google (***). After that, there remains only "Google God" -- which seems to be incarnating already (Facebook, clumsy as usual, has now a "pray" button).

Is all this good or bad? An ill-posed question. Google is neither evil nor good (correctly, they removed the "Don't be Evil" motto from their code of conduct). Google is what it is -- and if it is, it means that it had to be

It seems clear that the huge Google machine is, by now, impossible to control by mere human beings and it may well be the reason why the founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) are so rarely mentioned. The parts that form Google are self-assembling and creating a huge virtual holobiont that's expanding in the memesphere. The great thing may well evolve further into a hierobiont (**), but that will be beyond our capabilities of human beings to influence or even understand.

All that will last as long as the industrial system can keep the creature alive. Just as the Roman Emperors are gone by now, even Gods have their Götterdämmerung. And what will be, will be because it had to be.

(*) The Christian Church was the first epistemic empire in Europe, setting up a governance system based not anymore on money, but on the monopoly of data and information. Since it would have been unthinkable to teach everyone to read Latin, the Church had the monopoly of the knowledge of the holy scriptures. Hence, it had a near-monopoly of communication and, as a consequence, of governance. In parallel, in the Middle East, Islamic countries were going through a similar evolution, but they maintained a gold-based economy, so they didn't develop the equivalent of the imperial Christian church.

The Epistemic Empire of the Christian Church was a fine-tuned machine that worked well for centuries, then troubles started when new precious metal mines were discovered in Eastern Europe. That made it possible to pay soldiers again and it led Charlemagne to recreate a military-based European Empire in 800 AD. The Church acquiesced to the new entity and the Pope himself crowned the new emperor -- hoping to be able to control the new state just as it had managed to control the many small European statelets. 

But Europe was too small for two Empires. Gradually, the balance of power tilted against the Epistemic Empire in favor of the reborn military powers of Europe. The decisive blow to the Church's power was when Martin Luther translated the Bible into German and made it available for everyone. Maybe Luther knew that he, alone, was bringing down a whole Empire, surely a remarkable feat. Then, the new European powers proceeded with killing and enslaving one nation after the other until, some four centuries later, they were dominating the world.

(**) Hierobiont is a term that I coined expressly for this post. It describes an organization orthogonal to that of a holobiont. A holobiont is created by horizontal (paritetic) network connections, while a hierobiont has vertical (hierarchical) connections. A holobionts is homeostatically stable. A hierobiont is allostatically stable. In other words, a holobiont reacts to a perturbation in real time by damping its effects: it has no separate control unit. A hierobiont, instead, may plan ahead and avoid the perturbation before it appears: it does have a separate control unit (a "brain"). A holobiont practices Judo, a hierobiont practices Kyudo. Purely horizontal holobionts exist, purely vertical hierobionts may exist. We, humans, are a mix of the two: a brain-endowed hierobiont (aka organism) that coexists with a holobiont formed by the microbiota of the system. There are many more possible combinations, holobionts and hierobionts are both fractal. The Goddess Gaia is said to be a nearly pure holobiont, but she may have tricks we don't know about. 

(***) I noted in a previous post how "something" has appeared in the world's military arena that was preventing the kind of reckless behavior that Western Governments had been indulging in for the first two decades of the 21st century. During this period, bombing the country of the evil guy of the year seemed to carry only benefits and no risks -- and it was a lot of fun (except for the bombed people, of course). Strangely, though, from around 2011, that was not done any longer. In 2012 Obama had already announced that he was going to bomb Syria, but he stepped back. And, from then on, it was deafening silence. In July 2021, NATO carried out the "Sea Breeze" operation, right in front of the Russian forces in Crimea. It was the perfect moment to simulate an incident, a false flag, and that would have been the start of WWW3. Surely, plenty of people wanted exactly that. And yet, as I am writing, the Sea Breeze exercise is over from yesterday. Everything went on in total silence and nothing happened. What could that "something" be that stops all wars before they start? It is just a guess, but......