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Articles by: Ugo Bardi

The great “pulse” of mass exterminations that occurred during the 20th century (graph created by Rummel). According to this chart, 262 million people were exterminated during the last century, mainly by governments in a series of actions that Rummel defines as “democides”. The question is, could something similar occur in the future? It turns out that mass exterminations are like earthquakes, their occurrence cannot be predicted exactly; but we can estimate the probability of an event of a certain size to occur. And the more time passes, the more likely a new pulse of mass exterminations becomes.

Are You Ready For A New Round Of Mass Exterminations?

In this sobering exclusive analysis for INSURGE, Professor Ugo Bardi dissects historical statistics on war to unpick the patterns of violence of the past and uncover what this says about the present — and our coming future. He warns that statistical data suggests we are on the brink of heading into another round of major wars resulting, potentially, in mass deaths on a[Read More…]

Is Climate Science Denial Going Through A Seneca Cliff?

Is Climate Science Denial Going Through A Seneca Cliff?

Sometimes I think about how difficult it must be to be a climate science denier. I have been studying climate science for years and I can tell you that it is tough stuff and that climate scientists are smart people who have been building their competency over decades of work. Climate science deniers can have a good time telling each[Read More…]

Italian Blackshirts in the early 1920s. There is a Fascist song from those times that says (translated), "Fascists and Communists were playing cards. The Fascists won with the ace of clubs."  But the clubs used by the Fascists were only a marginal elements in a struggle that had as a fundamental factor the supply of energy to the Italian economy.

What Fuels Civil War? Energy And The Rise Of Fascism

History, as we all know, may not repeat itself, but it surely rhymes. So, the theme of a civil war and of a return of Fascism is much discussed in the US nowadays. What kind of rhymes with past events can we perceive? On this point, I can propose to re-examine how Fascism took over in Italy, in the early[Read More…]

Which EROI Do We Need To Collect Berries?

Which EROI Do We Need To Collect Berries?

The question of EROI – the energy return on energy invested – is raging nowadays, with some people insisting that a civilization cannot exist without an EROI of at least variously estimated values, at least 10 and higher . And that is said to mean we absolutely need sophisticated technologies, such as nuclear, in order to survive. Yet, this morning I[Read More…]

Our Photovoltaic Future: The Metabolic Revolutions of the Earth’s History

Our Photovoltaic Future: The Metabolic Revolutions of the Earth’s History

Illustration from the recent paper by Olivia Judson on “Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017) “The Energy Expansions of Evolution”.  Olivia Judson published a very interesting paper this March on “Nature Ecology & Evolution“. It is a wonderful cavalcade along 4 billion years of the history of the Earth, seeing it in terms of five “metabolic revolutions.” It is an approach that goes in[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Alternative Energy
Mining The Asteroids: How Desperate Can We Become?

Mining The Asteroids: How Desperate Can We Become?

It seems that, when we are in trouble, we tend to revert to our childhood memories, seen as happy times that, somehow, could return. That may explain why President Trump is dreaming of an impossible return to coal. He may see the idea through his memories of childhood as a time of happy miners and prosperous families. Some others, instead,[Read More…]

Benito Mussolini: Italy's leader for more than 20 years, met an ignominious end in 1945. It is a story that can illustrate what I called the "The Camper's Dilemma", how deception may be an operational strategy for governments and for elites.

When Governments Operate In “Cheating Mode”: Italy During WWII

How you react to a threat depends on how serious you consider it. Small or moderate threats don’t deserve a strong reaction, while extreme, “existential” threats generate emergency measures. In between, there is an intermediate threat zone where you can think that it is a good idea to save yourself by cheating. It is what I called the “camper’s dilemma.”[Read More…]

What Can Governments Hide From Us? Lessons From WWII

What Can Governments Hide From Us? Lessons From WWII

Governments are not known to be benevolent organizations. On the contrary, when it is question of ensuring their own survival, they are ruthless. And they are well known to lie to people. The case of the “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq is well known but, at least, eventually it became clear that it was a lie: these weapons didn’t[Read More…]

The Senecca Cliff

Climate, Fossil Fuels, Resources And All That

This interview was recorded this February and is reported here from the site of the European Project MEDEAS, only minimally edited. Take into account that none of the people involved (interviewers and interviewed) are native English speakers and you can understand why the grammar and the syntax are, well, let’s just say “not perfect”. Then, as in all non-edited interviews, the[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Resource Crisis
“Peak Hats.” Social Change And The Coming Demise of Private Cars

“Peak Hats.” Social Change And The Coming Demise of Private Cars

For a long time, hats were oversized and expensive status symbols more than tools for protecting people’s heads. During the past half century or so, they have nearly disappeared. A similar destiny may befall on private cars, also oversized and expensive status symbols rather than tools for transporting people. With the disappearance of cars, we may see hats coming back. [Read More…]

Make The Anthill Great Again! The Ant Colony And The Human Ones

Make The Anthill Great Again! The Ant Colony And The Human Ones

Image above: the 1998 movie “AntZ”. This post was inspired by a post by Antonio Turiel titled “Of Ants and Men” where he used the example of an ant to discuss the difficulties that humans have to perceive the real problems facing humankind today. Here, I examine again, a little more in depth, the same issue. Imagine yourself as an[Read More…]

The Apple And The Ant

The Apple And The Ant

Antonio Turiel keeps what I think is one of the best blogs in the world (perhaps the best) dedicated to energy and fossil fuels: The Oil Crash. Too bad that, despite the title, the blog is written in Spanish. But if you can read Spanish or are willing to spend some time to decipher a Google translation, then you can truly[Read More…]

Go Electric, Young Man! The Story of the Electric Fiat "500"

Go Electric, Young Man! The Story of the Electric Fiat “500”

Some ten years ago, myself and my friend Pietro Cambi had the weird idea of “retrofitting” Pietro’s old Fiat 500, turning it into an electric car. To understand why we embarked in such a task, you have to consider that we were (and are) both “peak oilers”; but also we were (and are) both Italian and the Fiat 500 is[Read More…]

Crimea: From World War 0 To World War III

Crimea: From World War 0 To World War III

Today, we remember little about what we call the Crimean war (1853-1856), even though it was the largest war ever fought in history up to that moment. It prefigured many of the elements that would later reappear in the two world wars of the 20th century, so much that we might call it “World War 0.” It included fossil fuels[Read More…]

Why EROEI Matters: The Role Of Net Energy In The Survival Of Civilization

Why EROEI Matters: The Role Of Net Energy In The Survival Of Civilization

A lively debate is ongoing on what should be the minimum energy return for energy invested (EROEI) in order to sustain a civilization. Clearly, one always wants the best returns for one’s investments. And, of course, investing in something that provides a return smaller than the investment is a bad idea. So, a civilization grows and prosper on the net[Read More…]

"While there may be a tendency to be complacent about the recurring record temperatures, with each month come more climate-related consequences that cannot be ignored, and they make for big news stories," writes Astrid Caldas of the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Photo: Francesco Bonito Oliva/flickr/cc)

MEDEAS: The Next Step After The Paris Climate Agreement

Let me start with something to dispel the confusion about what models are for. When you deal with complex, adaptive systems, models are NOT meant to predict the future. As John Gall said in his book on complex systems, “systems always kick back” – to which I may add, “and sometimes they kick back with a vengeance“. (another way to[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Climate Change
Checkmated OnThe “Climate Pause”: The Mistakes Scientists Make

Checkmated OnThe “Climate Pause”: The Mistakes Scientists Make

David Rose popularized the concept of the “pause” in global warming in a 2012 article on the Daily Mail. There never was such a thing, but it became a highly successful meme (*), still widely cited today as proof that global warming doesn’t exist or it is nothing to be worried about. By now, the rapid rising temperatures of the[Read More…]

Trump: The Defeat Of Science

Trump: The Defeat Of Science

Defeats are supposed to teach people how to do better; in theory. In practice, it often happens that defeats teach people how to become masters in blame-shifting. With some exceptions, this seems to have been the main result of the recent defeat of the Democrats in the 2016 presidential election, where we saw a truly spasmodic search for culprits: Putin,[Read More…]

Amelie The Amoeba: How Things Grow

Amelie The Amoeba: How Things Grow

This academic year, I gave a lesson on the growth mechanism of complex systems. It is a fascinating subject that can be applied to several fields, from biology to economics. Since the students I was talking to were not specializing in complex systems (they were students of geology), I used a light tone and used “Amelie the Amoeba” an image[Read More…]

Carbon Capture Finally Cracked? Why You Can’t Fight Climate Change With Coke or Pepsi

Carbon Capture Finally Cracked? Why You Can’t Fight Climate Change With Coke or Pepsi

Some time ago, I found myself trying to explain to a journalist why I opposed CO2 mining in Tuscany. I said something like, “it makes no sense that the regional government spends money to reduce CO2 emissions and, at the same time, allows this company to extract CO2 that, otherwise, would stay underground.” “But”, the journalist said, “I have interviewed[Read More…]

Bringing Back Science Into The Fold Of Humanism

Bringing Back Science Into The Fold Of Humanism

Yesterday, I was invited to give a talk at a public meeting on the usual themes: climate change, resources, pollution, and the like. This time, a question I received from the audience caused me a small enlightenment that I am describing here as I remember it (h/t Lorenzo Citti for having organized this interesting meeting)  Thanks for this question –[Read More…]

The Trump Effect: Is Climate Change Denialism On The Rise?

The Trump Effect: Is Climate Change Denialism On The Rise?

  The results of a search for “climate hoax” on Google Trends  Google Trends shows a remarkable spike in the interest for the coupled terms “climate” and “hoax”. Does that mean that people are becoming more skeptical about climate science? Or simply more interested in the subject? On this point, Google Trends tells us that there has been no special[Read More…]

John Glenn (1921-2016): The End Of An Era

John Glenn (1921-2016): The End Of An Era

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, in 1962. It was the start of the adventure that led to the lunar landing in 1969; only seven years later. It was an age of enthusiasm and of great expectations; a time that, today, looks remote. The conquest of space may have been made possible by the high energy[Read More…]

Italy’s Referendum: The Great Defeat Of Matteo Renzi, As Commented By Leon Tolstoy

Italy’s Referendum: The Great Defeat Of Matteo Renzi, As Commented By Leon Tolstoy

There is a clear parallel between the results of the Italian constitutional referendum of Dec 4th, 2016 and those of the Brexit referendum and the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the US. In all cases, we saw devastating failures for the mainstream media. People refused to listen to the messages beamed to them. They had the feeling of being swindled[Read More…]

Climate Science Communication: Trust Begets Trust

Climate Science Communication: Trust Begets Trust

Why are we failing at communicating the danger of climate change? Maybe people don’t have enough information? (This is the “information deficit” model). Or maybe they have too much information? (This is called the “cultural cognition” model). Or maybe they are not getting the right information? Or there is something else that’s wrong? Without going into the details of the[Read More…]

Peak Oil In A Fact-Free World: The New “Oil Bonanza” In West Texas

Peak Oil In A Fact-Free World: The New “Oil Bonanza” In West Texas

So, the USGS comes out with a press release that the media immediately diffuse in terms of a great discovery: 20 billion barrels, somewhere in Texas in a place called “Wolfcamp”.  Bloomberg multiplies the number by the current oil price and comes up with a title that reads: “A $900 billion Oil Treasure,” for a piece that tells of “bonanza”[Read More…]

Tiffany’s Fallacy: The Mineral Pie Is Shrinking, And Most Of What’s Left Is In The Sky

Tiffany’s Fallacy: The Mineral Pie Is Shrinking, And Most Of What’s Left Is In The Sky

In the debates that deal with energy and fossil fuels, it is rather common to read or hear statements such as “oil will last for 50 years at the current rate of production.” You can also hear that “we still have one thousand years of coal” (Donald Trump stated exactly that during the US presidential campaign of 2016). When these[Read More…]

Jay Forrester: The Man Who Saw The Future

Jay Forrester: The Man Who Saw The Future

Jay Wright Forrester (1918-2016) may have been the source of inspiration for Hari Seldon, a fictional character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In Asimov’s novels, Seldon develops “pyschohistoric equations” that allow him to predict the impending collapse of the Galactic Empire. In the real world, Forrester developed “system dynamics equations” that allowed him to predict the impending collapse of the[Read More…]

Why Do The Poor Vote For The Rich? Trump, Berlusconi, And The Empire Of Lies

Why Do The Poor Vote For The Rich? Trump, Berlusconi, And The Empire Of Lies

The results of the US elections were not so surprising for me: after all, I live in a country where politics has been dominated by a financial tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi, for more than 20 years. Berlusconi and Trump share many characteristics, but the most curious one is that they are rich and that the poor vote for them. Why is[Read More…]

The Mother Of All Promises And How Science Failed To Maintain It

The Mother Of All Promises And How Science Failed To Maintain It

In the 1950s, during the high times of the “atomic age”, someone had the unfortunate idea of claiming that nuclear technologies would give us, one day, “energy too cheap to meter.” We might call it “the mother of all promises” and, of course, it was not maintained. But, as propaganda often does, it stuck in people’s minds and it seems[Read More…]

Kite surfing on the IJsselmeer lake, in the Netherlands; a picture that I took a couple of weeks ago. These are not kites for airborne wind energy (AWE) but, for some reason, Holland is the country where the idea of energy kites seems to be most popular; in particular because of the work of the late Wubbo Ockels (1946 – 2014), pioneer of wind energy. The technology is promising, but there is a long way to go before it will become a commercial reality.

An AWEsome Energy Source: Where Do We Stand With Airborne Wind Energy?

I have been following the development of airborne wind energy (AWE) for more than 10 years and I keep following it. This summer, I visited the campus of the Technical University of Delft, in Holland, where I met the people of “Enevate”, the university spinoff dedicated to kite power, a field in which the university of Delft has been active[Read More…]

Creative Collapsing: A Way To Avoid The Climate Disaster

Creative Collapsing: A Way To Avoid The Climate Disaster

Illustration from the paper “The Sower’s Way.” by Sgouridis, Csala and Bardi  recently published in the IOP Environmental Research Letters journal. The main points of the paper are summarized in a previous post. Note how fast the production of energy must fall in order to prevent temperatures from rising above the 2°C limit. It is a true “Seneca collapse“, necessary[Read More…]

An Asteroid Called “Peak Oil” – The Real Cause Of The Growing Social Inequality In The US

An Asteroid Called “Peak Oil” – The Real Cause Of The Growing Social Inequality In The US

In a recent article on the Huffington Post, Stan Sorscher reports the graph above and asks the question of what could have happened in the early 1970s that changed everything. Impressive, but what caused this “something” that happened in the early 1970s? According to Sorscher, X marks the spot. In this case, “X” is our choice of national values. We[Read More…]

Depletion: If A Jellyfish Stings You, You Know Why

Depletion: If A Jellyfish Stings You, You Know Why

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine showed me three bright red stripes she had on her arm. It was the result of an unfortunate encounter with a jellyfish while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, it has become a normal occurrence; it seems to be normal that, when you swim in the sea, you have to maintain[Read More…]

Lessons From The Failed Coup In Turkey

Lessons From The Failed Coup In Turkey

 About two thousand years ago, the Romans had developed the most effective military apparatus seen before in history and, with it, they had created a vast empire. However, with the first century before our era, they found that they had a problem: their stupendous military power was going out of control. One of the warlords of that time, Julius Caesar,[Read More…]

The Real EROI Of Photovoltaic Systems: Professor Charles Hall Weighs In

The Real EROI Of Photovoltaic Systems: Professor Charles Hall Weighs In

Charles Hall is known for his multiple and important contributions in the field of sustainability, and in particular for having introduced the concept of Energy Return on Energy Investment, EROI or EROEI. He is now emeritus and still active in research; among other things as chief editor of the new Springer journal: “Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, BERQ. Here, he[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Alternative Energy
A 100% Renewable World Is Possible? A Poll Among Experts

A 100% Renewable World Is Possible? A Poll Among Experts

I am reporting here the results of a small survey that I carried out last week among the members of a discussion forum; mainly experts in renewable energy (*). It was a very informal poll; not meant to have statistical value. But some 70 people responded out of a total of 167 members; so I think these results have a[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Alternative Energy
Why Joe The Plumber Doesn’t Want Renewable Energy

Why Joe The Plumber Doesn’t Want Renewable Energy

Joe the plumber is a real person, but also an abstraction for the troubled American blue collar worker. In a previous post, I argued that a global transition to 100% renewable energy would be very expensive, but possible and that it could also be fast enough to avoid exceeding the emission targets set by the COP21. This opinion triggered the[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Alternative Energy
But What’s The REAL Energy Return Of Photovoltaic Energy?

But What’s The REAL Energy Return Of Photovoltaic Energy?

Some time ago, a colleague of mine told me the story of when he had been in charge of the installation ofone of the first photovoltaic plants in Italy, in 1984 (shown in the figure, on the right). He told me that, shortly after the installation, a high-ranking politician came to visit the plant. As a demonstration, my colleague connected[Read More…]

by Comments are Disabled Alternative Energy