So It’s Getting Real, Now What?

Published at 19:46 on 8 March 2022

Well, that didn’t take long, did it? The USA is boycotting Russian oil. The obvious conclusion is that this will just make the price of anything made from petroleum go up more.

At this stage it is worth keeping in mind how the US public reacted to the COVID pandemic. How likely are the people who couldn’t unite around wearing masks during a pandemic (to protect themselves and their own families) to unite around making some rather more expensive sacrifices (on the behalf of some other people many thousands of miles away in eastern Europe)? Not very likely, I’d say.

A Democratic president facing rising unpopularity due to rising inflation, in no small part due to rising energy costs. Welcome to the 1970’s. It’s looking more and more like Biden is a latter-day Jimmy Carter.

The one good thing about it all is that gasoline is finally starting to be priced rationally again. (When you hear random people, and not eco-activists, talking about doing things that minimize their carbon footprint, you know gasoline is being priced rationally, i.e. to encourage conservation.)

And yes, I know this is going to cause some folks genuine hardship. Based on personal experience, though, a lot of that is up to personal choices. For openers, it has always struck me how casual most people are about choosing to live in one place, work in another distant from it (with limited or no public transit options), and thereby commit to a lot of fuel consumption.

Yup, Toothpaste’s out of the Tube

Published at 07:15 on 28 November 2021

Just in the last day, let’s sum up:

  • Now that people are looking for it, the Omicron variant is popping up all over the map.
  • Most but not all of those infected with it recently traveled to southern Africa; this means that community transmission is already happening worldwide.
  • Most of the infected are symptom-free, meaning that they had no reason to suspect they were spreading the infection and therefore were unwittingly doing so.

And remember, this one is more contagious than the old variants (more contagious than even Delta).

The one good bit of news is that the high rate of asymptomatic vaccinated individuals detected means that the vaccinations do seem to offer a significant measure of protection. If the consequences of an infection are so mild that one does not even realize one is infected, the infection is not really a big deal.

The big worry is that it might be serious enough for enough people that it will create another surge in the hospitals as the new variant spreads.

On the personal front, my big worry is that the US/Canada border might slam shut in the next few days, possibly when I’m in the USA loading another batch of my stuff to take north to Vancouver.

Sorry, the B.1.1.529 Toothpaste is out of the Tube

Published at 08:25 on 26 November 2021

The new COVID-19 variant is even more virulent than the Delta variant, which in turn was even more virulent than the original one, which was itself shockingly virulent. Remember, the draconian measures that merely slowed down COVID-19 absolutely crushed seasonal colds and flu.

Add that to how the new variant is popping up all over the place in South Africa, one of Africa’s most developed nations (and hence with one of the largest amounts of air travel to the rest of the world), how COVID-19 has a long incubation period in which people are contagious but symptom-free, and how cases of the new variant have been found not only in neighboring Botswana but in Hong Kong, and there really is only one logical conclusion to be reached.

Hence, my headline choice.

Recent COVID-19 Thoughts

Published at 09:56 on 7 July 2021

This is Not Over

Worldwide, the vast majority of individuals have yet to see so much as a single dose of vaccine, and the numbers of new cases and deaths are comparable to spring and summer of last year, when everything was shut down due to the risk. Yes, in the First World things are returning to normal, but the First World is not the entire world. Far from it, actually: the First World is a tiny sliver of wealthy nations. The vast majority of the world’s people live in poverty or near-poverty.

Not Over, Part II

Not only is the virus circulating widely, new variants are continually evolving. So far, the existing vaccines seem to do a good job of protecting against those new variants. There is, however, no guarantee that this will hold into the future. Influenza viruses continually evolve to the point where new vaccines must be continually developed to protect against them.

So long as COVID-19 continues to circulate, and particularly to circulate unimpeded in the Third World, the pandemic is not over. It will not be over until it is over for all. Seen in this light, aid to developing countries is not mere charity; it is self-interest.

Hard to Feel Sorry for Most Refuseniks

Then we get to the First World, where a not-insignificant chunk of individuals, particularly in nations like the USA that are plagued by widespread backwardness of thought, refuse to get vaccinated at all.

First of all, this is their choice: forcing people to get a medical procedure is anti-freedom and should be off the table. This has two sides, however: forcing people to associate with the irresponsible is also anti-freedom and should also be off the table. If businesses and other organizations wish to have vaccine mandates, they should be free to do so. If this causes the refuseniks difficulty in their personal lives, so be it. Choices have consequences.

Secondly, it is very hard to feel sorry for most of the refuseniks that get sick and/or die as a result of their behavior. To reiterate: choices have consequences. COVID vaccination is a rare example of something done very right in the USA. Instead of vaccine access depending on social privilege, the vaccine is available to all, free at the point of delivery. Nobody has to decide between their children having enough to eat and getting a shot. The standard point about many being victims of their unchosen circumstances does not apply this time.

Yes, there are groups that are mistrustful of the medical establishment because of past history (type “Tuskeegee experiment” into your search engine of choice for one such example). And there are people for whom it is just plain unsafe to receive a vaccine. But those cases are a minority of those refusing to get vaccines. I chose my wording carefully: it is hard to feel sorry for most refuseniks.

I Blame Trump, Too

No, he’s not president anymore, but he is still very much politically relevant. Anyone who doubts the latter statement need only consider how much the GOP is still cowering in fear of his every word, refusing to so much as entertain the idea of investigating the January 6th insurrection. Trump created and weaponized the sort of know-nothing-ism that the anti-vax crowd is part of.

There is nothing stopping Trump from agreeing to star in a public service advertisement or two targeted at his demographic, encouraging people to get vaccinated. This would almost certainly be a huge help in increasing the vaccination rate, and Trump himself is vaccinated, proving that he has no objection in principle to vaccination. Yet he insists on running a death cult and killing his followers.

Then again, those followers chose to be followers. The USA is not North Korea; Trumpism is not a mandatory state ideology. Again, it is hard to feel sorry for most of those getting sick and dying as a result of their own personal bad decisions.

Three Days in Hell

Published at 10:49 on 1 July 2021

I knew a heat wave of the sort the Pacific Northwest just experienced was going to happen eventually, I just thought eventually would take a lot longer than the year 2021 to arrive. Yet here we are.

It started about a week out, when one of the weather forecasting models started predicting simply insane temperatures. Instead of being a blip, an outlier, the other main accurate model quickly came on board, and then both models stuck with that forecast as the time approached. It was both surreal and frightening. By the time the forecast was within three days, it was clear that it was going to happen, for the simple reason that I have never seen a time when the forecasting models were this consistent, both from model to model and run to run, and not seen the modeled forecast come true at that time frame.

And come true it did, with absolutely surreal high temperatures. Portland came close to reaching the all-time record high for Las Vegas, and Seattle got hotter than Atlanta ever has. Beyond the immediate human cost is the ecosystem cost: our forests simply were not evolved to deal with such conditions, and already there are many reports of widespread tree injury of death. At this early stage, it is difficult to tell injury from death, but even if it is the former, the latter probably will not be that far behind, because the summers here are already warmer and drier than long-term norms, so even less-dramatic conditions can logically be expected to continue stressing trees until many succumb.

I do not see much evidence of this in my immediate area, but this area had both higher dew points and lower temperatures than most parts of this region during the heat wave, so it is to be expected that the immediately observable effects would be less here. There are plenty of reports of more dramatic and noticeable tree damage in other parts of the region out there, and I have no real reason to doubt them.

There is little, if anything, that I love more than the native forests of this region, and the realization of their impending demise fills me with both grief and rage simultaneously. May the future have mercy on our souls.

The “Unprecedented” Cold

Published at 08:16 on 30 January 2019

It’s not unprecedented, and the fact it is being considered so proves rather than refutes global warming.

Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s far colder than average. But look at the all-time records in the Midwest. Most of them are colder than the temperatures now being seen. In fact, temperatures in the -20’s Fahrenheit and colder really aren’t historically that super-unusual from about northern Illinois northward. They didn’t happen every year, mind you, but they did happen once or twice a decade.

I know. I lived in northern Illinois as a child between the ages of five and twelve. I remember at least two cold snaps comparable in severity to the one now taking place. When they happened, there weren’t states of emergency. Mail still got delivered. My dad still went in to work. As children, we still went to school, even if we had to walk there.

It was part of every child’s normal experience to learn first-hand that when the temperature falls below zero degrees snow squeaks loudly when you walk through it and ice ceases to become slippery. I remember walking through that squeaky snow one weekend cold snap to my best friend’s house. We spent part of that afternoon playing outdoors, before we came inside and warmed up.

Our parents were not shocked or worried about their children playing outdoors in subzero weather. It wasn’t a natural disaster, it was just a cold winter. Such things happened from time to time, and life for the most part went on.

Yet, now it is a natural disaster. Now you have adults in their twenties and thirties, life-long Midwesterners, talking about squeaky snow as if they are experiencing it for the first time in their lives, because they are experiencing it for the first time in their lives. The mail is stopped, schools are closed, and employees are staying home from work.

People used to expect such cold, of course. Now, they don’t. So they’re not prepared for it. Individuals are not prepared for it, and neither are organizations. The cold is no longer expected, because it no longer happens once or twice every decade. It no longer happens so frequently because global warming has changed the climate: winters on average are milder than they used to be.

The news stories coming out of the Midwest are evidence of global warming.

Lesson from France: Ecology – Class Consciousness = Failure

Published at 10:18 on 5 December 2018

The gilets jaunes protests were touched off by Emanuel Marcon’s new carbon tax on fuel. These taxes were structured to fall hardest on the lower and middle classes, and they came in the context of taxes on the wealthiest having been recently cut.

Marcon is not a leftist; he styles himself as a centrist and a self-professed “economic realist,” in the typical centrist’s sense of “reality:” the duty of those on the bottom to realize that they deserve to be on the bottom, and deserve to get the short end of the stick while those on the top of society deserve more privileges (and any questioning of this sort of arrangement constitutes questioning “reality”).

It is worth pointing out that carbon fees and taxes have been enacted in other jurisdictions, where they generally have not proven so controversial. This makes it fairly obvious that the problems in France are happening because of how the French government chose to do things, and not because of anything intrinsic to charging for carbon pollution itself.

Cliff Mass Blows Smoke about Wildfires

Published at 08:29 on 5 September 2018

In this article, Cliff Mass claims the recent spate of wildfires (and wildfire smoke) in this region doesn’t have much to do with climate change, and that we’re merely returning to normal, smoky summers. Cited as evidence are statistics for area burned in Oregon and historical anecdotes about fires and smoke in Washington.

Missing is virtually any mention of fires in British Columbia. That’s highly significant, for two reasons:

  1. Most of the wildfire smoke the Seattle region has experienced in the last two summers has been from fires in BC, and
  2. In BC, unlike Oregon, the area burned is setting all-time records. This happened both last year and this year, in fact: 2017 set an all-time record for the province, and then 2018 bested 2017’s record.

It gets worse: there is plenty of evidence that the unprecedented size and severity of BC’s fires is related to global warming. The worst fires in BC are in the interior, in areas of lodgepole pine forest. Those forests are burning because they are full of diseased and dying trees. So many trees are diseased and dying because the population of pine beetles has exploded. The population of beetles has exploded because winters no longer have the extremes of cold that they used to.

Winters with fewer extremes of cold are precisely the sort of thing one would expect in a warming climate. Winter cold waves originate in the arctic and move south, and it is the regions closer to the poles whose temperature changes the most as global average temperatures change.

Yet despite all the above, British Columbia is almost completely absent from Mass’s blog post. I find this highly curious, to the point that I find it difficult to understand how it could be a chance accidental oversight.

Mass prides himself on being a political centrist, and I believe he has just illustrated how centrism is an ideology like any other, and centrists are subject to their political biases blinding them to obvious realities, just like those to the left and the right of the center.

The biggest problem with centrism is that if one side claims 2 + 2 = 4, and the other claims 2 + 2 = 5, you do not arrive at a correct answer by averaging the two and concluding that 2 + 2 = 4.5.