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."

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."

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Christmas' Nativity Scenes: Using Images to Cross the Language Barrier


A Nativity Scene ("presepe") near Florence this year. This way of celebrating Christmas never went out of fashion in Southern Europe, and perhaps never will (but you may never know). It is part of the effort of making communication possible between people who don't speak the same language. The Catholic Church tried this method with some success, maybe we can learn something useful from this experience. 

This is another non-catastrophistic post on the "Seneca Effect" blog, but don't worry. We'll return to doom and gloom next year. 

The "Nativity Scene" is a traditional way to celebrate Christmas in Catholic countries, especially in Southern Europe. In Italy, it is known as the "presepe," a term that originally meant the "manger" where the baby Jesus was placed. If you have been a child in a country where this use is common, you cannot escape the fascination and the magic of these scenes. And, indeed, they make for a much more creative effort than the more recent tradition of the Christmas tree. Making a presepe may involve collecting moss from the garden to simulate the grass, making lakes using aluminum foil, creating trees with toothpicks and green-painted sponge chunks, a starry sky using blue paper with holes and, finally, the star of Bethlehem made, again, from aluminum foil. 

As usual, for everything that exists, there is a reason for it to exist. And that holds also for Nativity Scenes. In the end, these scenes are forms of non-verbal communication.  The fundamental point of religions such as Islam and Christianity is their universality. They accept all races, languages, regions, and cultures. That brings a problem of communication: how can an imam or a priest communicate with the faithful if they don't have a common language? 

In the case of Islam, God spoke to the prophet Muhammad in Arabic, and that remains the sacred language of the faithful. Of course, modern Arabs do not easily understand the language spoken at the time of Muhammad and not all Muslims are native speakers of Arabic. But Islam focuses on the Quran, encouraging the faithful to study and understand its language. Islam is a text-based religion expressed mainly by the human voice of the mu'azzin. It sees images with diffidence, 

For Christianity, the problem was much more difficult. God spoke to the prophets in Hebrew, the language of the Bible. Then, Jesus Christ spoke most likely Aramaic, whereas the Gospels were written in Greek. Then, when the center of Christianity moved to Rome, the holy texts were translated into Latin, which came to be seen as one of the main languages of Christianity. In addition, Christianity diffused rapidly into regions, such as Western Europe, which had emerged from the collapse of the Roman Empire as a hodgepodge of very different languages with different roots. 

So, it made sense for the Christian Church to use visual imagery to carry the message to everybody. That was an early characteristic of Christianity, for instance, the sentence in Greek ("Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr") (Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior) was turned into an acronym that could be read as "ichthys," which means "fish" and therefore could be expressed as the image of a fish. Not every Christian understood Greek, but everyone could recognize a fish.  

The idea of using images to represent sections of the holy texts accelerated during the late Middle Ages and early Modern Times when there was an evident attempt of the Christian Church to maintain the universality of their religion (the term "Catholic" means "universal") while facing the dissemination of texts translated into national languages. It led to the creation of pilgrimage sites that we would define today as "theme parks," where the stories of the gospels were represented as 3D imagery. Some of these "parks" still exist today. Below, you see an example from the San Vivaldo monastery that goes back to the 16th century. Visiting that place is an eerie experience.

In parallel, small scales versions of the Nativity story became popular. The first version similar to the modern one goes back to 1291, and it was created by Arnolfo di Cambio. From then on, many different and elaborate versions were produced. It was an original idea that has parallels with our use of "emoticons." Our times are strongly image-based in terms of communication, and the vitality of Nativity Scenes is not in discussion. There are many examples of weird, funny, or outrageous versions, such as this one from 2016, with Donald Trump and other characters of the time. 

There are versions with zombies, others inspired by Star Wars characters, Disney characters, fuzzy bears, cats, dogs, and, of course, the queer version with two Marys or two Josephs. 

Our civilization is probably the most visually-oriented one in history, and, at the same time, the most language-fragmented in history. So, it is not surprising that we are trying to develop visual methods of communication that go beyond the limits of national languages. It is necessary to do that if we want to overcome the parochialism of nation-states and find an agreement on how to manage the planetary commons. 

But will it ever be possible to develop a completely image-based language? It is one of a few conceivable alternatives.

1. A dominant language, such as Latin was during the Middle Ages in Europe, and English is today. 
2. A creole or a koiné language, such as Greek was during late antiquity. Esperanto could play this role nowadays. 
3. A purely gestural language, such as the one that the Native Americans had developed before coming into contact with the Europeans. It might have a parallel with the modern "emoticons"
4. Automated, real-time translations -- these were not possible in the past, but in modern times Artificial Intelligence offers possibilities unthinkable in the past. 

The future will tell how civilization will face this challenge. Maybe it is unsolvable (and surely it is possible to worsen the problem). It is also possible that there will be no civilization surviving to address it. But, as usual, the future always surprises us. Why not return to cuneiform written on clay tablets? It would be, at least, more durable than any method that was devised in later times!


Sumerian cuneiform characters for "Ama-gi," that can be translated as "freedom" (literally, "return to the mother")

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.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The European Non-Union after the Qatargate: Was it Designed to Fail?


The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. I don't know if they consciously designed it to look like the Babel Tower, but it may follow the same destiny: collapse. It is a typical "non-place" inhabited by tribes of people who don't care about each other, don't talk to each other, and don't even understand each other. In these conditions, it is not surprising that crime and corruption prosper, as we learned in the case of the "Qatargate." Was the Union designed from the beginning so that it would fail? 

You probably know the concept of "non-places." The hall of a hotel is a good example. It looks like the living room of a home, but it is not the same thing. It is a place where people stay for brief periods of time, but do not interact with each other. They don't know each other, they don't even understand each other's language. The Babel Tower was a good example of a non-place, but nowadays non-places are common. In addition to hotels, you have airports, train stations, shopping malls, waiting rooms, and many more examples. 

Non-places are the ideal kind of places to engage in illegal or hidden operations. For instance, hotels are the typical place where you can meet your secret sexual partner, discuss illegal deals, or give or receive a bribe in cash. That doesn't mean, of course, that all the customers of a hotel are criminals. It just means that non-places provide the anonymity you need for certain kinds of transactions. Anonymity makes you also vulnerable to attacks that can take the form of "character assassination," as it happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011.   

The European Parliament provides a special kind of anonymity owing to its multinational organization. Each national delegation is jealous of its national language and its members would feel offended if they were asked to speak in English (*), and many of them would be unable to do that, anyway. That's why the Union has 24 official languages and, consequently, the "Alcide De Gasperi" room in the palace of the European Parliament in Brussels has 24 translation boots, each one with at least two official interpreters. (theoretically, each boot should have 23 translators, but they would not fit inside, and I suppose that the translations are made first into English and then translated into the other languages). 

Given this organization, you understand the fragmentation of the European Parliament. A few years ago, I was there, and I noted how it looks mostly like the hall of a large hotel, a typical non-place. Throngs of people moving up and down, but very little interaction among those who don't speak the same language. Even outside the parliament building, I found that the Italian delegation had a coffee shop that served Italian coffee, where everyone spoke Italian, and where you would feel like being in Italy. I had the impression, and some Spanish friends confirmed it, that the whole central area of Brussels is a non-place: each national delegation had its coffee shops, restaurants, etcetera. Maybe the whole European Union is a non-place. A Non-Union.

It is not difficult to understand how easy it must be for lobbyists to engage in shady deals with national representatives in the European Parliament. Imagine an Italian company that wants to obtain a favorable contract from the EU. It will lobby an Italian MP who will probably feel that it is his/her duty to support an Italian company. If that involves a little personal gain, well, it may be deserved. In other words, in the best mafia style, each delegation jealously controls its own turf. Then, no surprise that the European Parliament has become a business network, losing all interest in promoting the interests of Europe as a whole -- for instance in terms of defense. It shows: Europe is the only example of a large state organization that doesn't have an independent military force.  

So, it is not surprising that lobbying (that some call simply "corruption") is rampant in Brussels. That doesn't mean we should take the current "Qatargate" scandal as an excuse to criminalize any or all the European MPs. I can tell you that I personally know some of them who refused to be corrupted and always acted for the good of the community. And we should not exclude the possibility that the Qatargate is a case of psyop-based character assassination (**).  Nor we should think that national parliaments are much better -- even there, representatives have their turf to defend. Yet, it is clear that there is a corruption problem in Brussels. A serious one, at all levels. 

Of course, there are ways to fight corruption by tighter controls, more severe regulations, and the like. But the problem is that no organization can function if it uses 24 different languages and gives equal status to all of them. Even worse, no organization can exist for long if its members have the only purpose of getting a larger slice of the pie for themselves. That's the business of diplomacy, but politics is a different story. 

You surely heard that the art of diplomacy consists in convincing everyone that they got the largest share of the pie. Instead, the art of politics consists of an equitable distribution of the pie. Without such a purpose, without an understanding that the organization exists to promote the common good, we don't have politics, we only have the law of the jungle. And everyone acts according to the fundamental principle of plundering mobs that states, "grab what you can, when you can." The European Union never was one. 

From "The Secret of Nimh" (1982)

So, the question is, was the European Union designed from the beginning with the idea that it should fail? The founders were surely people with lofty ideals of peace and collaboration, but as the organization grow, it soon became a modern version of the Babel tower. Maybe it was unavoidable, or maybe some external forces pushed it to become what it has become. It doesn't matter. Like the Babel tower, at this point, the EU has no other destiny in sight than to crumble. Perhaps we'll be able to build something better on the ruins, but it will not be soon. 

The collapse of the Tower of Babel" by Cornelisz Anthonisz, Etching, 1547

(*) One Union, One Language

The multilingual structure of the European Union raises the question of whether it would have been possible to design it differently. We may wonder what could have happened if the founding fathers Adenauer, Monnet, De Gasperi, and others, had stamped their feet on the ground and insisted on the principle of "one union, one language.

One possibility could have been English -- why not? It is the most diffuse international language in the world, and it is the common language used in India, even though the Indians have reasons to be unhappy about having been invaded and dominated for a long time by the British. Of course, different countries speak (and mangle) Ingliss in various ways, but the important thing is that these versions are mutually understandable. More or less. 

It would also have been perhaps the last chance to select and diffuse one of the "synthetic" languages, like Esperanto, that could be defined as modern Creoles. It would have had the advantage that Esperanto is a language close to several modern European languages. Esperanto never reached a wide diffusion but, who knows? Estus ankaŭ eble la lasta ŝanco elekti kaj disvastigi unu el la" sintezaj " lingvoj, kiel Esperanto,

Another possibility was to resurrect an extinct language and make it the official European Language. Latin could have been a good choice since it is still used in some scientific fields, and it had been "the" language of European intellectuals up to the 19th century. Greek could have been another interesting choice, without the "Fascist" ring that Latin had gained with the Italian Fascist regime. It was the solution chosen by the founders of the modern state of Israel when they decided they would resurrect ancient Hebrew and make it their national language (before, Jews would speak at least six mutually not understandable languages). Alia possibilitas fuit linguam exstinctam resuscitare et facere officialem Linguae Europaeae. Latine bene electio fieri potuit quia adhuc in quibusdam campis scientificis usus est et "lingua" intellectualium Europaearum usque ad XIX saeculum fuerat. 

Unfortunately, what was not done then, can't be done now. It was a lost chance, possibly lost forever. Maybe "Googlish" will come to the rescue or, maybe, we'll all speak in a new hieroglyph-based language that uses emoticons (Yandex offers translation of any text into "Emoji"). Or, maybe, we'll follow the majority rule and decide to speak Mandarin Chinese. Who knows? 🔣 🤔 👫 👫 👤 🚫 🤔 🔠 🎏

(**) The "Qatargate" scandal may have a political meaning that escapes those who are not insiders to the complicated power balance of the European Commission. Was it a character assassination? It may be related, as usual, to the energy supply to Europe as argued in a recent article by Michele Marsiglia, president of the Italian Federpetroli.

Monday, December 12, 2022

The End of Europe: The Conclusion of a Long Historical Cycle.

The failure of the European Union may have started with the choice of the flag. Not that national flags are supposed to be works of art, but at least they can be inspiring. But this flag is flat, unoriginal, and depressing. It looks like a blue cheese pizza gone bad. And that's just one of the many things gone bad with the European Union. (attempts to make it more appealing failed utterly). It is the conclusion of a thousand-year cycle that's coming to an end. It was probably unavoidable, but that doesn't make it less painful. 

Europe has a long history that goes back to when the ice sheets retreated at the end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago. At that time, our remote ancestors moved into a pristine land, cultivated it, built villages, roads, and cities. They traveled, migrated, fought each other, created cultures, built temples, fortresses, and palaces. On the Southern coast of Europe, a lively network of commercial exchanges emerged, made possible by maritime transportation over the Mediterranean Sea. Out of this network, the Greek civilization was born, and then the Roman Empire appeared around the end of the first millennium BCE. It included most of Western Europe. (image from ESA)

As all empires do, the Roman Empire went through its cycle of glory and decline. In the 5th century AD, as Europe entered the Middle Ages, the Empire had disappeared except as a memory of past greatness. In the following centuries, the population of Western Europe declined to a historical minimum, maybe less than 20 million people. Europe became a land of thick forests, portentous ruins, small villages, and petty warlords fighting each other. No one could have imagined that, centuries later, Europeans would become the dominators of the world.

Sometimes, collapses bring with them the seed of recovery. It is what I called the "Seneca Rebound." For some reason, we moderns disparage the Middle Ages, calling the era the "Dark Ages." But there was nothing dark during the European Middle Ages. Europe was poor in material terms, but Europeans managed to create a culture of refined literature, splendid cathedrals, sophisticated music, advanced technologies, and much more. One reason for the prospering of the European culture was the presence of tools that other regions of the world lacked. One was the Latin language, used to keep alive the ancient Classical Culture and its achievements. It also helped trade and created strong cultural bonds all over the continent. Europeans also inherited the bulk of Roman law and culture, and Roman technologies in fields such as metallurgy and weapon making.  

With Europe recovering from the 5th-century collapse, new precious metal mines in Eastern Europe started pumping wealth into the continent. The result was explosive. Already in 800 AD, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, could assemble an army powerful enough to create a new Europe-wide Empire, the "Sacred Roman Empire." With the turn of the millennium, the European population was rapidly growing, and it needed space to expand. Europe was a coiled spring, ready to snap. In 1095, a burst of armies emerged out of Europe, crashing into the Near East. It was the time of the Crusades. 

Initially, the invasion of the Middle East was a spectacular success: the Christian armies defeated the local rulers, established new kingdoms, and recreated a direct commercial connection with East Asia, along the Silk Road. But the task was too huge for a still young Europe. After two centuries of struggle, the European armies were forced to abandon the Holy Land, defeated and in disarray. At this point, Europe faced again the problem it had tried to solve with the Crusades: overpopulation. The problem solved itself by means of a quick population collapse, first with the great famine (1315–1317), then the black plague. The Europe of the 13th century was so weakened that it seriously risked being overcome by the Mongol armies coming from Asia. Fortunately for the Europeans, the Mongols couldn't sustain a full-scale attack so far from the center of their Empire.    

A schematic view of the European population during about one millennium. Note the two collapses: both have the typical "Seneca-Shape," that is, decline is faster than growth. The first collapse was caused by famine and by the black plague, the second by the 30-year war, and the associated plagues and famines. 

Despite the ravages of the Black Plague, Europe re-emerged with its culture, social structure, and technological knowledge still intact. Europe didn't just recover, but it rebounded in a spectacular way. Shipbuilding technologies were improved, allowing Europeans to sail across the oceans. During their internecine quarrels, the Europeans had also turned firearms into terribly effective weapons. During the 16th and 17th centuries, they rebuffed the attempts of the Ottoman Empire to expand into Europe. The Ottomans were dealt a crushing blow on the sea at Lepanto, in 1571. Then, they were decisively defeated on land at the siege of Vienna, in 1683. With their Eastern Borders now safe, Europeans had a free hand to expand overseas. 

The 16th century saw the birth of a pattern that would persist for several centuries. European armies would invade foreign kingdoms, crush all military resistance, and replace the native leaders with European ones. Sometimes they used the local inhabitants as slaves, sometimes they wiped them out and replaced them with European colonists. The new lands were an incredible source of wealth. Europe imported precious metals, timber, spice, and even food in the form of sugar produced from sugarcane. The inflow of gold and silver from overseas stimulated the European economy, and timber allowed Europeans to build more ships. And the imports of food allowed the European population to grow and to field new armies that could conquer new lands that produced even more food.  

Nevertheless, Europe's expansion started to slow down in the 17th century. The 30 years' war, 1618 to 1648, was a terrible disaster that may have exterminated 10% of the European population. Then, as usual with wars, another outburst of plague followed. Europe seemed to have reached a new limit to its expansion. Sugar coming from overseas colonies was not enough, by itself, to sustain the need for materials to keep and further expand the European empire. Wood was needed to produce ships and, at the same time, to be turned into the charcoal needed to smelt metals. But trees were depleted in Europe and importing timber from overseas was expensive. Most of the Southern European countries saw their forests decline and their growth stall.

(image from Foquet and Bradberry). (France is not shown in the figure, but it shows a pattern similar to that of England). 

Despite the troubles, the Northern European economies, (especially England) rapidly restarted to grow after the 17th-century crisis. The trick was a new technological development: coal. Coal had already been used as a fuel in Roman times, but nobody in history had used it on such a large scale. With coal, Europeans didn't need anymore to destroy their forests to make iron. That was the start of a new, successful rebound. By the early 20th century, Europe dominated the whole world, directly or indirectly.  

Europe's population according to Zinkina et al. (2017). The two drops of the 14th and the 17th century are clearly visible, although less dramatic on this scale than in the earlier work of Langer

As typical of empires, with the conquests completed, there came a time of consolidation. No more risky adventures of individual states, but a central government to manage the empire and keep it together. For the ancient Romans, it had been the task of Julius Caesar to create a strong, centralized state. For modern Europe, it was a much more difficult story: how to tame a group of quarrelsome states that seemed to spend most of their time fighting each other? 

The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles 5th (1500-1558), was among the first to try, without success. His successor, Philip 2nd of Spain (1527- 1598), tried to subdue Britain with his "invincible armada" in 1588, but he failed, too. The decline of Spain left space for other European powers to try again. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 -1821) almost succeeded, but his imperial dreams sank at Trafalgar and then froze to death in the Russian plains. Then, it was the turn of Germany. The attempt started in 1914, and again in 1939. In both cases, it was a tragic failure. Even the weak Italy had imperial dreams. In the 1940s, Benito Mussolini attempted to recreate a new version of the ancient Roman Empire in the Mediterranean Sea. Utter failure, again. 

Over and over, the would-be European Imperial powers found themselves facing an impossible challenge. In the West, Britain had no interest in seeing a European Empire arising just on the other side of the Channel. The same was true for the East, with Russia not keen to see a major power near its borders. The result was that the European armies often found themselves fighting on two sides at the same time. Then, the Mediterranean Sea was in the iron grip of the British Navy -- no way for continental powers to expand South. With the end of WW2, Europe emerged out of the struggle destroyed, impoverished, and humiliated. 

The latest (and perhaps the last) attempt to unify Europe was the European Union. The creators of the Union understood that it was impossible to unify Europe by military means, so they tried to do it in the form of an economic free zone and an elected parliament. It was a bold attempt, but it didn't work. It could not have worked. The Union faced enormous hostile forces, both internal and external. Britain and France were supposed to be balancing the German power, but when Britain left, in 2020, the Union suffered an economic defeat equivalent to the military one suffered by Germany in the Battle of Britain, in 1940. In both cases, they had tried to absorb Britain into the economic system of continental Europe, and they had failed.

The defection of Britain left the European Union with Germany dominating it. Just like during WW2, the German government never understood that throwing its weight around was not the way to endear itself with the neighboring states. The result was the growth of anti-European forces all over the continent. It was the movement called "sovereignty" that aimed to restore the power of nation-states and get rid of the EU bureaucrats. So far, this movement has played only a marginal role in politics, but it has succeeded in making the EU deeply hated by everyone who is not getting their salaries from Brussels. 

Just as it had happened in 1941, Europe is now engaged in a desperate battle on two different fronts, but the struggle is now mainly economic and cultural, not military: it is a "full spectrum dominance" war. The struggle is still ongoing, but it seems already clear that Europe is being defeated. Just like Germany had destroyed itself with a military attack on Russia in 1941, the European Union is destroying itself with its economic sanctions against Russia. Effectively, Europe is committing a slow and painful suicide. But that's how full spectrum dominance works: it destroys enemies from the inside. 

And now? It was unavoidable that Europe would cease to be an Empire. The human and material resources that had made European dominance possible are not there any longer. But it was not unavoidable that Europe would destroy itself. Europe could have survived and maintained its independence by remaining on good terms with the other Eurasiatic powers, China, Russia, and India, But, choosing to break the commercial, cultural, and human relations with the rest of Eurasia was not just an economic suicide. It was a cultural and moral suicide. 

So, what's going to happen to poor Europe? History, as usual, rhymes: do not forget that in 1945 the official US plan was to destroy the German economy and exterminate most of the German population. Fortunately, the plan was shelved, but could that idea become fashionable again? We cannot exclude this possibility. In any case, an impoverished Europe could go back to something not unlike what it was during the early Middle Ages: depopulated, poor, primitive, a mere appendage of the great Eurasian Continent. 

And, yet, Europe has rebounded more than once from terrible disasters. It may happen again. Not soon, though.

As inspiring as a blue cheese pizza gone bad