The Seneca Effect: Why Growth is Slow but Collapse is Rapid ?

Ugo Bardi, 2017

The essence of this book by Ugo Bardi (Department of Chemistry, University of Firenze, Italy) can be found in a line written by the ancient Roman Stoic Philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca: « Fortune is of sluggish growth, but ruin is rapid ». This sentence summarizes the features of the phenomenon that we call « collapse, » which is typically sudden and often unexpected, like the proverbial « house of cards. » But why are such collapses so common, and what generates them? Several books have been published on the subject, including the well known « Collapse » by Jared Diamond (2005), « The collapse of complex societies » by Joseph Tainter (1998) and « The Tipping Point, » by Malcom Gladwell (2000). Why The Seneca Effect? This book is an ambitious attempt to pull these various strands together by describing collapse from a multi-disciplinary viewpoint. The reader will discover how collapse is a collective phenomenon that occurs in what we call today « complex systems, » with a special emphasis on system dynamics and the concept of « feedback. » From this foundation, Bardi applies the theory to real-world systems, from the mechanics of fracture and the collapse of large structures to financial collapses, famines and population collapses, the fall of entire civilzations, and the most dreadful collapse we can imagine: that of the planetary ecosystem generated by overexploitation and climate change. The final objective of the book is to describe a conclusion that the ancient stoic philosophers had already discovered long ago, but that modern system science has rediscovered today. If you want to avoid collapse you need to embrace change, not fight it. Neither a book about doom and gloom nor a cornucopianist’s dream, The Seneca Effect goes to the heart of the challenges that we are facing today, helping us to manage our future rather than be managed by it.

Formed in 1968, the Club of Rome comprises around 100 notable scientists, economists, businessmen, high-level civil servants, and former heads of state from around the world. Its mission is to promote understanding of the long-term challenges facing humanity and to propose holistic solutions through scientific analysis, communication, and advocacy. Part of the Club’s work involves the accreditation of a limited number of peer-reviewed reports, the most famous of which is The Limits to Growth, which was published in 1972. To be considered as a Report to the Club of Rome, a publication must be innovative, present new approaches, and provide intellectual progress, as compared to other publications on the same topic. It must be based on sound scientific analysis and have a theme that fits the priorities of the club. The Seneca Effect by Ugo Bardi is the latest such report.


This blog deals with the decline of natural resources, climate change, ecosystem disruption, and more. The future may not look bright, but it is still possible to face it if we don’t ignore the warnings of modern Cassandras.