By Ugo Bardi: The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions: How to destroy the world’s forests


Here we have a glimpse of what fossil energy scarcity will do to the environment in the not too distant future. Poor people will do whatever it takes to eat and stay warm. Other species will decline even faster than they do today. Your own land will not be safe.

And we somehow think a one child policy is too barbaric to even discuss. Idiots, all of us.

h/t Michael Dowd

Then, there came the 21st century and with it the increasing costs of fossil fuels. Prices have been going up and down, generating occasional screams of “centuries of abundance.” But, by now, nobody sane in their mind can miss the fact that the old times of cheap fuels will not come back. One consequence has been the diffusion of pellet-fueled stoves in Italy, often done in the name of “saving the environment.” (figure on the right, source) Theoretically, wood pellets are a renewable fuel – but only theoretically. If they are consumed faster than trees can regrow, they are not. And the appetite of Italy for pellets is insatiable: Italians consume 40% of all the pellet burned in Europe while Italy produces only about 10% of the wood it burns.

With the housing market stagnating, someone was bound to realize that the only remaining source of profit from the land would come from turning forests into pellets. The consequence is the just approved evil piece of legislation. All in the name of the universally agreed concept that a tree is worth something only after it is felled, the new law gives to local administrations the power to cut everything, when they want, as they want. Let me leave the description of this disaster to my friend and colleague Jacopo Simonetta, writing in a recent post in “apocalottimismo”.

[The law] says that if the landlords refuse to cut the woods they own, the local administrators can occupy – even without the landlord’s agreement – the land and leave the “productive recovery” (that is the cutting of the trees) to companies or cooperatives of their choice (which means, “the friends of their friends”). And not just that. The companies which obtain the grant to cut the trees will provide economic compensation to the city administration in a form that the administration will define. For example, new streets, new parking lots, new street lighting, or anything the mayor will deem necessary for his or her electoral campaign. Or in the form of money, this time to the regional government, in order to “cash in” something – as people say.


You may wonder whether anyone in Italy is speaking against such a horrible law; shouldn’t the government protect people’s property, including woods? In practice, just a few of the usual suspects have been protesting: environmental associations, a few experts, university professors, and the like – all people without any real power in the Italian society. From everybody else, especially at the political level, the silence has been deafening.

It is understandable: fighting this law implies going against an unholy alliance of 1) local politicians looking for funds for their re-election, 2) people living in the countryside, desperate for a revenue of some kind, of any kind, and 3) city dwellers who want low-cost pellets to warm their homes. And if you are thinking of defending a forest you believe should not be destroyed, you don’t need to live in places where mafia rules to understand that “they” know where your children go to school.

In the end, it is all the result of the harsh law of EROI the energy return on energy invested. Humans exploit first the resources which give them the best yield (high EROI) and, in the recent history, these resources have been fossil fuels. Then, they move to progressively lower EROI resources. Now, it is the turn of woods in Italy, but it is not limited to Italy. Most civilization of the past fell together with a wave of deforestation that destroyed their last resources. Ours is not different, why should it be?


2 thoughts on “By Ugo Bardi: The road to the Seneca Cliff is paved with evil intentions: How to destroy the world’s forests”

  1. More on energy from wood and biomass…

    “The industrial revolution may come to be regarded not as a beneficial event which liberated mankind from the shackles which limited growth possibilities in all organic economies but as the precursor of an overwhelming tragedy – assuming that there are still survivors to tell the tale.”


    1. If it is possible that the local mafia have a longer-term view of their family business than the local politicians, perhaps the mafia can be engaged to protect the forest. It doesn’t seem likely, but someone told me today that the mafia now provide more resistance to illegal immigration than anyone else in Italy. When the politicians are sufficiently corrupt, the mafia look more and more legitimate. Alternatively, an authoritarian leader, such as Jrujillo in the Dominican Republic (as Jared Diamond describes in Collapse), may manage a forest for his own long-term gains, and preserve the ecosystem for all as a healthy byproduct.


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