Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: the year the world stood still


Pope Leo I meets Attila the Hun in 450 AD near the Lake of Garda, in Italy. After the meeting, Attila withdrew his army North of the Alps and nobody knows exactly why. Doesn't that remind to you something that happened in 2013? (painting by Raphael )



I don't know if you share my impression, but the truly memorable event of 2013 (*) was, mainly, a non-event: the non-attack to Syria. Everything seemed to be ready and set for a repetition of the same old script: there is this ugly dictator, he gassed his own people, we need humanitarian bombs, etc. In early September, after the usual consensus building campaign, everything was ready to start bombing. Then, strangely, everything quieted down and nobody knows exactly why.

This story reminds me of when Attila's invasion of Italy was stopped after a meeting with pope Leo I, in 450 AD. Also in that case, nobody knows exactly why. The interpretation of Raphael (above) is that Attila was scared by a vision of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords. Who knows what made President Obama change his mind?

We could say that a year of non-events, at least, is a quiet year and that should be good. But don't forget that big events are the result of the accumulation of small events, often perceived as non-events. And there is no doubt that a lot of these small events are accumulating. Depletion, erosion, ocean acidification, global warming, ecosystem disruption and so on. All these events are occurring even though we may perceive them as non-events. One of them is the melting of Arctic ice and the consequent release of methane. That's something that Sam Carana has correctly termed "the biggest story of 2013". If the Arctic methane will released in truly large amounts; then I am afraid it will be such a catastrophe that not even the Pope (and perhaps not even St. Peter and St. Paul with their swords) would be able to stop it. The world never stands still for a long time.


(Below, US methane readings - created by Sam Carana)





(*) That doesn't mean to say that the Hurricane Hayan tragedy in the Philippines was a non-event but, unfortunately, we are getting used to these extreme events as the result of the ongoing worsening of the climate problem


9 comments:

  1. Thank you, Ugo, for ranking the Syrian deal as "the truly memorable event of 2013". We in Russia are proud that our President has contributed strongly to this "non-event". As Lao-tzu put it inaction is a great power.
    Unfortunately, 2013 wasn't a quiet year for Russia, even at the eve of the New Year...

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  2. Maybe President Putin appeared in a dream to President Obama.....

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  3. Why President Obama chose to let Congress weigh in is unclear. At that point the overwhelming US public opinion against intervention ensured that there would be no Congressional approval. At that point he needed a face saving way out of certain home political defeat, took the avenue offered, and declared victory. The US public was in no mood for the war our president and press were proposing.

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  4. The interpretation of Raphael is that Attila was scared by a vision of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords.

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  5. Maybe some other element has entered the equation, like China threatening to set a sellout onslaught of US debt.
    We can also include the fact that people, even in US, cannot be cheated unlimited times with the same trick.

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  6. It reminds me of the war in Bosnia (and Croatia). Several times the world told Serbia it was about to show its teeth, but this never happened. I vividly remember how NATO was one inch away from bombing the criminals who shot grenades on Sarajevo from its hillsides (especially during cease-fires when lots of people would emerge from shelters to quickly buy some food on the market).

    One inch away they were, they were really going to do it. But no, hold on, French president Fran├žois Mitterrand "suddenly" decided to visit the Bosnian capital. We can't bombard when the French president is there! Not even its hillsides that are several kilometres away from the bastard.

    It's all disgusting lip service. In the meantime, everything is decided by century old alliances/ententes and ice cold rationalism. We want oil/pipelines/heroin, bomb the suckers. We don't want a Muslim state in Europe, let the genocide continue.

    Which is fine, but don't do the lip service.

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  7. A sidenote regarding the Serb snipers on the hillsides outside of Sarajevo: Eventually the British sent in their own sniper teams to take some of those out.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)