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Can we predict collapses before they happen? What we learned from the pandemic

General Ideas

Before the CollapseMy 2019 book “Before the Collapse.” In it, I examined several scenarios of the future of humankind. Was I able to predict the current pandemic? Of course not in the details, but I think that I did note an important facet of the story: epidemics are never very deadly when they come alone. They become true killers only when they are associated with famines.  In the case of the current coronavirus pandemic, the human population is not so badly debilitated by famines that we should have expected disasters comparable to those caused by ancient epidemics. So, we could have been better prepared if we had paid more attention to history. But the main thing we learn from history is that people never learn from history. And so it goes. This post includes a review of the book written by Daniel Ruiz.

After nearly one year from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, we can say that, at the very least, we learned a lot from it. One lesson was that we should be much more careful about “model hubris”, to think that because a model is complex and detailed, it can predict the future. This problem is well described in a recent paper by Saltelli et al. in a recent paper in “Nature.”

But perhaps the most important lesson we learned was how easy the future can surprise us and how our perception of it can be remote from reality. We tend to judge on the basis of our past experience, but our mental models are often poorly calibrated. When the COVID-19 started diffusing in the West, many people panicked, some seemed to think that it really was the end of the world. Maybe they had in mind as a model the great plague of the Middle Ages, an image that has been with us for centuries.

As things stand, we can see that the coronavirus pandemic will be very far from being as deadly as ancient epidemics were. It is said that the “black plague” killed maybe 50% of the population of Europe during the 14th century, perhaps even more than that. For the current “plague” caused by the coronavirus, we may estimate that, if the current trends continue, the world may see perhaps 2 million deaths (we are now at about one million). For a world population of nearly 8 billion people, it is such a small number (about 0.025%) that it is even difficult to visualize it. Just to frame the number in context, consider that every year, there die in the world some 60 million people (and 140 million are born!). For a virus that has caused so much concern, it is surely an anticlimactic result.

But why such a big difference? Why the little SARS-COV 2 fared so poorly (from the viewpoint of the pathogen) in comparison with the Yersinia pestisthe bacterium that causes the bubonic plague during the Middle Ages? And why doesn’t the deadly Yersinia return? It has not disappeared, it is reported to have caused more than 500 victims during the past few years. But it does not spread. 

It is said that it was Paul Samuelson who said “When events change, I change my models. What do you do?  (I changed one word). This is what we should do, too.

On this point, I can tell you that I examined the question of epidemics in my 2019 book “Before the Collapse” when I described how the world’s population could be partly wiped out by various kinds of disasters. I correctly noted that epidemics are always associated with famines, typically following them. Disastrous pandemics never come alone.

Rethinking this matter more in-depth, it seems more and more clear to me that an epidemic can hardly affect populations of people who are well-nourished and in good physical conditions. That’s especially after I started looking into the concept of “holobiont” and noting that we are true walking bags of bacteria and viruses, most of them harmless, many beneficial, but some potentially harmful — even deadly — but normally they remain dormant.

But all that is needed to set these little critters in motion is that your body is weakened by something. A whole population can be debilitated by hunger and then it becomes an easy target for normally harmless creatures. That was the case of the Medieval plague that followed a period of extensive famines in Europe. Today, evidently, the 8 billion human beings living on this planet are still well-fed enough that they can fend off the attacks by most viruses and bacteria. For how long, it is all to be seen.

And here is a review by Daniel Ruiz of “Before the Collapse.” It deals not just with famines and epidemics, but with a lot more things!


Book review: Before the Collapse. A Guide to the Other Side of Growth, Ugo Bardi (2019)

The overshoot of human activity is driving the planet from the stability of the Holocene to the instability of the Anthropocene. This includes physical changes like global warming, extinction of species, pollution, pandemics, rising oceans, wildfires, as well as other more directly human-driven catastrophes like the risk of nuclear war, mass migration, economic crises, resource depletion, or inequality. This perspective has encouraged the Academia to develop the new science of Collapsology, among whom Ugo Bardi is a pioneer.

Bardi presents Before the Collapse as a mainstream version of his previous book, The Seneca Effect (2017). He refers to the Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca, who first theorized on collapse as a natural phenomenon rather than supranatural. Bardi clarifies that this fast and unexpected degradation is a feature of any complex system: health, careers, marriages, enterprises, banks, armies, economies, civilizations, resources, ecosystems, solid objects, etc., and regrets that our culture has not yet developed a “science of collapse” due to our blind belief in infinite growth. The purpose of the book is to analyse the phenomenon of collapse as well as to prepare for the aftermath. He proposes a “Seneca Strategy” to confront collapse: Attention, Avoidance (be prepared), Mitigation, Exploitation (get rid of the obsolete structures).

In the first Chapter Bardi insists on the necessity of models to help understand complex reality. These models should not be based on a heuristic/statistic method of projecting the past into the future, but on the scientific method which consists of splitting a system into subsystems, analyze them separately, and then build a model of how the whole system works. The climate change models, starting with the Limits to Growth (1972), is a good example of the success of this method. The statistical approach cannot predict tipping points or “black swans” like the economic crisis of 2008 or an eventual runaway greenhouse effect. The scientific approach is particularly important to study systems that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory, like climate. The models are then used to build future scenarios. Bardi points out that some politicians tend to ignore models for emotional reasons, or to hide their own mistakes, or because they are badly advised, or for “groupthink” or for “doom fatigue”.

Chapter 2 describes Sciences behind Complex Systems and Collapses. The science of complex systems only developed in the second half of the 20th century, as soon as adequate tools like computers were available. In the past, physical science could only describe systems with single equations. A system is considered complex if it contains energy and shows strong feedback effects, which can be enhancing or damping. Bardi defines the most important jargon of the complex systems field, like forcing, feedback, attractor, tipping point, carrying capacity, overshoot. Complex systems have the basic characteristics of living beings because they dissipate energy potentials through the trophic chain. EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) gives a measure of the efficiency of the system. The MEP (Maximum Entropy Production) principle says that energy potentials dissipate fast. Only Networks can be complex systems. Bardi also explains some of the jargon of the network science like node, link, size, density, degree, clustering coefficient, topology, etc. Networks can have many arrangements, like: connected, lattice, random, fully-connected or cellular. Bardi introduces Amelia the Amoeba, which reproduces slowly in the Petri dish and then collapses of starvation and suffocation in its own excreta, as a metaphor for the way complex systems behave. Some of the possible growth modes of complex systems are: exponential, logistical, bell shaped or collapsing:

Chapter 3 is about the practice of collapse. It starts with the collapse of the Genoa cable-stayed Morandi bridge in 2018 as an example of the collapse of Engineered Structures. Bardi then describes how Financial Collapses happen: the very nature of money, through the stresses of the “market”, leads to debt and eventually to insolvency and bankruptcy. Bardi illustrates the process of Natural Disasters with the example of the Florence flood of 1966, and points out that large disasters are not frequent but cause massive damage. Regarding Mineral Collapses, Bardi elaborates on oil, which is scarce, has increasing extraction costs and is being outcompeted by renewable energies. Bardi also concludes, based on historical records, that Human Violence it is an inherent feature of the present human culture. Concerning Famines, Starvation and Depopulation, Bardi thinks that humans have been able to dramatically increase their population in recent centuries thanks to fossil fuels, but that this should change with the end of cheap energy and the depletion of fertile soil. Civilizations have arisen from the availability of abundant and cheap natural resources and they should collapse due to the “diminishing returns of complexity” and the rising costs of resources and pollution. According to Dmitri Orlov, the Soviet Union followed the pattern of financial, commercial, political, social and cultural collapses. However the ultimate collapse is that of the Ecosystem, with the best science available warning that we are on track for a temperature rise of 3-4ºC over the next decades, and that tipping points could push the planet into the condition of “hothouse earth”.

Chapter 4 deals with the Strategies for Managing the Collapse. Bardi starts by clarifying that production cannot be driven by technological progress only, but by the input of energy and resources. He advocates for fossil fuels to be used to develop renewable energies.

The Iago (from Shakespeare´s Othello) Strategy analyses how some evil individuals have imposed their interests to the rest of humanity through a mix of deception and force. Climate change denial by the elites is a good example of it. The present economic system, founded on greed, is also critiqued: it reduces the functioning of the world to the mechanics of the market, advocating for the overexploitation of finite resources while relying on hypothetical “backstop resources”, and endeavours to isolate the individuals in order to prevent collective action to protect the planet.

The next section deals with how to control the collapse of complex systems, and introduces the last Roman Empress Galla Placidia who, instead of trying to avoid the inevitable end of the Empire, helped to transition European society to the medieval system. The Edo period of Japan is another example of how a society can be prosperous without growth.

The last section develops the concept of the Seneca Rebound as the recovery after collapse. European society, after the four recorded historical collapses managed to rebound because the reduction of the population facilitated the restoration of energy sources in the shape of fertile soil and forests. Hopefully the next rebound, after the end of the fossil fuel era, will be energized by renewable sources.

Through a balanced mix of physical science and cultural references, Bardi announces in a clear and amenable manner the collapse that looms our civilization. With stoicism and ironic humour, he advises us not to resist the inevitable at all cost, but rather to get prepared for the next rebound. A second edition of this extremely interesting book, with additional editing and translation to other languages, would be highly welcome.

Cassandra’s legacy

30 Comments on "Can we predict collapses before they happen? What we learned from the pandemic"

  1. DT on Fri, 16th Oct 2020 10:23 am 

    I predict many predictions shall come forth, most soon to be forgotten, or mocked outright when they do not come to pass.

  2. makati1 on Fri, 16th Oct 2020 5:40 pm 

    Sorry! The Amerikan Collapse has been ongoing for the last 49 years and, especially, the last 20 years. This flu bullshit has just pulled back the curtain for all to see. The bumpy road will get much worse in the near future. Buckle up and Prep!

    Why 49 years? 1971 is when Nixon took the world off the gold standard and started printing faux money. Now we will pay the price for that greed.

  3. DT on Fri, 16th Oct 2020 6:51 pm 

    One might even argue that the gold standard was ruined in 1933 when it was made illegal to hold gold outside of jewelry. This meant that one could no longer exchange gold certificates for bullion nor have US gold coins in an individuals possession. The next step taken was to remove all silver in coins starting around 1964. By the time 1971 rolled around it was well over except for the formalities. The petro dollar was born out of necessity by the US to keep world hegemony and military power in place to back up the fiat currency.

  4. Theedrich on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 1:12 am 

    America was founded by religious nuts. This should not be forgotten.  It was not plain-vanilla European Protestantism, tempered by national cultures, which informed the “Pilgrims” and “Puritans” who arrived on barely seaworthy sailing ships.  It was fanatics who were bent on creating a “new Jerusalem”:  a utopia.

    This otherworldly fantasy has characterized what became the Yankee mindset lasting ever since.  Utopianism necessarily leads to bloodsoaked fratricide.  The French revolution of 1789, inspired by the American one of 1776, the Communist revolution of 1917, and the Chinese Communist revolution of 1948 are all examples of this demonic possession, whose aim was slaughter, not improvement of some sort.  After all, you need creative destruction in order to build utopia.

    Hence the American tendency to engage in missionary wars:  annihilate countries of high civilization in order to perfect them.  Destroy the village in order to save it.

    Listen carefully to the Marxist declarations about the reasons why their agents are rioting, destroying, looting.  They do not intend to shrink from killing, given the chance.  Annihilation first, paradise afterward.

    These are the creatures who are infiltrating from the “socialist” camp into the Democrat Party, which is today little more than a massive crime syndicate.  At its head is a senile bribe-ocrat whose crackhead son has been stealthily supplying him with foreign bribe money for years.  The tottering, doddering old fool could not care less about the country he is duping.  And the millions of parasites who demand utopia do not care about the fact that he is selling them out.  They do not wish to acknowledge that they are trying to run away from themselves.  And that is why collapse is inevitable.

    The more things change, the more they remain the same.

  5. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 3:51 am 

    Slowly but surely we get Corona under control:

    “Scientists say up to one million Brits could be tested per day before Christmas as manufacturers get closer to developing coronavirus test that delivers results in just 15 minutes”

    Simple swap in the mouth, reliable results in 15 minutes. Cheap. In the Netherlands they have a breathing-test, like the police uses for alcohol-checks.

    Now the authorities have no arguments anymore to distribute “corona-passports”, to be renewed every month or so and gives you access to restaurants, shops, workplace, while observing hygiene and social distancing. In case of plane travel you can be allowed on board if you have done the test one hour in advance at the airport. Large events like in soccer stadiums will have to wait.

  6. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 4:15 am 

    Multicult latest: Parisian teacher *** decapitated *** after he had shown Mohamed cartoons.

    Eastern Europe got rid of bolshevism, we’ll get rid of multicult and diversity, eventually. Gonna be much messier though than “1989-1991”, because bolshevism can be abolished with a stroke of a pen, with multicult you unfortunately can’t. You’re stuck with it, even if you abolish the program and propaganda.

  7. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 7:45 am 

    CNN salivating about what they could do to Trump if he loses:

    More motivation for Trump to simply deny he lost, if that would be the case, and hold on to power, do white America a last service and create the conditions to break up the country.

    “There will be civil unrest, dead civilians”

  8. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 12:07 pm 

    Trump dealing a blow to the senator of Nebraska, a Ben Sasse (j-dar turns on automatically, triggered by this name):

    “The least effective of our 53 Republican Senators, and a person who truly doesn’t have what it takes to be great, is Little Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a State which I have gladly done so much to help.
    @SenSasse was as nice as a RINO can be until he recently won the Republican….”

    You can say what you want about Trump, but he has the correct enemies: the kosher media and even heebs in his own party.


  9. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 12:19 pm 

    Boris Johnson is efficiently maneuvered into a no-deal Brexit, but he doesn’t seem to grasp that yet and tries to put the EU under pressure, to no avail, even if the EU keeps pretending they are interested in a deal, “if only…”:

    “Deutsche Politik zeigt sich unbeeindruckt von Johnsons Drohungen”

    (“German politics unimpressed with Johnson’s threats”)

    BoJo wants a “Canada-agreement”, but will get an “Australia-agreement”, meaning no deal at all.

    The French are even less impressed. The French know they can belong to an insider club of three nations, that together can become the Next Global #1 (France, Germany and Russia, the old Gaullist dream), taking over from the US. England is only walking in the way for that aim.

    The Westminster elite was completely and unexpectedly wrong-footed by its own populace in 2016 and is now facing the dismemberment of its country (put together by the Dutch army in the years after 1688) and could be replaced by a new “Celtic Tiger” (reunited Ireland, Scotland and Wales), with England descending to the league of the likes of Spain and Poland (but outside the EU):

    The “Celtic Tiger” could constitute within the EU a block (community of interests), comparable to the Germanic “Hanseatic League”, Latin “Club Med” and Slavic “Visegrad”:

  10. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 2:11 pm 

    “America’s Approaching Crack-Up – Great Invu with James Howard Kunstler (Audio)“

    Two of the greatest heroes both believe that the US will fall apart.

    Heinberg. United States: An Obituary
    It is reasonable to ask whether the United States will continue to exist as a unified nation for much longer.

  11. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 2:23 pm 

    “Irish newspaper calls for union between Ireland, Wales and Scotland“

    If the future is “identitarian”, a Celtic League is a possibility.

    “Celtic League“, founded in 1961.

    “Could a Celtic Union work?“


  12. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 3:37 pm 

    “EXCLUSIVE: Chinese Whistleblower Reveals Hunter Biden “Sex Tapes” Contain Video of Joe Biden’s Son Sexually ABUSING Multiple Under-Age Chinese Teens“

    Not a single ref in the MSM.

    Oh dear…. Qanon and its pedophile allegations.

  13. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 4:15 pm 

    The New York Post was the source of the Hunter Biden story and his multiple child abuse:

    “Joe Biden’s polling lead slips in wake of Post report on Hunter”

    Could easily kill Biden’s campaign.

  14. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 4:52 pm 

    The US isn’t the only country that could break-up:

    “Towards a Celtic Union?”

  15. Bochen787 on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:05 pm 

    cloggie, the US is not going to break up China is!

  16. Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:13 pm 

    “cloggie, the US is not going to break up China is!”

    That’s not bochen787, but some American.

  17. I AM THE MOB on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:24 pm 


    How much time do you spend a day and week here?

    Posting meanliness internet schizo trying to convince himself.


  18. bochen787 on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:32 pm 

    Same faggot is stealing my identity again… Phuck Amerikkka

    I love CHINA

  19. zero juan on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 6:24 pm 

    Widdle juanPpee everyone know you are Bo Chen the dumbass. You just look sillier by the day. I myself love to laugh at you!

    bochen787 said Same faggot is stealing my identity again… P…

    zero davy said widdle daVvee juan, you look stupid when you prete…

  20. makati1 on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 6:44 pm 

    Interesting how Westerners love to think that they will survive and the rest of the world will go to hell. Such hypocrisy and denial can only happen to a failed idea. The idea being a capitalist democracy, both of which NEVER existed!

    Don’t they read? Well, I mean real news and facts in the real world? I don’t think so! What do they think THE GREAT RESET means? It is the same meaning that I have been calling THE GREAT LEVELING where the West is brought down to the level of the rest of the world. Think Bangladesh or Mumbai. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    I guess denial is less painful…until that 4X4 of reality smacks them to their knees. Oh well. Greatly deserved.

  21. FamousDrScanlon on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 6:54 pm 

    America Has A Secret Weapon

  22. FamousDrScanlon on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 7:05 pm 

    Watch that video above next time y’all ‘plandemic’ ‘anti-vaxxers & maskers can’t understand why the civilized & educated world laughs at you & your never ending victim narratives/conspiracies.

    The anti-vaxx agenda of ‘Plandemic’

    “The first clip’s interview subject, Judy Mikovits, is a known anti-vaxxer.

    This agenda-based film features contradictory evidence and false claims while being championed as a beacon of truth.

    Said clip features former researcher Judy Mikovits, who has become a minor celebrity on the anti-vaxx circuit. Her interview doubles as a promotion for her latest book, which is based on an ongoing war she’s waging with Dr. Anthony Fauci. Her Twitter feed is filled with anti-Fauci rhetoric alongside glee that Donald Trump is now listening to her. She has explicitly called for the entire leadership of the COVID-19 response team to be fired.

    Mikovits’ story is not unlike Andrew Wakefield’s, the discredited British physician who was paid to invent the vaccine-autism “conspiracy.” In 2011, Mikovits attempted to link a newly discovered retrovirus to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, only to partially retract the paper after the study could not be replicated. The journal, Science, later fully retracted Mikovits’ paper, just as The Lancet had done with Wakefield’s research (which also could not be replicated). In 2017, Mikovits published a book on retroviruses and…autism.

    (Interestingly, in “Plandemic,” Mikovits wants to end the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows federal funding recipients to file patents on inventions they’ve created. She cites a conflict of interest regarding Fauci. There is no mention of Wakefield’s filing a patent for a measles vaccine while he was trying to discredit existing vaccines.)”

  23. zero davy on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 7:14 pm 

    Widdle daVvee everyone know you are zero juan the dumbass. You just look sillier by the day. Everyone loves to laugh at you!

  24. zero juan on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 7:15 pm 

    PPee juan, silly, you are not famous. You are stupid and low IQ

    FamousDrScanlon said Watch that video above next time y’all ̵…

    FamousDrScanlon said America Has A Secret Weapon

  25. zero davy on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 7:32 pm 

    Widdle daVvee everyone know FamousDrScanlon is Apneaman, dumbass. You just look sillier by the day. Everyone loves to laugh at you!

  26. zero juan on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 8:05 pm 

    Silly juanPPee you are not famous and Ape man is no more. Lunatic , his is all in your foolish mind

    zero davy said Widdle daVvee everyone know FamousDrScanlon is Apn…

  27. zero davy on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 10:25 pm 

    Silly widdle daVVee you are not sane and JuanP is no more. Lunatic , his is all in your confused widdle mind.

  28. FamousDrScanlon on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 10:59 pm 

    ‘Plandemic’: Was Judy Mikovits Arrested Without a Warrant and Jailed Without Charges?

    The factually-challenged film “Plandemic” is a social media hit with groups such as anti-vaxxers and QAnon conspiracy theorists.


    Researcher Judy Mikovits was arrested without a warrant and jailed without charges for making a controversial scientific discovery.

    Rating -False

    Making shit up every day the political
    Ameri-monkeys are.

    Plandemic is the conservatives version of Russiagate.

    Hysterical widdle monkeys.

  29. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 18th Oct 2020 3:23 am 

    “Bochen787 on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:05 pm

    “cloggie, the US is not going to break up China is!”

    “Abraham van Helsing on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:13 pm

    “I AM THE MOB on Sat, 17th Oct 2020 5:24 pm


    How much time do you spend a day and week here?

    Posting meanliness internet schizo trying to convince himself.


    I’m not all day here. I spend a lot of tie reading the web and if I encounter something that is interesting for the context I post it. Doesn’t cost that much time.

    P.S. if you look at the timestamps of the post you have once again a confirmation that it is mostly IAMTHEFLOP who is doing the identity theft. But that’s perfectly OK. Mobbie, involuntarily and unintentionally is spending his not so valuable time trying to sabotage this board by posting contributions like “woof, woof” or infos about “liquid sharts” and “collapse” and what not, all the while turning this board in a waste land, but at the same time creating the cover for not so political-correct messages to come through. Europeans posting the thoughtful, coherent posts, while Americans like Mobbie posting garbage, preparing the ground for the old geopolitical order to return: Europe first, America second. A bit like this:

    Mobbie, a useful idiot from the start.

  30. zero juan on Sun, 18th Oct 2020 4:20 am 

    silly widdle juanP ran out of juice last not. His chronic depression must be flaring up. Good, a sad widdle juan is a quiet one:

    FamousDrScanlon said ‘Plandemic’: Was Judy Mikovits Arrested Without a…

    zero davy said Silly widdle daVVee you are not sane and JuanP is…

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