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11 Dec 2006

“Plant trees, disband the army, work together: the Tuscan way of surviving collapse” by Ugo Bardi.

**Plant trees, disband the army, work together: the Tuscan way of surviving collapse by Ugo Bardi.**

tosc**Ugo Bardi** is a Professor at the Dipartimento di Chimica at Università di Firenze in Italy, and is also President of [ASPO Italy](”ASPOIT”), who so ably hosted ASPO5 in Pisa earlier this year. In this article, Ugo delves back into the history of his region of Italy, Tuscany, and identifies strategies and lessons of relevance to societies in their attempts to respond to peak oil. Having lived in Tuscany myself for a couple of years, it is a part of the world I am very fond of, so here is an article which mixes post-peak solutions and Tuscan history, and offers some very useful points in so doing.


mapThe fall of empires is a subject that has fascinated us from the time of Gibbon’s 18th century classic “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

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Ugo Bardi
12 Dec 11:45am

Rob, I didn’t know that you had lived in Tuscany. Does your experience fit with the way I described the situation? Did you notice the “Los Angeles” style of the new developments?


12 Dec 3:09pm

Where I was living was very rural, a small village in the hills, and it was before Toscana became very desirable, at that point (1990) it was still a few hippy folks from the city buying up ruined farmhouses. Beautiful place, I loved it very much. I haven’t been back for many years apart from a quick dash to the ASPO conference and back. I lived in a small village called Pomaia, nr. Santa Luce, just inland from Cecina. I still dream about it often.

12 Dec 5:10pm

Ugo, Thanks for this excellent article. Tuscany’s experience is very relevant to what Tucson, Arizona and the Sonoran bioregion (once a fertile agricultural region) are going through right now as we gear up for sustainability, lest we face collapse. Your article will be posted on our website.

22 Dec 7:44pm

Ironically, or perhaps, simply significantly, your article is actually an alarmingly prophetic piece that indicates what will soon be the future for not only Tuscany, but much of the developed world.

Modern, first-world, man seems to think that famine is something relegated to the past, an easily overcome problem if they had only had the smarts we have. Of course, modern man, for the most part, cannot see that it is only through the profligate use of fossil sunshine that the land can support population many times its carrying capacity. In most people’s minds, even those who adhere to the idea of peak oil, famine seems a vague, tenuous threat that our superior “permaculture,” or “sustainable” farming techniques will easily handle.

When we can no longer pour on the liquid sunshine, when the tractors stop rolling, when the horses and oxen are imprudently eaten, what will we do? Import food from the starving third world? There will be famine. It will be vast. It will not relent because of wolly-headed, romantic ideas of people suddenly throwing up gardens in their yards.

Think about this. In Tuscany, where no oil-subsidy existed, where the population was far smaller, where knowledge of local climate and farming techniques was shared by a majority of the population, they had famine.

Quick, name all the people you know who could successfully raise a garden that could feed their entire family.

Hold on. Not so fast.

They must know how. They must have heirloom seeds that breed true and which are appropriate for their micro-climate, they must have land, water, equipment, animals for carrying burdens and to eat, know how to deal with the diseases of flora and fauna, know how to kill, butcher, preserve, and birth their animals. They must know how to coppice, how to repair their equipment and to build new equipment. This does not include making clothes, tanning leather, eyeglasses, shoes, buttons, pots, pans, china, pottery, blacksmithing, mining, smelting, carpentry, and medicine, its medicinal herbs, and surgical tools.

These skills and a starter set are essential.

To be quite honest, I know only one person who may fill that bill, and only the farming part, and that person is not me.

23 Dec 3:15am

Cherenkov has excellent insite. Survival in such circumstances, however, requires a community of skills. This is not going to be about individuals, it will be about communities. Here in New England communities have been more or less successful (hell, this country survived an extremely tenuous beginning) since the 17th century. What made this area successful were communities of diverse skills and talents.

The recent real estate ‘boom’ is a disaster in this area, a massive missappropriation of agricultural resources. Disfunctional and unsupportable suburban-like developments have destroyed previously productive farm/forest land – perhaps as described in the original post about Tuscany. As an aside I’ve also observed some very saavy Yankee farmers selling off useless lowlands at outrageous prices to idiot city buyers for new McHouses….wet basements, chuckling farmers….

This mal-development is early in the process of collapsing. Fortunately there is sufficient land, oldtime infrastructure and an amazing surge in interest in localvore relationships that I think we will do OK around here.

Support your local farms. Drink raw milk. Buy local vegetables, (grass fed) meat and eggs.

Ugo Bardi
23 Dec 9:36am

Yes, going back from where we are now will be much more difficult than it has been at the time of Grand Duke Ferdinando. For one thing, “Sustainable Tuscany” could feed less than a million people, now we are three millions and a half in Tuscany. The proportion is, I think, about the same as it is for the rest of the world comparing present day population with the pre-industrial one.

Eventually, it all depends on how fast the “re-entry” will be. The point of my little essay was that it doesn’t have to be necessarily the return to savagery. Many people seem unable to think of the re-entry as an individual fight, small groups running to the hills armed to the teeth. It doesn’t necessarily have to be. Ancient skills can always be relearned, but that is not the real point. It is the social response to the crisis that is the crucial point. If a society responds positively, accepting sacrifices and sharing them among the rich and the poor, then – I think – it can be done keeping together the social structure, the culture, the art; at least in part.

Then, it doesn’t have to be, of course. If Tuscany is a positive example, there are counterexamples. Think of Rwanda, for instance. How a society reacts to the rapid contraction of the available resources depends on many factors, I figure. There remains the point that we don’t necessarily face social disintegration. We’ll see.

Roger Chamberlin
1 Feb 7:28am

If we had just ‘peak oil’ to cope with, or if we had just global warming, or if we had just overpopulation, or if we had just deforestation/erosion of best soils, or if we had universal desire for nations to live in sharing equality , peace and care for each other, if the sea were not going to take out our means to live as we do as it floods and salinates our most populous and productive land, if we cared about making everything we do a cycle of what we use whereby everything is sustained, … then we might have a small chance of keeping up with the rate of change which is upon us already …

but most folks still do not know, and governments are in no hurry to tell folks the bad news of their complete failure to think ahead [despite over half a century of clearly presented warning]

Now the rate of change is altready four times higher than nature itself can handle, our seas are dying, the food webs beginning to collapse , the cycles of elements we need from the saes will cease and the land too will die …

what can survive? maybe a small civilisation here and there which by luck has not had it climate so quickly altered that it can still grow a little food… but the pride of man will lie shattered in the dust, all that man so emptily values today will be destroyed and its true vanity revealed because men did not husband all things in our home…

Men will stop saying that they are clever and realise what fools men were ,and that more than anything is the prize of this earth, humility ,love ,equality, sharing of the few who are to live through this trial and judgment on men’s ways today …

It is not that we did not know, simply that we woud not listen to the few modern ‘prophets’ who told us what is coming if we do not change early …

‘Civilisation’ made men think that they were in control and could abuse nature as much as they like , the proof that nature is dying is out there , and men will not remember their dependancy until it is too late [indeed it looks as though it is much too late already for more than a handful of the 6 billion people alive to survive ]

I will carry on planting trees and exhorting people to live in equality and peace and togetherness until the mob arrives to kill me and squander what was in my hands , for nothing, in their panic and starvation and desperation …

The scripture says it all , all the things which anyone with eyes to see can see coming now, but was described millenia ago and in every age since… mankind was never meant to inherit the earth until we learn to love one another … the lesson is hard indeed, brutal even , because we as a species are still brutal ,selfish ,and unloving and let ourselves be so ,despite that we would, somewhere deep in our hearts, be elsewise if we but could …

It seems some few can be loving and their god can save them, would that I knew enough to be one of them [but i do not].

15 May 7:30pm

In my quest for information/photos of Tuscany I came upon your excellent article. Thank you.

Living on the Mendocino coast of northern California, I find a strong similarity of relationship to earth/culture/survival in my community.

Reading your observations reinforces my intention to live in Tuscany. I have yet to visit Italy, but, your observations reinforce my dream. Grazi.