Thursday, July 29, 2021

We are not in the Holocene Anymore: A World Without Permanent Ice.

The post below is reproduced from my blog "The Proud Holobionts," but I think the subject is compatible with the vision of the "Seneca Effect" blog. Indeed, everything is related on this planet and the concept of "holobiont" can be seen as strictly connected to the concept of "Seneca Cliff." Complex systems, both virtual and real, are networks that can be almost always seen as holobionts in their structure. A collapse, then, is when the network undergoes a chain of link breaking in a process known as the "Griffith fracture mechanism" in engineering (you see that everything is correlated!)
 
This post is also part of the material that myself and Chuck Pezeshki are assembling for a new book that will be titled (provisionally) "Holobiont: the new Science of Collaboration," where we plan to explore how new concepts in biology and network science can combine to give us the key to managing highly complex system: human societies, large and small. And the overarching concept that links all this is one: empathy.

 

 

When the Ice Will be Gone: The Greatest Change Seen on Earth in 30 Million Years.

From: "The Proud Holobionts," July 27, 2021

 

An image from the 2006 movie "The Meltdown," the second of the "Ice Ages" series. These movies attempted to present a picture of Earth during the Pleistocene. Of course, they were not supposed to be paleontology lessons, but they did show the megafauna of the time (mammoths, sabertooth tigers, and others) and the persistent ice, as you see in the figure. The plot of "The Meltdown" was based on a real event: the breakdown of the ice dam that kept the Lake Agassiz bonded inside the great glaciers of the Laurentide, in the North American continent. When the dam broke, some 15,000 years ago, the lake flowed into the sea in a giant flood that changed Earth's climate for more than a thousand years. So, the concept of ice ages as related to climate change is penetrating the human memesphere. It is strange that it is happening just when the human activity is pushing the ecosystem back to a pre-glacial period. If it happens, it will be the greatest change seen on Earth in 30 million years. And we won't be in the Holocene anymore.

 

We all know that there is permanent ice at Earth's poles: it forms glaciers and it covers huge areas of the sea. But is it there by chance, or is it functional in some way to Earth's ecosphere? 

Perhaps the first to ask this question was James Lovelock, the proposer (together with Lynn Margulis) of the concept of "Gaia" -- the name for the great holobiont that regulates the planetary ecosystem. Lovelock has always been a creative person and in his book "Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth" (1979) he reversed the conventional view of ice as a negative entity. Instead, he proposed that the permanent ice at the poles was part of the planetary homeostasis, actually optimizing the functioning of the ecosphere. 

Lovelock was perhaps influenced by the idea that the efficiency of a thermal engine is directly proportional to the temperature differences that a circulating fluid encounters. It may make sense: permanent ice creates large temperature difference between the poles and the equator and, as a consequence, winds and ocean currents are stronger, and the "pumps" that bring nutrients everywhere sustain more life. Unfortunately, this idea is probably wrong, but Lovelock has the merit to have opened the lid on a set of deep questions on the role of permanent ice in the ecosystem. What do we know about this matter?

It took some time for our ancestors to realize that permanent ice existed in large amounts in the high latitude regions. The first who saw the ice sheet of Greenland was probably Eric the Red, the Norwegian adventurer, when he traveled there around the year 1000. But he had no way to know the true extent of the inland ice, and he didn't report about them.

The first report I could find on Greenland's ice sheet is the 1820 "History Of Greenland", a translation of an earlier report (1757) in German by David Crantz, where you can find descriptions of the ice-covered inland mountains. By the early 20th century, the maps clearly showed Greenland as fully ice-covered. About Antarctica, by the end of the 19th century, it was known that it was also fully covered with a thick ice sheet. 

Earlier on, in the mid 19th century, Louis Agassiz had proposed a truly revolutionary idea: that of the ice age. According to Agassiz, in ancient times, much of Northern Europe and North America were covered with thick ice sheets. Gradually, it became clear that there had not been just one ice age, but several, coming and going in cycles. In 1930, Milutin Milankovich proposed that these cycles were linked to periodic variations in the insulation of the Northern Hemisphere, in turn caused by cycles in Earth's motion. For nearly a million years, Earth was a sort of giant pendulum in terms of the extent of the ice sheet. 

The 2006 movie "An inconvenient truth" was the first time when these discoveries were presented to the general public. Here we see Al Gore showing the temperature data of the past half million years.

An even more radical idea about ice ages appeared in 1992, when Joseph Kirkschvink proposed the concept of "Snowball Earth." The idea is that Earth was fully covered by ice at some moment around 700-600 million years ago, the period appropriately called "Cryogenian."

This super-ice age is still controversial: it will never be possible to prove that every square kilometer of the planet was under ice and there is some evidence that it was not the case. But, surely, we are dealing with a cooling phase much heavier than anything seen during relatively recent geological times.

While more ice ages were discovered, it was also clear that Earth had been ice-free for most of its long existence. Our times, with permanent ice at the poles, are rather exceptional. Let's take a look at the temperatures of the past 65 million years (the "Cenozoic"). See this remarkable image (click to see it in high resolution)

At the beginning of the Cenozoic, Earth was still reeling after the great disaster of the end of the Mesozoic, the one that led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs (by the way, almost certainly not caused by an asteroidal impact). But, from 50 million years ago onward, the trend has been constant: cooling. 

The Earth is now some 12 degrees centigrade colder than it was during the "warmhouse" of the Eocene. It was still ice-free up to about 35 million years ago but, gradually, permanent ice started accumulating, first in the Southern hemisphere, then in the Northern one. During the Cenozoic, Earth never was so cold as it is now.

The reasons for the gradual cooling are being debated, but the simplest explanation is that it is due to the decline of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. That, in turn, may be caused to a slowdown of the outgassing of carbon from Earth's interior. Maybe Earth is just becoming a little older and colder, and so less active in terms of volcanoes and similar phenomena. There are other explanations, including the collision of India with Central Asia and the rise of the Himalaya that caused a drawdown of CO2 generated by the erosion of silicates. But it is a hugely complicated story and let's not go into the details.

Let's go back to our times. Probably you heard how, just a few decades ago, those silly scientists were predicting that we would go back to an ice age. That's an exaggeration -- there never was such a claim in the scientific literature. But it is true that the idea of a new ice age was floating in the memesphere, and for good reasons: if the Earth had seen ice ages in the past, why not a new one? Look at these data:

These are temperatures and CO2 concentrations from the Vostok ice cores, in Antarctica (you may have seen these data in Al Gore's movie). They describe the glacial cycles of the past 400,000 years. Without going into the details of what causes the cycles (solar irradiation cycles trigger them, but do not cause them), you may note how low we went in both temperatures and CO2 concentrations at the coldest moments of the past ice ages. The latest ice age was especially cold and associated with very low CO2 concentrations. 

Was Earth poised to slide down to another "snowball" condition? It cannot be excluded. What we know for sure is that during the past million years, the Earth tethered close to the snowball catastrophe every 100,000 years or so. What saved it from sliding all the way into an icy death?

There are several factors that may have stopped the ice from expanding all the way to the equator. For one thing, the sun irradiation is today about 7% larger than it was at the time of the last snowball episode, during the Cryogenian. But that may not enough as an explanation. Another factor is that the cold and the low CO2 concentrations may have led to a weakening -- or even to a stop -- of the biological pump in the oceans and of the biotic pump on land. Both these pumps cycle water and nutrients, keeping the biosphere alive and well. Their near disappearance may have caused a general loss of activity of the biosphere and, hence, the loss of one of the mechanisms that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. So, CO2 concentrations increased as a result of the continuing geological emissions, unaffected by changes of the biosphere. Note how, in the figure, the CO2 concentration and temperatures are perfectly superimposable during the warming phases: the reaction of the temperature to the CO2 increase was instantaneous on a geological time scale. Another factor may have been the desertification of the land that led to an increase in atmospheric dust that landed on the top of the glaciers. That lowered the albedo (the reflected fraction of light) of the system and led to a new warming phase. A very complicated story that is still being unraveled.  

But how close was the biosphere to total disaster? We will never know. What we know is that, 20 thousand years ago, the atmosphere contained just 180 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 (today, we are at 410 ppm). That was close to the survival limit of green plants and there is evidence of extensive desertification during these periods. Life was hard for the biosphere during the recent ice ages, although not so bad as in the Cryogenian. Lovelock's idea that permanent ice at the poles is good for life just doesn't seem to be right.

Of course, the idea that we could go back to a new ice age was legitimate in the 1950s, not anymore as we understand the role of human activities on climate. Some people maintain that it was a good thing that humans started burning fossil hydrocarbons since that "saved us from a new ice age." Maybe, but this is a classic case of too much of a good thing. We are pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere that our problem is now the opposite: we are not facing an "icehouse Earth" but a "warmhouse" or even a "hothouse" Earth. 

A "hothouse Earth" would be a true disaster since it was the main cause of the mass extinctions that took place in the remote past of our planet. Mainly, the hothouse episodes were the result of outbursts of CO2 generated by the enormous volcanic eruptions called "large igneous provinces." In principle, human emissions can't even remotely match these events. According to some calculations, we would need to keep burning fossil fuels for 500 years at the current rates to create a hothouse like the one that killed the dinosaurs (but, there is always that detail that non linear systems always surprise you . . .)

Still, considering feedback effects such as the release of methane buried in the permafrost, it is perfectly possible that human emissions could bring CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at levels of the order of 600-800 ppm, or even more, comparable to those of the Eocene, when temperatures were 12 degrees higher than they are now. We may reach the condition called, sometimes, "warmhouse Earth."

From the human viewpoint, it would be a disaster. If the change were to occur in a relatively short time, say, of the order of a few centuries, the human civilization is probably toast. We are not equipped to cope with this kind of change. Just think of what happened some 14,500 years ago, when the great Laurentide ice sheet in North America fragmented and collapsed. (image source) (the 2006 movie "Meltdown" was inspired exactly by this event). Earth's climate went through a series of cold and warm spells that is hard to think we could survive. 

 



Human survival concerns are legitimate, but probably irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. If we go back to the Eocene, the ecosystem would take a big hit during the transition, but it would survive and then adapt to the new conditions. In terms of life, the Eocene has been described as "luxuriant." With plenty of CO2 in the atmosphere, forests were thriving and, probably, the biotic pump provided abundant water everywhere inland, even though the temperatures were relatively uniform at different latitudes. A possible mental model for that period is the modern tropical forests of Central Africa or Indonesia. We don't have data that would allow us to compare Earth's productivity today with that of the Eocene, but we can't exclude that the Eocene was more productive in terms of life. Humans might well adapt to this new world, although their survival during the transition is by no means guaranteed. 

Again, it seems that Lovelock was wrong when he said that ice ages optimize the functioning of the biosphere. But maybe there is more to this idea. At least for one thing, ice ages have a good effect on life. Take a look at this image that summarizes the main ice ages of Earth's long history


 (image source)

The interesting point is that ice ages seem to occur just before major transitions in the evolutionary history of Earth. We don't know much about the Huronian ice age, but it occurred just at the boundary of the Archean and the Proterozoic, at the time of the appearance of the Eucaryotes. Then, the Cryogenian preceded the Ediacaran period and the appearance of multicellular life that colonized the land. Finally, even the evolution of the Homo Sapiens species may be related to the most recent ice age cycle. With the cooling of the planet and the reduction of the extent of forested areas, our ancestors were forced to leave the comfortable forests where they had lived up to then and take up a more dangerous lifestyle in the savannas. And you know what it led to!

So, maybe there is something good in ice ages and, after all, James Lovelock's intuition may have hinted at an important insight in how evolution works. Then, there remains the question of how exactly ice ages drive evolution. Maybe they have an active role, or maybe they are simply a parallel effect of the real cause that drives evolution, quite possibly the increasing concentration of atmospheric oxygen that has accompanied the biosphere over the past 2.7 billion years. Oxygen is the magic pill that boosts the metabolism of aerobic creatures -- what makes possible creatures like us. 

In any case, it is likely that ice ages will soon be a thing of the past on planet Earth. The effect of the human perturbation may be moderate and, when humans will stop burning fossil hydrocarbons (they have to, one day or another) the system may reabsorb the excess CO2 and gradually return to the ice age cycles of the past. That may occur in times of the order of at least several thousand years, possibly several tens of thousands. But the climate is a non-linear system and it may react by reinforcing the perturbation -- the results are unknowable. 

What we know for sure is that the cycle of Earth's ecosystem (Gaia) is limited. We still have about 600 million years before the sun's increasing brightness takes Earth to a different condition: that of "wet greenhouse" that will bring the oceans to boil and extinguish all life on the planet. And so it will be what it will have to be. Gaia is long-lived, but not eternal.




Saturday, July 24, 2021

Afghanistan: The Twilight of the Global Empire

 


Afghanistan: a ragged blot of land more or less at the center of the mass of Eurasia and Africa. Over a couple of centuries, it repelled invasions from the largest empires in modern history: Britain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States. It is possible to make an educated guess on what led the United States to invade Afghanistan in 2001 (oil, what else?), but now the time of expansion is over for the Global Empire. We are entering the twilight zone that all empires tend to reach and maintain for a short time before their final collapse.


In 117 AD, Emperor Trajan died after having expanded the Roman Empire to the largest extension it would ever have. It was at the same time a military triumph and an economic disaster. The coffers of the state were nearly empty, the production of the mines was in decline, the army was overstretched and undermanned, unrest was brewing in the provinces. Trajan's successor, Hadrian, did his best to salvage the situation (*). He abandoned the territories that could not be kept, quelled the internal unrest, directed the remaining resources to build fortification at the borders of the Empire. It was a successful strategy and the result was about one century of "Pax Romana." It was the twilight of the Roman Empire, a century or so of relative peace that preceded the final descent.

Empires in history tend to follow similar paths. Not that empires are intelligent, they are nearly pure virtual holobionts and they tend to react to perturbations only by trying to maintain their internal homeostasis. In other words, they have little or no capability to plan for the future. Nevertheless, they are endowed with a certain degree of "swarm intelligence" and they may be able to take the right path by trial and error. Sometimes the process is eased by an intelligent decision-maker at the top. We may attribute the Pax Romana period to the decisions of Hadrian and his successors but, more likely, the Roman Empire simply followed the path it had to follow,

The current empire, the Western (or Global) one may be entering a similar period of retrenching and stabilization: a Pax Americana. I noted this trend when I realized that in the past ten years the Global Empire had not engaged in new major military campaigns. You may argue that 10 years is too short to use to detect meaningful trends. Correct, but there are other elements showing that the Global Empire is retreating and retrenching. For instance, global terrorist attacks and war casualties have been declining for at least five years in a row. And, of course, there has been the announcement that the US is leaving Afghanistan. There will remain "contractors" fighting there, and we can imagine that drones will keep patrolling the sky of Afghanistan, continuing their ongoing spree of senseless killing. But, on the whole, this war is over.

The Afghan campaign was a small military miracle. Just think of the challenges of maintaining an army in a hostile territory, in a remote region not connected to the mainland, and that for 20 years! I think it was never done before in history, not successfully at least. In an earlier Afghan campaign, the British army was not so lucky with only one survivor of an entire army during the retreat from Kabul in 1842. Later, in 1954, the French went through a similar disaster with their base of Dien Bien Phu, in Vietnam. Instead, the Western army is returning from Afghanistan more or less intact. 

The Global Empire didn't really lose this war, it just realized that it was impossible to keep fighting it. Indeed, Afghanistan was often termed "Graveyard of Empires" but it never really was. Empires didn't die because they had to leave this remote country, they died for other reasons and, in their agony, they let go this remote and untenable possession of theirs. But, before the Western Empire disappears for good, we may perhaps be able to enjoy a period of Pax Americana, just as the Romans did after that Hadrian became emperor.

With the Afghan campaign over, we may ask ourselves why did the empire engage in it. Wars, like all human enterprises, are generated by those virtual entities we call memes. These are patterns of ideas that dominate the human mind, it was Daniel Dennett who said that human beings are meme-infested apes. So, the general interpretation of this story is related to a meme that appeared in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, supposed to have been masterminded by an evil sheik named Osama bin Laden who had a hidden military base in a complex of caves in North Afghanistan. The connection of this meme with reality was always flimsy, to say the least, not better than that of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. And, indeed, no traces of Osama or of an important military base hiding terrorists in Afghanistan were ever found. But the power of memes does not depend on their link with reality.

But there probably was a much more powerful meme that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. It had nothing to do with a bearded sheik hiding in a cave. Rather, it was about the issue that generated most of the recent wars: crude oil. 

Of course, Afghanistan has no oil, and this much was known. But in the 1990s the oil reserves of the Caspian region, adjacent to Afghanistan, had been the object of a game of aggrandizing that led to exaggerating their extent at least of an order of magnitude. As a result, the US may have been looking for the dark brown meme of "A New Saudi Arabia" that involved taking control of Afghanistan.

Back in 2004, I wrote the story of the development of this meme in a post in Italian. Below, I updated and condensed it into a version in English. At that time, I couldn't imagine that the Afghan campaign would go on for nearly two decades more, but memes are unstoppable when they take hold of human minds. 

Nevertheless, I don't think there is a rational explanation for these events. Just like what Tolstoy said about the French invasion of Russia, in 1812, the Afghan war happened "because it had to happen." And if it is over, now, it is because it had to be. 

My interpretation is that during the past 10 years or so, we created a Web creature endowed with swarm intelligence that is taking over humankind's memesphere. Maybe I am wrong and, of course, I have no proof that this is the case. But I have the strong impression that the great games that empires play may not be anymore in the hands of those psychopaths who call themselves "emperors". And the future will be what it has to be.

See also this post by Tom Engelhart that makes very similar observations on the withdrawal phase of the American Empire. 

(*) About Hadrian, you probably know the book titled "Memoirs of Hadrian" by Marguerite Yourcenar. It is an excellent book in many respects, first of all as a literary masterpiece, but also because it clearly understand and describes the situation of the Roman Empire after that Trajan had nearly destroyed by overextending its borders. But, despite Yourcenar's flattering portrait, Hadrian was no Mr. Nice Emperor. He was ruthless against his political enemies and against all opposition. In 136 AD, he destroyed what was left of Jerusalem after the siece of 70 AD, attempting to erase even the name of the city that was rebuilt under the name of Aelia Capitolina.

THE CASPIAN OIL FEVER.

By Ugo Bardi

A longer version of this story was published in Italian on the “ASPOITALIA” website in August 2004.


The Caspian oil fever started in the late 1990s, when it became fashionable in the West to speak about the "immense reserves" of crude oil that could be found in the area around the Caspian Sea. So rich was this region supposed to be that it would be possible to turn it into a "New Saudi Arabia" (sometimes "A New Persian Gulf"). But the story had started much earlier than that. 

Already in mid 19th century, the first oil wells were dug near Baku in the Azerbaijan region. In 1873, Robert Nobel, the brother of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, led an expedition southward from St. Petersburg. He found in Baku, on the Caspian shore, an already operating oil industry. Nobel invested in this industry, developing it considerably. At the end of the nineteenth century, Baku was the largest oil-producing area in the world, even surpassing the American oil industry of the time.

At that time, oil was mainly turned into kerosene and then used as fuel for oil lamps. Our great-grandparents' lamps in Western Europe were almost certainly lit with oil supplied by the Caucasus mining industry (the advertising for kerosene, in the figure, seems to come from Latvia, but the oil surely came from the Caucasus). With the development of the internal combustion engine, in the early twentieth century, oil began to be used more and more as a fuel. The strategic value of the Caucasus fields was already important in the First World War, when the shortage of oil was one of the factors that caused the defeat of the Central Empires. But it became evident with the Second World War which was, in many ways, the first, true "war for oil."

When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, one of their main strategic objectives was the oil fields of the Caucasus. In the offensives of 1941 and 1942, the Germans tried to advance towards the Caucasus, but the battle of Stalingrad put an end to their attempts. That was the turning point of the war. Had the Germans succeeded in taking hold of the Caucasus, history could have been very different (and maybe you would be reading this post in German).

After the Second World War, the Soviet Union began to find difficulties with expanding the production of oil from the Caucasus. From the 1950s onward, the reserves of the Urals, the Volga region, and eastern Siberia were the main target for development. These reserves made the Soviet Union the largest oil producer in the world until about 1990.

By the end of the 1980s, the Soviet oil production began to show signs of difficulty and, in 1991 the production peak was reached, with decline starting afterward. At the same time, there arrived the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. There are many interpretations of the reason for this collapse, but it is possible that the decline of oil production was not a consequence but the main cause of the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the political structure that was created to exploit it.
 
This story tells us a lot about the situation in the Caucasus after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since the oil fields had been exploited for over a century, we should not be surprised if they were depleted and declining. But the Western oil industry looked with some interest at the Caspian area, believing that their superior technology could extract oil not accessible to the Soviets. As early as in 1985, Harry E. Cook, of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) began exploring Central Asia for possible new oil reserves. Later, under Cook's leadership, a consortium called “USGS-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan Oil Industry project” was formed which included ENI/AGIP as well as BG, BP, ExxonMobil, Inpex, Phillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, TotalFinaElf, and several ex-Soviet research institutes.

The first contract with the consortium to export Caspian oil to the West was signed in 1994. It turned out to be a difficult task because of the need to carry equipment to a remote geographical location, not accessible by sea. It was necessary to wait until 1999 before it became possible to export Caspian oil through the Baku-Novorossiirsk pipeline, which ends on the Black Sea. From there, the oil could be shipped worldwide.

But in the 1990s a virtual kind of oil that existed only in the minds of people had also appeared. The story started in 1997 with the publication of a U.S. Department of State Report: (U.S. Department of State, Caspian Region Energy Development Report, April 1997). (a version of the report can be found at this link). 
 
In the report, the following table could be found:

It seems that the data of the report were derived from Cook's work stating that the Kashagan field could hold up to 50 billion barrels, a value that had been further inflated here to 85 billion, so that the total for Kazakhstan arrived at a whopping 95 billion barrels. The total amount of "possible" reserves in the area was estimated at 178 billion barrels of oil. It is not clear what the authors meant by the term "possible oil." In the practice of reporting oil reserves, the term "possible reserves" is normally coupled with a probabilistic estimate, usually 5%. So, what the table said was that there was "a 5% chance of finding 163 billion barrels"

Such a statistical estimate was incomprehensible to the average politician and these data were badly misunderstood. The first political exponent to speak publicly about the discovery of new, "immense reserves" of the Caspian Sea seems to have been the US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in 1997. Talbot used on that occasion, perhaps for the first time, the phrase "reserves up to two hundred billion barrels of oil."

Talbot had rounded up the "possible reserves" to 200 billion barrels. Other people spoke of 250 billion, and in some case, you heard of 300 billion barrels. If these estimates were true, it would have meant that the Caspian could have increased the global oil reserves of about by 20%, not a trifle! But the main effect of these new reserves would have been to drastically break the quasi-monopoly of OPEC countries and the Middle East on oil and completely changing the geopolitical framework of world oil production. This was the origin of the enthusiasm about "A New Saudi Arabia"  that could exist in the Caspian region. 

As the exploration proceeded, the available data was further processed. In 2000, the USGS released a report signed by Thomas Ahlbrandt that arrived at an estimate of world reserves at least 50% higher than all previous estimates. This report was criticized by many experts and contradicted by the trend of subsequent finds, but it was another of the elements that led to the myth of the Caspian Sea as a new oil El Dorado.

The "200 billion barrels" story began to generate doubts from the moment it appeared. Already in 1997, a report by Laurent Ruseckas to the United States congress scaled down the estimates by speaking of a "possible maximum" of 145 billion barrels, a value that had to be taken as an unlikely extreme, with a reasonable maximum value of around 70 billion barrels. Ruseckas also pointed out that someone was getting too enthusiastic.

Skepticism rapidly began to spread. A 1998 article in Time magazine stated that if these estimates were correct, the Caspian region could contain "the equivalent of 400 giant fields," yet there are only 370 giant fields in the world (Robin Knight, “Is The Caspian An Oil El Dorado? Time Magazine, June 29, 1998, Vol. 151 No.26). In 1999, a report presented to the SPD group in the German parliament (1999 by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Washington Office 1155 15th Street, NW Suite 1100 Washington, A.D 20005) was titled, significantly, "No longer the 'Great Game' in the Caspian". In one section of this report, Friedemann Muller stated that: "The often reported figure - preferably by politicians of a certain age - 200 billion barrels is a figment of the imagination ”. The issue of inflated reserves also appeared in the popular press, for example, in a November 11, 2001, Toronto "NOW" article, Damien Cave described the Caspian estimates of 200 billion barrels as "insanely optimistic, at least in the next twenty years.

The real world started intruding into the fantasy of politicians when the OKIOC consortium (ENI, BP, BG, ExxonMobil, Inpex, Phillips, Shell, Statoil, and TotalFinaElf) started actually drilling at the bottom of the Caspian sea. Apparently, the results were not impressive, since the consortium began to fall apart after the first exploratory drilling. By 2003 ExxonMobil, Statoil, BP, and BG had left. Agip remained and became the main operator of the consortium. In April 2002, Gian Maria Gros-Pietro, then the president of ENI, speaking at the Eurasian Economic Summit in Almaty, Kazakhstan, declared that the entire Caspian could contain only 7-8 billion barrels. Others have estimated up to 13 billion barrels for the Kashagan field alone. For the whole area around the Caspian Sea, it is possible to speak of amounts ​​between 30 and 50 billion barrels. These reserves are not negligible but available only at high costs and certainly not a new Saudi Arabia.

By the early 2000s, the situation was reasonably clear, at least in the eyes of the experts. Colin Campbell, the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) summed it up like this in a private communication to the author of these notes.

  There were rumors that the area contained over 200 Gb [billion barrels] of oil (I think those rumors came from the US Geological Survey), but the results after ten years of construction have been disappointing. As early as 1979, the Soviets had found the Tengiz field on the mainland in Kazakhstan. It contains about 6 billion barrels of oil in a limestone reef at a depth of about 4500 m.This oil, however, contains up to 16% sulfur, which was too much even for Soviet steel, so they chose to not to exploit the field. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Chevron, and other American companies arrived and managed to extract that oil, but with many difficulties and at high economic and environmental costs.

Later, in a series of surveys made on the bottom of the Caspian Sea, a huge structure was found at about 4000 meters deep that in many ways resembled that of Tengiz.  This area (Kashagan) also had geological features similar to those of the giant Al Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia. Had it been full, it could have actually held 100 billion barrels or perhaps more and competed with Saudi wells.

At that point, an American businessman, Jack Grynberg, put together a large consortium of oil companies that included BP, Statoil, Total, Agip, Phillips, British Gas, and others. This consortium set out to exploit the deposits thought to exist in this facility.

Exploratory drilling has been enormously difficult. The field was offshore, so it was difficult and complex to transport equipment to the area. In addition, those waters were a breeding ground for the sturgeons that produce Russian caviar. Finally, the winter climate of the area is harsh with ice formations on the surface of the water and very strong winds. Eventually, at a cost of $ 400 million, the consortium managed to drill a 4,500-meter deep well in the easternmost area of ​​the facility. A deadly silence followed, followed shortly after by BP and Statoil's withdrawal from the company. British Gas announced in a report that the field could contain between 9 and 15 billion barrels. The reason is that,- unlike Al Ghawar - the field is very fragmented with the fields separated by low quality rocks. It is an interesting field and it is certain that further reserves will be found, but it is certainly not capable of having any significant effect on world supplies. There is a lot of gas nearby, but the transportation difficulties are immense. "

Nevertheless, the two worlds, that of the politicians and that of the experts had decoupled from each other and plenty of people were still believing in the existence of "200 billion barrels" in the Caspian region. From the left, the "immense reserves" of the Caspian were cited. as proof of evil Western imperialism. From the right, there was a clamor to get their hands on that bonanza as soon as possible. As an example, we can cite the speech that US Senator Conrad Burns, who had traveled to Kazakhstan himself, gave to the Heritage Foundation, on March 19, 2003

"Every dollar we spend of Middle East oil, we are really dealing in rogue oil. Money that goes to build weapons of mass destruction and also the fuel those terrorist groups that need money to operate around the world," Burns said. "We don't have to look to the Middle East, because the reserves in the Caspian Basin could be as large as what is in the Middle East"
and:

Internationally, our country is ignoring the opportunities that exist in Russia and in the Caspian Sea basin. In the Caspian Sea area, reserves of up to 33 billion barrels have been found, a potential greater than that of the United States and the double that of the North Sea. Estimates speak of an additional 233 billion barrels of reserves in the Caspian. These reserves could represent up to 25% of the world's proven reserves. Russia may have even more abundant reserves. 

These numbers are all wrong. For one thing, the North Sea reserves are estimated at around 50 billion barrels, and 33 is certainly not double 50. As for the "255 billion barrels", added to the other 33 make a total of 288 billion of barrels, which is out of the grace of God. But, clearly, Burns was not the only American politician who thought in these terms. And much of what happened after the 9/11 attacks of 2001 can be explained as an attempt by the US government to take direct control of the strategic oil fields of the Middle East and of Central Asia. Not for nothing Conrad Burns was a convinced supporter also of the invasion of Iraq.

In the end, it doesn't seem to be paranoid to think that the United States attacked Afghanistan in 2001 in order to clear the field at the passage of an oil pipeline from the Caspian that would reach the Indian Ocean passing through Pakistan. A grand dream, if ever there was one. But there were no "immense reserves" in the Caucasus and, therefore, no need for a pipeline to transport them. And reality, as usual, eventually took over.


Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Decline of Science: Why we Need a new Paradigm for the Third Millennium

I am not saying that all science is corrupt, but if images like the one above exist, it means that there is a serious problem of corruption in science. And note that it comes from "Scientific American" -- not exactly your average tabloid! It may well be that Science is going the way many historical belief systems went: abandoned because they were not consistent with the needs of their times. And, as in ancient times, the decline of a system of beliefs starts with the corruption of its main supporters -- in this case, scientists.

 

If you read the "Decameron," written by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1370, you will notice the slandering of the Christian Church as a pervasive thread. At that time, it seems that it was an obvious fact that priests, monks, nuns, and the like were corrupt people who had abandoned their ideals to fall into various sins: avarice, gluttony, blasphemy, carnal lust, and more.  

Boccaccio's book would not have been possible a few centuries before, when the Christian Church still enjoyed enormous prestige. But something had changed in the European society that was gradually making the Church obsolete. It was unavoidable: ideas, just like empires, are cyclical, they grow, peak, and then decline. Christianity had been born during the late Roman Empire when the European society had no use for the warlike ideals of ancient paganism. Christianity took over and created a system of beliefs that was compatible with a society with no imperial ambitions. But, with the waning of the Middle Ages, Europe became rich again and the Church started to be seen as an obstacle to economic and military expansion. Boccaccio was the voice of a new mercantile class that saw money as an instrument of growth and that didn't want to be ruled by a priestly class that preached poverty and self-punishment. 

It would take more than a century after Boccaccio before things came to a head when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg in 1517. After Luther, another turning point arrived some 30 years later with the so-called "Controversy of Valladolid," a debate that took place in 1550 and 1551 in the city of Valladolid, in Spain. It was about the status of the Native Americans. For most of us, what we remember about this story is a grotesquely deformed narrative of solemn Spanish inquisitors debating on whether the Native Americans had souls or not and that the conclusion was that they didn't. That gave a free hand to the conquistadores to kill and enslave the natives at will. 

The reality was much different. Below, you'll find a hugely interesting post by Paul Jorion that tells the true story: the result of the Valladolid debate was a victory for the rights of the natives. But, as you might expect, the voice of the Church was mostly ignored while the debate was turned into anti-Spanish propaganda by those who were actually exterminating the Native Americans: the British and North European colonists. The Catholic Church received such a blow from this campaign that it never completely recovered from it.

An unexpected result of the Valladolid debate was a return of Paganism in art. (I tell this story in my blog, "Chimeras"). During the debate, one of the discussants, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, tried to justify the enslaving of Native Americans by arguing that the Pagan society of classical times was not inferior to the modern one. And that, since in those times slavery was commonly practiced, then it could be practiced by good Christians, as well. 

Sepulveda's point was not accepted in Valladolid, but it seemed to resonate with the European views of the time. Paganism used to be considered the very essence of evil during the Middle Ages, but it became fashionable. You see that especially during the 19th century, when a cultured European person could not avoid having in his library at least one "breviary of mythology" that listed and described ancient Pagan deities. Thomas Bullfinch's "Mythology" (first published in 1855) was especially popular in the English speaking world. 

Bullfinch's paganism was mostly a game for intellectuals and it never trickled down to ordinary people in the form of an organized cult. But the European belief system evolved into something that had no rules preventing the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, be they minerals, living creatures, or people who could be branded as "savages." This new system was supposed to avoid a repetition of the Valladolid controversy. It was called "science." 

The transition took some time and it is still partly ongoing, but Science clearly won the battle, relegating Christianity to a set of superstitions good only for old women and peasants. Instead, science was the right belief system for the Imperial Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries. It emphasized competition, survival of the fittest, economic growth, and wealth for those who could catch the right opportunities. This attitude probably peaked in mid 20th century with dreams about the human "conquest of space" to restart the saga of the conquest of the New World. 

Alas, not all dreams can be turned into reality. By the second half of the 20th century, it was becoming clear that economic expansion was destroying the very resources that had made it possible. At the same time, pollution in the form of climate change was leading the whole planetary ecosystem to collapse. Humankind was, again, facing the need for a paradigm shift and, as usual, not everyone agreed on what was to be done. 

A modern equivalent of Luther's 95 theses was the report titled "The Limits to Growth," published in 1972. The report noted the depletion of natural resources and the effect of pollution; two factors that, together with the increasing human population, were leading humankind to a major collapse for some moment in the mid 21st century. The report strongly argued in favor of stopping economic growth and stabilizing the human population before it was too late. 

The result was a debate in some respects similar to that of Valladolid, in the 16th century. The human memesphere split into two factions: one that wanted to keep the expansion going, the other stating that it was time to stop. 

The evolution of the debate has seen the enlargement of the split between the two factions. The supporters of science brand their opponents as "catastrophists" and argue that all the problems created by science could be solved by more science. The idea is that we need science to develop new sources of energy, and substitute dwindling natural resources with new, more abundant, ones (in a moment of peculiar hubris, this idea was called "the principle of infinite substitutability"). The other side started using the term "scientism" to emphasize the ideological character that science was taking. The catastrophists keep calling for a managed retreat from the overexploitation of natural resources.

So far, scientism has maintained the upper hand in the debate, but the worsening of the worldwide situation has led its supporters to take a rigid position that reminds that of the inquisition of the Catholic Church. It is "Technopopulism" an unholy alliance of scientists and politicians. They seem to operate on the assumption that what science says cannot be discussed because it is science, and that science is whatever they decide it is. Debates are not allowed anymore, opponents are branded as "deniers," while doubts are considered heresy. Fortunately, the technopopulists don't have the power to burn their opponents at the stake (not yet).

But times are changing fast. Much faster than they were changing at the time of the controversy of Valladolid. So, the technopopulists are spreading the seed of their own destruction. Forced into an ideological straitjacket, science is suffering badly: scientists are human beings and they are not invulnerable to corruption. And corruption is spreading rapidly, especially in those areas where science is in strict contact with profitable markets: medicine, chemicals, cosmetics, food, energy, and others. In addition, science suffers from cronyism, elitism, inability to innovate, lack of standards, self-referencing, and more. We are seeing an enormous problem with scientific reports based on falsified data or on experiments never done. We arrived to the point that it has been claimed that "It is time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise"

Clearly, we can't keep going in this way, but since very little or nothing is done to stop the trend, the result can only be that the public is losing trust in science, at least the way science is understood today. It is possible that in the future science will go through a defamation campaign similar to the one that turned the Catholic faith into a heap of superstitions. Science will likely be accused to have been the major force involved in the destruction of Earth's ecosystem and scientists will be accused of having operated exactly with that purpose. Some of them actually did, but the many who tried to oppose the destruction will be forgotten or their work misunderstood. Their attempts to redress the situation will be used as an act of accusation against science, just as the mistreatment of the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists was used as an indictment against the Christian religion.

So, what will replace science? For the time being, Christianity has been completely blown out of the holy water by the technopopulist offensive. Most Christians are still wondering about what hit them. They haven't recognized how they are being pushed into irrelevance by not reacting against the beliefs that scientism is imposing on them. But, in a non-remote future, we might see an evolution parallel to the shift that occurred during the 16th century. At that time, Paganism resurfaced as an alternative to Christianity. Now, Christianity may resurface as an alternative to science. Alexander Dugin is a good example of this return to older views. 

But things always change and never return the same. Christianity absorbed and reworked many Pagan beliefs, just like science absorbed many Christian ways of doing things, with, for instance, universities acting very much like Christian monasteries. So, whatever will replace science, will maintain much of the science of old, except that it will be reframed in forms more suitable for the new views of the world. And some sections of science -- perhaps most of it -- will be flatly branded as "evil," just like the ancient Gods were rebranded as demons and monsters. 

Then, the great cycle will restart, and we'll see where it takes us. Maybe it will be a new form of Christianity, maybe a new form of Paganism, a Gaian cult of some kind. The beauty of the future is that nobody can force it to be what they want it to be. 


See also "The Roots of the Great European shift from Christian to Pagan Figurative Art Subjects"


The Valladolid Controversy

by Paul Jorion June 23, 2021 (translation by UB)


The "quarrel" or "controversy" of Valladolid (1550-1551) will find its place in the panorama of anthropology that I am writing at the moment. Since this is a subject that I am new to and where I cannot avail myself of any expertise, please be kind enough to point out to me any factual errors I make. Thank you in advance!

In 1550 and 1551 there took place in the city of Valladolid in Spain what would go down in history as the "quarrel" or "controversy" named after this city in the province of Castile and Leon. What was it? It dealt with the Christian European civilization behaving like an unscrupulous invader on a continent of which it knew nothing, within populations of which it was until then unaware of the very existence, which it then discovered in real-time as it grew on the territories of the New World, and the devastation that accompanied this advance.

What all this meant was to define how the winners would now treat the vanquished and that would be the question posed in a great debate that would span a period of two years and in which two champions of Spanish thought of that time would face off against each other. Great intellectual and ethical problems had to be solved in the scholastic tradition still of a disputatio, in front of the enlightened public of what we would call today a commission, which would decide at the end of the debate which of the two speakers was right. There were mostly Church people there.

On stage, there were two thinkers solemnly defending one and the other, opposing points of view. They clashed at the level of ideas by mobilizing all the art of dialectics: an art that intended to convince, specific to the discourses held in ancient Greece on an agora. To defend one point of view, Juan Gines de Sepulveda (1490-1573) who in a nutshell considers the inhabitants of the New World to be cruel Savages and that the question was, essentially, how to save them from themselves. And, to defend the opposing point of view, the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566), who affirms that the Amerindians are, like the Europeans, human beings, whose differences should not be exaggerated with them, and that it is a question of integrating peacefully into a Christian society by conviction rather than by force.

The brutal conquest of Mexico took place from 1519 to 1521, and the equally bloody conquest of Peru from 1528 to 1532. We are now in 1550, almost twenty years after this latter date. The situation, from the point of view of the Spaniards, is that they have won: a huge empire of New Spain has been conquered by secular Spain. It is a victory, even if internal quarrels continue, on the one hand between the colonized, as at the time of the conquest, which their incessant dissensions had fostered, and on the other hand between the colonizers themselves, manifested by a litany of palace revolutions and assassinations of conquistadors between them, and that in Peru as in Mexico.

But the time has come for Charles V (1500-1558), “Emperor of the Romans”, to take a break. We must think about how to treat these conquered populations, decimated in equal parts by battles and massacres, and by the ravages of smallpox and measles, against which the local populations were helpless, having no immunity to these diseases hitherto absent from the continent. It is considered today that Mexico had some 25 million inhabitants on the eve of the first landing of the Spaniards in 1498. In 1568, the population was estimated at no more than 3 million and, it is believed that in 1620 there were only a million and a half Mexicans left.

The phase still to come would no longer be that of Mexico or Peru, whose conquest was completed and where colonization was then carried out well, but that of Paraguay, which would begin in 1585, thirty-five years later. Charles V, an enlightened sovereign, just like his rival François I, his contemporary: two kings who reflect, who are not only warriors, who ask themselves questions about history, knowing that they are major players. They share a conception of the world enlightened by the same religion: Catholicism. The reign of Charles V will end a few years later: in 1555. It will then be his son Philippe who will become sovereign of Spain and the Netherlands. Later, in 1580, he will also be King of Portugal. Charles V demands that any new conquest be interrupted as long as Las Casas and Sepulveda exchange their arguments on the question of the status to be recognized for the indigenous populations of the New World.

Charles V had not, however, remained indifferent to these questions until then: already in 1526, 24 years before the Valladolid controversy, he had issued a decree prohibiting the slavery of Amerindians throughout the territory, and in 1542, he had promulgated new laws which proclaimed the natural freedom of the Amerindians and obliged to release those who had been reduced to slavery: freedom of work, freedom of residence and free ownership of property, punishing, in principle, those who were would be violent and aggressive towards Native Americans.

Paul III was Pope from 1534 to 1549. In 1537, thirteen years before the start of the Valladolid controversy, in the papal bull Sublimis Deus and in the letter Veritas Ipsa, he had officially condemned, in the name of the Catholic Church, the slavery of Native Americans. The declaration was “universal”, that is to say that it was applicable wherever the Christian world could still discover populations which were unknown to it on the surface of the globe: it was said in Sublimis Deus: “… and of all peoples which may later be discovered by Christians ”. And in both documents, so in Veritas Ipsa also: “Indians and other peoples are real human beings”.

When the quarrel began, Julius III had just succeeded Paul III: he was enthroned on February 22, 1550. The general principle, for Charles V, is that of alignment with Church policy.

In the "quarrel" or "controversy" of Valladolid, one of the moments of solemn reflection of humanity on itself, it is not the Church, but the Kingdom of Spain, which summons religious authorities, experts, to try to answer the question "What can be done so that the conquests still to come in the New World are done with justice and in security of conscience?".

It is heartbreaking that the tv film “La controverse de Valladolid” (1992), by Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, with Jean-Pierre Marielle in the role of Las Casas and Jean-Louis Trintignant in that of Sepulveda, as well as the novel by Jean- Claude Carrière, from whom he was inspired, took such liberties with historical truth that it was affirmed that the central question in the quarrel was to determine whether the Amerindians had a soul. No: this question had been settled by the Church without public debate thirteen years earlier. Sublimis Deus affirms that their property and their freedom must be respected, and further specifies "even if they remain outside the faith of Jesus Christ", that is to say, that the same attitude must be maintained even if they are rebellious to conversion. It is written in the Veritas Ipsa bull that Native Americans are to be "invited to the said faith of Christ by the preaching of the word of God and by the example of a righteous life." In 1537: thirteen years before the commission met.

The question of the soul of the Amerindians was of course raised in Valladolid, but in no way to try to resolve it: on this level, it was a closed issue. In reality, it had been resolved in fact by the Spanish invaders: it would have been possible to summon young men and women of mixed race in their twenties to Valladolid, including Martin, son of Ernan Cortés and Doña Marina, “La Malinche,” living proof that the human species had recognized itself as “one and indivisible” in the field and that the question of whether these people, whom their mother could accompany if necessary, dressed in Spanish fashion, and most often militants of Christianity in their actions and in their words, had a soul, would have been an entirely abstract and ridiculous question, the problem having been solved by the facts: in the interbreeding which immediately took place, in this reality that men and women have recognized themselves sufficiently similar not only to mate and immediately procreate, but to sanctify their marriage, in a sumptuous way for the richest, according to the rites of the Church. Circumstances, it should be noted, were the opposite of what would be observed in North America, then in the case of almost all Protestant settlers - with the exception of Quebec - from the end of the 16th century.

The meetings in Valladolid will be held twice over a month, in 1550 and then in 1551, but most of the texts available to us are not transcripts of the debates: they are correspondence between the parties involved: Juan Gines de Sepulveda, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and the members of the commission.

Las Casas had first been himself an encomendero, a slave settler: he managed plantations where Native American slaves were initially employed found, plantations in which, reacting to the Church's commands to give back their freedom to the natives enslaved, that he ceased to exploit, with others: blacks imported from Africa. There will be a great regret in his life, he will talk about that later. Most of the encomenderos were not as attentive as Las Casas to instructions from the mother country or the Vatican. Already in 1511, in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Antonio de Montesinos, who exercised a decisive influence on Las Casas, refused the sacraments and threatened with excommunication those among them whom he considered unworthy. Here is his famous sermon:

"I am the voice of the One who cries in the desert of this island and that is why you must listen to me attentively This voice is the newest you have ever heard, the harshest and the most tough. This voice tells you that you are all in a state of mortal sin; in sin you live and die because of the cruelty and tyranny with which you overwhelm this innocent race.
Tell me, what right and what justice authorize you to keep the Indians in such dreadful servitude? In the name of what authority have you waged such hateful wars against those peoples who lived in their lands in a gentle and peaceful way, where a considerable number of them were destroyed by you and died in yet another way? never seen as it is so atrocious? How do you keep them oppressed and overwhelmed, without giving them food, without treating them in their illnesses which come from excessive work with which you overwhelm them and from which they die? To put it more accurately, you kill them to get a little more gold every day.
And what care do you take to instruct them in our religion so that they know God our Creator, so that they are baptized, that they hear Mass, that they observe Sundays and other obligations?
Are they not men? Are they not human beings? Must you not love them as yourselves?
Be certain that by doing so, you cannot save yourself any more than the Moors and Turks who refuse faith in Jesus Christ. "


Las Casas' reflections led him to give up this role of planter and he took a step back for several years. Charles V then offered him access to vast lands in Venezuela on which he could implement the policy he now advocated towards the Amerindians: no longer the use of force, but the power of conviction and conversion by example. Las Casas is a thomist. Following the line drawn by Thomas Aquinas, he reads in human society a given of nature. It is not a question of cultural heritage, that is to say of the fruit of the deliberations of men, but of a gift from God, so that all societies are of equal dignity and a society of Pagans. is no less legitimate than a society of Christians and it is wrong to attempt to convert its members by force. The propagation of the faith must be done in an evangelical way, namely by virtue of example.

Facing Las Casas, there stands Sepulveda, an Aristotelian philosopher who finds in the texts of his mentor, not a justification for slavery, absent in fact from the texts of the Stagirite, but the description and the explanation found there of the slave society of ancient Greece, represented as a functional set of institutions: a legitimate model of human society. Sepulveda considers slavery, obedience to orders, to be the proper status of a people who, left to themselves, commit, as we can see, nameless abominations. Sepulveda finds argument in the atrocities committed, in particular the uninterrupted practice of human sacrifice, for which the populations brutally enslaved by the dominant society of the moment constitute an inexhaustible source of victims, but also their anthropophagy, as well as their practice of incest. in the European sense of the term: fraternal and sororal incest within the framework of princely families in Mexico, "incestuous promiscuity" if you will, in the pooling of women among brothers, a difficulty that the Jesuits later encountered in the case of the Guaranis of Paraguay, which they will resolve by banning the “longhouse”, the collective dwelling of siblings.

Las Casas responds to Sepulveda by stressing that the Spanish civilization is no less brutal: "We do not find in the customs of the Indians of greater cruelty than that which we ourselves had in the civilizations of the old world." Very diplomatically, he draws his examples from the past and says "formerly." "In the past, we manifested a similar cruelty", highlighting for example the gladiatorial fights of ancient Rome. He also draws his argument from the monumental architecture of the Aztecs as proof of their civilization.

If the two points of view presented differ, and even if their positions are considered diametrically opposed, the two parties agree on the fact that the invaders not only have rights to exercise over the Amerindians but also duties towards them, and in particular, in the context of the time and the question to be answered, there is no dispute between them as to the duty to convert: this is the dimension strictly speaking "Catholic" from the very framework of the debate. Their difference lies in their respective recommendations of the methods to be used: peaceful colonization and exemplary life for Las Casas and, for Sepulveda, institutional colonization based on coercion, given the brutal features of the very culture of the pre-Columbian populations.

Let us remember: two extremely brutal contexts on both sides, to the point that Las Casas, at the end of his life, will write a small book devoted only to the atrocities committed by the conquistadors, a small book in which that propaganda will systematically exploit against Spain, by its rivals: the Netherlands, France and England, although this does not mean that these nations will not also be guilty of the same crimes in the territories that they will annex in their business colonial. Mutual surveillance therefore of European nations vis-à-vis possible abuses committed by others, from a diplomatic perspective of foreign policy.

The controversy officially ended in 1551 when Charles V, on the recommendations of the commission, formalized the position defended by Las Casas. It will therefore be by invoking the Gospels and by example, that conversion should continue and not at the point of the sword.

A victory which, however, will not immediately have enormous consequences on the ground, any more than the papal bulls had had before it. The encomenderos will respect only weakly the injunctions coming from the mother country. Wars between Native American tribes will continue despite the presence of missionaries and a small military contingent. The bandeirantes of Sao Paulo will organize raids, supplying the encomenderos with prisoners, who will be on the plantations, so many de facto slaves. Etc.

A year after the controversy was ended, in 1552, Las Casas undertook to write his "Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias", the very brief account of the destruction of the Indies, which will therefore be his testimony on the atrocities, on the atrocities, of the colonization of New Spain by the Spaniards.

When, from the end of the same century, missions are founded in Paraguay, called "Reductions", it will be in the exact line of the proposals of Las Casas.

It will be essentially Las Casas who will obtain, thanks to his vibrant plea in favor of the local populations, that the question of slavery is closed once and for all in Central and South America: there will be no indigenous slaves, Amerindians will be considered as full citizens and, as an unexpected consequence, since the Church has not pronounced on the question of knowing whether Africans could be enslaved or not, the Spanish and Portuguese authorities will consider that the decision in favor of the position of Las Casas opens suddenly the possibility of a systematic exploitation of the African populations to draw there the stock of slaves required by the plantations of the New World. It is Las Casas who will be in a way responsible for an acceleration of the slavery of Africans insofar as the authorities both civil and ecclesiastical, by discouraging the enslavement of the Amerindians, will indirectly encourage the planters to turn, as a replacement, towards the slave trade in African blacks, a situation in which Las Casas found himself at the time when he was encomendero. In his correspondence, at the end of his life, he was bitterly criticized for having indirectly been the cause of the aggravated enslavement of Africans.

The sincere concern of Bartolomé de Las Casas to spare the Amerindians, preserved them from the even more tragic fate of their brothers and sisters of North America within the framework of an essentially English colonization which, from the start, consisted of spoliation and genocide without any interbreeding.

 

Note: Paul Jorion describes Charles 5th as an "enlightened king." By all means, he was. If you can still see the city of Florence as it was during the Renaissance, if you can still admire the works of art of people such as Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini, it is because in 1530 Charles 5th ordered to treat the Florentines with clemency after that the Republican forces had been defeated and Florence taken by the Imperial Army. Honor to a king who deserved it.