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 climate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate. Show all posts

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Seneca Effect Blog Returns on Substack!


The Seneca Effect Blog is returning! You can find it on Substack at this address:

After that the original location of the blog (  was sabotaged by the Google search engine, I thought that it was useless to fight the powers that be. So, I closed the blog. 

Yet, I found that Substack seems to be immune (for the time being) to Google's curse. And, unexpectedly, the "ghost" version of the Seneca blog stationed there continued to gain followers even though it was not updated anymore. So, I'll restart publishing Seneca-inspired posts on Substack. The new Seneca blog will be a little more philosophical and literary than the old one and it will mirror also my Chimeras blog.  More technical posts will go to

And onward we go, running with the wolves!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Christmas Post: The Miracle of Renewables

The "Seneca Effect" has been a little gloomy, recently. So, for a change of pace, here is the translation in English of a post that I wrote for the Italian newspaper "Il Fatto Quotidiano," also reproduced in my blog "The Sunflower Society". Because it was published in a newspaper, it is simplified and short, yet it says what's needed to understand the revolution we are going through that will change the world in the coming years. If you are interested in the source of the data,  you can find them on Lazard.comSo, Merry Christmas, and never despair. Sometimes, miracles happen! 

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:9-10)

Miracles are not so frequent and, if one has serious health problems, it is not probable that a swim in the Lourdes pool will solve them. However, it is also true that sometimes things change quickly, opening up new possibilities. That's what's happening with renewable energy. Talking about a "miracle" is a bit much, I know, but recent technological developments have made available to us a tool that until a few years ago we didn't even dream of having. And this could solve problems that once seemed unsolvable.

For years, I've been lecturing about climate change and other looming worries, such as oil depletion. Usually, the people who came to listen to me were prepared for a message that was not exactly reassuring, but the question was what to do about it. At the end of the conference, a debate normally ensued in which the same things were said: ride a bicycle, turn down the thermostat in the house, install double glazing panes on the windows, use low energy light bulbs, things like that.

It was a little soothing ritual but, in reality, everyone knew that these weren't real solutions. Not that they're useless, but they're just a light layer of green on a system that continues to depend on fossil fuels to function. We have been talking about double glazing and bicycles for at least twenty years, but CO2 emissions continue to increase as before. Actually, faster than before. If we don't go to the heart of the problem, which is to eliminate fossil fuels, we will get nowhere. But how to do it? Until a few years ago, there seemed to be no way except to go back to tilling the fields by hand, as our ancestors did during the Middle Ages.

But today things have changed radically. You probably didn't notice it, caught up in the debate on politics. But it doesn't matter whether the right or the left wins. Change, the real one, is coming with renewable technologies. Wind and photovoltaic plants have been optimized and scaling factors have generated massive savings in production costs. Today, a kilowatt-hour produced by a photovoltaic panel costs perhaps a factor of 5-10 less than a kilowatt-hour from natural gas (and maybe a factor of 5 less than a nuclear kilowatt-hour) (source). We used to call renewables "alternative energy," but today all others are "alternative."

Furthermore, producing energy with modern renewable technologies does not pollute, does not require non-recyclable materials, does not generate greenhouse gases, does not generate local pollution, and nobody can bomb the sun to leave us without energy. Now, don't make me say that renewables have automatically solved all the problems we have. It is true that today they are cheap, but it is also true that they are not free. Then, investments are needed to adapt energy infrastructure throughout the country, to create energy storage systems, and much more. These are not things that can be done in a month, or even in a few years. There is talk of a decade, at least, to arrive at an energy system based mainly on renewables.

But it is also true that every journey begins with the first step. And now we see ahead of us a road ahead. A road that leads us to a cleaner, more prosperous, and hopefully less violent world. I haven't stopped going around giving conferences but, now, I can propose real solutions. And it's not just me who noticed the change. In the debate, today you can feel the enthusiasm of being able to do something concrete. Many people ask if they can install solar panels at home. Others say they've already done it. Some mad (and rightfully so) at the bureaucracy that prevents them from installing panels on their roof or in their garden. You also see the changing trend on social media.

There is always someone who speaks out against renewables by reasoning like the medieval flagellants who went around shouting "remember that you must die". But there are also those who respond in kind, "good riddance, and live happily together with the other cavemen." If you have a south-facing balcony (and if your municipality doesn't sabotage your idea), you can already install photovoltaic panels hanging from the railing that will help you reduce your electricity bill. No paperwork is needed! (another small miracle). One step at a time, we will succeed!

For a general assessment of the performance of renewables compared to fossil fuels, see this recent article by Murphy et al.

Monday, November 21, 2022

COP27: The Reasons for a Failure


The COP27, in itself, wouldn't deserve a comment. It is over, and that's it -- been there, done that, and nobody cared. But I think it is a good occasion to reproduce this text by Stuart B. Hill that nicely explains why we make mistakes all the time when trying to manage complex systems. The COP27, indeed, has been a good example of the concept of "pulling the levers in the wrong direction" as Jay Forrester, the creator of System Dynamics, explained to us. So, here it is. h/t Thorsten Daubenfeld. 

10 Common ‘Mistakes’ to Avoid, & ‘Needs’ to Meet, When Seeking to Create

 a Better World – Prof Stuart B Hill – 2008 (updated Dec 2012)


Because of the holistic nature of the approach being advocated, all of the areas below overlap & are highly interactive & interrelated. This was written in response to the Commonwealth Government’s announcement of the Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra, ACT (19-20 April, 2008:; downloadable as a PowerPoint presentation from: 


1.    Getting the usual ‘experts’ (mostly older males) together to talk & plan 

-       always leads to tinkering with existing (flawed) plans – [‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’]; & being trapped in dominant paradigms

-       excludes most, including those affected by such plans & their ‘fresh’ ideas



-       involve mostly ‘different’ people, including (if possible) those most affected

-       start by focusing not on plans, but on values, beliefs, worldviews & paradigms 

-       then feelings & passions

-       then, emergent from these, hopes, dreams, visions, imaginings, & creative thoughts

-       only then can ‘design/redesign-based plans’ be enabled to emerge (these proactively enable systems [structures & processes] to meet long-term to short-term, & broad to specific, goals, & to make systems as ‘problem-proof’ as possible)

-       then critically analyse, integrate, & flesh these out, etc

-       detail participatory opportunities, responsibilities, time lines, resource & support needs, means for monitoring outcomes (feedback), tracking progress, & for ongoing redesigning & fine tuning


2.     Emphasising enemy-oriented, problem-solving approaches (back-end, reactive/responsive, curative) 

 -   these tend to focus on symptom management & neglect the need to address the underlying maldesign & mismanagement roots of all problems [trying to make systems work that can never work!] 

-    they typically over-focus on measuring problems (a main strategy for postponing action - by those who benefit from the status quo),

-    & they usually focus on efficiency & substitution strategies, e.g., improved application of pesticide & on finding less disruptive (but still purchased) substitutes, such as biological controls & genetically modified organisms

-       same story in other areas: medicine, energy, etc  



-       redesign existing systems (& design new systems) to make them as problem-proof as possible; & to support the effectiveness of natural controls

-       & to enable effective change from flawed/defective systems to significantly more improved (sustainable, wellbeing enabling) ones


3.    Getting stuck in activities ‘pathologically’ designed to postpone (feared) change 

-       particularly measuring problems (‘monitoring our extinction’)

-       endless over-collection of data (often ‘justified’ by arguments for ‘evidence-based [vs. responsible] approaches’)

-       hearings, committee meetings, report-writing, etc. [appointment to such committees may be designed to limit one’s influence]

-       most such preoccupations have NO follow-through, & usually only lead to more of the same



-       postponing ‘pathologies’ must be recognised, exposed, contradicted & addressed; by taking responsible, timely, appropriate, collaborative action 

-       access to relevant data is needed to make responsible decisions; however, adequate data are often already available from other places, in other languages etc. 

-       globally, billions of dollars are wasted annually unnecessarily repeating studies in new locations or with mischievous intentions (often related to perceived threats to existing commercial & power advantages)


4.     Trying to solve problems within the disciplines or areas responsible for creating them; or with multidisciplinary teams of selected experts/authorities from favoured disciplines, with others excluded



-       genuine transdisciplinary, trans-competency & multi-experience teams, able to access disciplinary & specialised knowledge as needed

-       include competencies relating to holistic approaches to design, sustainability, wellbeing, meaning & effective change processes


5.    Patriarchal (them doing things to/for us, & us doing things to/for them) & ‘driven’ do-good approaches are rarely exactly what is needed 

-       these are generally not embraced by those being ‘helped’, or are not sustained after the helpers leave

-       also, they invariably have diverse negative unexpected consequences



-       inclusion of those most affected by proposed ‘improvements’; as primary collaborators in all change processes; & from beginning to end

-       enables ownership, relevance, achievability, ongoing improvement & openness to unforseen/surprise benefits


6.    Planning ‘Olympic/mega-scale’, heroic initiatives (from hearings to projects; talk to action) with no follow-through or provision for ongoing support (this needs to be more than just funding)

-       these invariably only reach the analysis, planning & preliminary stages; & then are abandoned

-       most have unforseen numerous long-term & widespread harmful side-effects (personal, social, ecological, etc.)



-       diverse, mutually supportive, doable initiatives that have long-term commitment & support

-       consideration of opportunities for ongoing improvement & learning our ways forward collaboratively towards improved futures


7.     Over-focus on knowledge & data, & neglect of wisdom & experience (most ‘wisdom’ cannot be supported by data; it involves working with the ‘unknown’ – this is most of what is – not just the limited ‘known’ –  often in ways that rely on intuition, ‘right brain’ & gut feelings, etc.)



-       to be much better at recognising, valuing & involving the wisest & most experienced in our society, & not so obsessed with ‘cleverness’ (whereas wisdom enables us to work with the ‘unknown’ & ‘know’, cleverness is limited to working with the miniscule ‘known’)


8.    Over-focus on ‘productivity’, profit, power & quick dramatic results

-       predictably leads to burn-out, only short-term, limited benefits, & often unexpected disbenefits (additional problems that are often initially unrecognised)



-       much more focus on rehabilitation &‘maintenance’ activities [sustainable ‘productivity’ is a by-product of this]

-       caring for one another (& other species & the environment)

-       spontaneous (vs. distractive & compensatory) celebration – helps validate & spread good ideas & initiatives

-       venting feelings, & access to support for ‘healing’ our (often denied) psychological wounding, etc.

-       prioritise time & resources for these activities

-       realising that sustained productivity is emergent from the effective design & maintenance of whole healthy systems


9.    Homogenisation tendencies

-       these tend to result in construction of currently favoured ‘norms’ (for people, structures, processes, etc.)

-       failure to consider diversity & ‘alternatives’

-       creation of favoured in-groups & excluded out-groups

-       also, other expressions of inclusion, exclusion & blaming

-       failure to benefit from the creativity that resides at the margins & in the borderlands of society



-       openness to appreciation of the value of heterogeneity & ‘functional’ diversity within all systems, with its opportunities for synergy, mutualism…

-       lateral & paradoxical thinking & acting

-       extension beyond the usual competencies

-       relevance to core needs & possibilities (plus, ‘Testing Questions’ & ‘Integrator Indicators’ for these]

-       a sense of inclusion, ownership, & a sense of place, etc.


10.   Neglect of the arts, or only token involvement

-       over-focus on economic (not psycho-social) growth, the sciences, technologies, business, politics, the professions, the media, & the other major powerful institutions within our society 

-       as a result, the arts are poorly supported, regarded as a luxury or optional extra, an afterthought, or even irrelevant



-       recognition of the arts, in its broadest sense (including humour), as being an essential part of both the foundation & means for implementation of all efforts to achieve genuine & sustainable improvement



Emeritus Professor Stuart B. Hill | Foundation Chair of Social Ecology – Mobile: +61 (0)400 081 440

School of Education, Western Sydney University (Kingswood Campus); Locked Bag 1797, PENRITH, NSW 2751, AUSTRALIA; Location: Building KI, Room K-2-19A, Kingswood Campus; P: +61 (0)2 4736-0799 | Ext: 2799 (Kingswood staff only) | Fax: -0400; Email: | Web:

Founding Co-Editor, Journal of Organic Systems:; Latest PPTs: &

Latest YouTubes:;;; &


My latest books are Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action (with Dr Martin Mulligan; Cambridge UP, 2001), Learning for Sustainable Living: Psychology of Ecological Transformation (with Dr Werner Sattmann-Frese; Lulu, 2008) and Social Ecology: Applying Ecological Understanding to our Lives and our Planet (with Dr David Wright and Dr Catherine Camden-Pratt; Hawthorn, 2011).

Friday, November 11, 2022

How to talk about the gas crisis at a party

This is a real conversation that took place a couple of weeks ago although, of course, it is revised and rearranged in this written version. The protagonists are me and a friend of mine, Antonella. Imagine us holding glasses, at a party. 

Antonella: Ugo, you know, I was visiting a town on the coast, last week. They want to install a big regasification plan, there.

Ugo: I heard something about that.

A. The people, there, don't want the plant. They say it is dangerous. What do you think about that?

U. It might be dangerous, in some circumstances.

A. Yes, but do you think it is a real danger?

U. It is a long story.

A. But we need to do something. don't we? If we need energy, we need to import gas.

U. Really, it is not so simple.

A. Ugo, you never tell people what you really think. For once, could you tell me what's going on?

U (after having taken a deep breath). The situation is critical, to say the least. We won't be able to have new regasification facilities in Italy before 2023, if we are lucky. And even those planned won't be sufficient to replace Russian gas. Even if we were able to build more, liquid gas coming from overseas is much more expensive than Russian gas, and not infinite, either. If the war doesn't stop, we won't have sufficient gas to heat homes and to power the electric grid this Winter. And the Italian industry won't be competitive in the world market with the coming gas prices. That may mean a collapse of the economy, social disorders, and even mass starvation. And because of the leaks of methane, natural gas is worse than coal in terms of damaging the climate.

A ....................

U ...................

A. Of course, we can use hydrogen, right?

U. ............

She walks away, glass in hand.

I wrote a similar post about climate a few years ago, with the same person as the protagonist. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Anastassia Makarieva in Florence: Explaining how the Biotic Pump Works

Republished from "The Proud Holobionts."

Anastassia Makarieva  (center) receives a gift of appreciation for her talk in Florence, on Dec 11th, 2021, from Nicola and Anna in the form of a jewel made by Nicola, jeweler in Florence.

From "The Proud Holobionts," by Ugo Bardi

This week, we had the pleasure of a visit to Florence of Anastassia Makarieva, one of the world's most creative and brilliant scientists in the field of ecosystems. Anastassia is the originator, together with Viktor Gorshkov, of the concepts of "biotic regulation" and "biotic pump" -- both fundamental in our understanding of the functioning of the ecosphere. Together, they mean that the current climate change is only in part the direct consequence of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but in significant part the result of the human perturbation of the ecosystem, and in particular the destruction of the old-growth forests. 

So, Anastassia bears a message: it is vital for the planet to keep forests alive and in their pristine state. And that means just what the word says: forests, not just trees. Those politicians who compete for who plants more trees are just doing greenwashing. They may be harming the planetary ecosystem more than helping it. A tree, alone or as part of a plantation, does not have the same balancing effect and water carrying system that a forest has. A message that's not easy to understand for the current generation of decision-makers, used to the concept that a tree is worth only what profit it can provide once it is cut and sold on the market. Nevertheless, we must try to pass this message. 

For Anastassia's talk in Florence, we experimented with a new format of presentation. The university, nowadays, has become something like Dracula's castle, with the difference that it is a scary place even in the daytime. To have Anastassia give an "official" talk, I should have gone through I don't even know what mass of paperwork, and then her talk would have been attended only by the few academics who still have some interest in creative research. All that in a super-safe, soulless room. 

To say that these official seminars can be disappointing is an understatement. A few years ago I organized a talk by a Russian scientist on the question of the supply of gas from Russia to Europe. You would think it is an interesting subject in Europe. Well, the attendees were exactly zero, besides me, the sponsor of the talk, and the Russian scientist herself. And at that time there was no Covid yet to make people afraid even of their shadows.   

So, this time we decided to play it differently: a colleague of mine kindly offered her living room to host Anastassia's seminar and we announced it on the social channels in addition to the regular university channels. We also offered drinks and snacks. We didn't know what to expect and we had no idea of how many people would bother taking a trip to the hills near Florence to listen to a Russian researcher speaking in English about her research. 

It was a remarkable success. Not a big crowd, but we collected about 25 persons, of whom only 3 were professional scientists (I think they were those who would have shown up had we organized the talk in the university). And they all listened with extreme interest to Anastassia's talk, fascinated by the story of how the ecosphere stabilizes climate and how the forest's biotic pump creates wind and rain. When it was the time of telling the story of how Anastassia and Viktor survived for months in the Boreal forests in a tent, with bears strolling nearby, the audience was completely captivated. The informal party after the seminar was an occasion to build up friendship among people who share the same views of the world, even though they are not necessarily scientists.  

There is something to learn, here. Science is not a Moloch to worship, nor a dictator to be obeyed. And it is not even a conventicle of hyperspecialists who know so much about so little that they can be said to know everything about nothing. Science is one of the several possible embodiments of the concept of "philosophy," the love of knowledge. It is something that does not belong to anybody, it belongs to everybody. And that was clear at Anastassia's talk. 

h/t Benedetta Treves and all those who helped organize this seminar. To know more about the biotic pump and biotic regulation, see the site