"It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid." Lucius Anneaus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, n. 91

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Seneca Effect: how the concept evolved

Reposted from "Cassandra's Legacy"


An image taken at a recent meeting in Barcelona. You can see the evolution of the concept of "collapse", from Malthus to Forrester. The latter can be seen as the true originator of the concept that I call the "Seneca Cliff" or the "Seneca Effect



Malthus (1766 - 1834) is supposed to be the catastrophist in chief, the prophet of doom whose prophecies never came to pass. And yet, if you read what he wrote (not everyone does), you see that he never mentioned the concept, familiar to us, of "civilization collapse". Malthus was perfectly able to imagine pestilences, wars, and famines; all common occurrences at his time. But he wasn't aware of the idea that population could grow well above the "Malthusian limit" and then crash.

The idea of a cyclical pattern of growth and decline came much after Malthus, you find its origins in biological studies, with Lotka and Volterra being perhaps the first to propose it in the form of a mathematical model in the 1920s and 1930s. Later on, in the 1950s, Marion King Hubbert proposed his "bell-shaped" curve for the cycle of production of crude oil in a specific region. For us, it is a relatively well known story even though most people seem to remain convinced that - somehow - growth can go on forever.

Finally, the idea that the bell shaped curve is asymmetric was explicitly expressed in terms of a mathematical model by Jay Forresterin the 1960s, Even though Lucius Annaeus Seneca had already proposed it in qualitative terms long before, Forrester can be seen as the true originator of the concept of "Seneca Cliff."

Over more than a century of work, humankind has developed tools that make us able to face the future. We only have a little problem: we are not using them; our current leaders don't even know that such tools exist. And so, our destiny is to slide down, blindfolded, along the Seneca Cliff.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Those whom the Gods want to destroy, they drive toward the Seneca Cliff



Talking of madness, this piece from the Guardian reaches a nearly sublime level. It is about the Maldives, one of the places of the world most seriously threatened by sea level rise. Really, read it, it is worth savoring every word.

So, what does the Maldivian govenrment decide in order to face the climate threat? That their real goal is "development," in terms of "Riviera-style super-resort with sea sports, six star hotels, high-end housing and several new airports," and "Plans to increase tourism from 1.3 million people a year to more than seven million within 10 years".

And the sea level rise? A threat that, according to IPCC, "could mean 75% of the Maldives being under water by 2100"? Well, according to a government official, it is not going to happen next year. We have immediate needs. Development must go on, jobs are needed."

Not next year, maybe, but take a look at the capital of the archipelago, Malé, and imagine what's going to happen, sooner or later.




Is this an epidemics of brain disease? Or do the Gods really drive crazy those whom they want to destroy?

Maybe. But there is also a perfectly rational explanation for what's happening. Imagine that you are part of the elite of the Maldives. And imagine that you are smart enough to understand what's going on with the Earth's climate. As things stand today, it is clear that it is too late to stop a burst of global warming that will push temperatures so high that nothing will save the Maldives islands. Maybe not next year but in a few decades, it is nearly certain.

So, given the situation, what is the rational thing for you to do? Of course, it is to sell what you can sell as long as you can find a sucker who will buy. Then you can say good riddance to those who remain.

What we are seeing, therefore, is a game in which someone will be left holding the short end of the dynamite stick. When the elites of the Maldives will have left for higher grounds, the poor will be stuck there. For them, the Seneca Cliff ends underwater.



















Monday, June 5, 2017

Are they just scamming us, or are they experimenting with us?




Sometimes I have the impression that they are not just fooling us. They are experimenting with us to see how we react. Do you remember the experiments that Konrad Lorenz would do with geese? Fooling them to follow a puppet as if it were their mother? Something like that.

Sometimes, the sheer amount of idiocy involved in certain messages makes you wonder. See the example above. A "little burp" from Mt. Etna, supposed to have bee spewing "10,000 times" more CO2 into the atmosphere than the whole amount emitted by humankind.

Now, the picture of the volcano seems to be a scam in itself. It comes from a Facebook site defined as "Fantastic World Collection" and the title doesn't seem to promise strict guidelines for presenting only real photos. This one looks heavily retouched, if not completely fake. But that's a minor problem. Consider the text, come on, "10,000 times"? And won't anyone feel the need for a minimal fact check of this number before diffusing this image on Facebook as the obvious proof that human caused climate change is a hoax? And yet, people do that. This photo arrived to my Facebook account with exactly this kind of accompanying message.

That minimal fact check would lead anyone to discover that volcanic eruptions emit, at best, about 1% of the CO2 emitted by humans. This comes from the very first hit on Google on this matter.


So, the claim in the figure with Mount Etna is wrong of about a factor one million. But what's such a little discrepancy among friends? As I noted in another post, the fact that these claims are so blatantly absurd is not a bug, it is a feature. They are not aimed at normal people; they are studied for identifying and selecting suckers. And suckers are very useful for many things, in politics as well as in commerce.

I go a little farther than that and I tend to think some of these absurdities don't even have specific commercial or political purposes. They are experiments, tests to probe the level of human gullibility; designed to collect data that then could be used for more important and darker purposes.

Maybe I am wrong, of course. But, in any case, we seem to have lost control of how reality is connected to our perception of reality. And if you lose your perception of reality, you are heading straight for a steep Seneca Cliff.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The essence of the coming global Seneca Cliff



"The economy is collapsing because it was based on cheap oil, which is no longer cheap to pull out of the ground — despite what you might pay for it at the pump these days. The public is understandably confounded by this. But their mystification does nothing to allay the disappearance of jobs, incomes, prospects, or purpose. They retreat from the pain of loss into a fog of manufactured melodrama featuring superheros and supervillains and supernatural doings."
- James Howard Kunstler


(h/t David Casey)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Simulating peak oil





Not exactly a Seneca cliff, but in the same category. Here, one of my students shows the results of her simulation of resource depletion compared with the classic ASPO projections of peak oil. 

They say that the universe is all a simulation. Here you see the simulation of a simulation

Who