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.

Dry-Erase Markers and Central Heating

Published at 16:09 on 5 January 2017

The fomer requires the latter to work properly. If a room is colder than about 60 °F (15.5 °C) dry erase markers cease to dry-erase so easily.

Since my home doesn’t have central heating (it has individual space heaters in each room), and I’ve been trying to live like the British used to prior to the 1970s (typically heat the main room in the home only), my home office is typically around 50 °F (10 °C) in the mornings (yes, British houses used to get colder than that in the old days during cold spells, but my place is of fairly recent construction and is thus well-insulated).

Why do that? First, it saves money. It also promotes comfort while outdoors, since the temperature difference is not so great. Most importantly, it reduces my ecological impact. And no, it’s not any great amount of suffering. Cold is why blankets and layers exist. Plus, the propane heater in my living room kicks out a fair amount of radiant heat, so if I’m on the couch in front if it, I can feel plenty warm even if the room is on the chilly side.

So, How Harmful Is I-732, Anyhow?

Published at 13:01 on 22 September 2016

Revisiting a previous post of mine, it’s time to answer the question asked therein:

The question to ask, I think, is: How much harm will the proposed law actually do [emphasis added]? Note that this is a very different question from asking how far it falls short in addressing race and class issues, even though global warming almost certainly will harm the disadvantaged more.

Addressing the latter really isn’t the purpose of the legislation. Such issues should be addressed, of course, but the proper way to address them is via other, separate actions. On the other hand, if the measure does itself do harm to the disadvantaged, then that is a valid argument against it.

I’m going mostly on three articles run early last month by the Sightline Institute, a voice I generally respect: one, two, three.

The answer to the question seems to be “Some, but overall not very much.”

The Sightline articles (particularly the second one) assume the measure will be revenue neutral, as much as can be ascertained. On that, I’m skeptical. I’m generally inclined to trust the Department of Revenue’s estimates more than Sightline’s in most (but not all) cases. In particular, Sightline is assuming an all-but-inevitable court challenge will go their way, when by their own admission according to history challenges of that particular nature generally do not. However, even given that, it must be pointed out that it’s a small revenue shortfall.

Yes, I-732’s drafters failed to reach out to the disadvantaged. Shame on them — to paraphrase a humorous work of fiction I once read, organized environmentalism is the whitest movement since the Klan. While that may be hyperbolic, it is the case that environmental organizations tend to be drawn from a very historically privileged background. But, while the drafters’ lack of awareness was shameful, it was not actual harm and thus falls short of the standards I set forth in my earlier post.

To their credit, I-732’s drafters did recognize how shamefully regressive Washington state’s tax structure is, and attempt to do something about it. Unfortunately, the law was overly simplistic and there’s cracks in the law through which some of the poor will slip (and thus end up paying in the order of hundreds of dollars more taxes per year).

I-732 also fails to actively spend more money on renewable energy and conservation. Given its revenue shortfall problem, that’s probably a blessing in disguise. Also, this again falls short of my standard of doing harm: sins of omission are not sins of commission. Finally, it’s not as if the economic incentives created by the taxes won’t alter behavior and cause private parties to make such investments (in fact, that’s a huge part of their purpose); the investments may not happen directly by government action but they will happen nonetheless.

So to sum up, the actual harm done by I-732 is that it:

  • Makes the state’s recurring budget crisis slightly worse by being slightly revenue negative.
  • Makes a minority of the poor end up paying more, not less, in taxes, even though most of the poor will pay less.

At this stage in the game, I do not think that the total harm outweighs either the good the measure will do, or the harm that rejecting it will do. The latter is likely to taint carbon taxes with a stench of failure, thereby causing even more delays in attempting to address the most profound crisis that mankind has ever faced.

She’s Still Lying; They Knew the Danger

Published at 09:57 on 10 September 2016

No, I don’t have any hard evidence to back up that suspicion, but I feel pretty safe concluding that Christe Todd Whitman is lying when she claims nobody knew how dangerous the air was in Lower Manhattan 15 years ago. The reason is asbestos.

I remember being astounded at the time that people weren’t super-concerned about asbestos contimanation. The towers were built at a time when asbestos was still a very popular material. Aside from its carciogenicity, asbestos is a wonderful material with many advantages (fireproof, excellent elecrrical and heat insulator, not subject to decay), one which one can obtain for literally just the effort of digging it out of the ground. So quite naturally it found wide use.

I was once system and network manager in a building that was built before the nasty truth about asbestos became widely known. It made running new network wiring a constant headache; one couldn’t so much as drill through most walls in that building without spending thousands of dollars to protect against liberating asbestos fibers.

Those towers were obviously full of asbestos-containing building materials, so naturally so was the dust left by their collapse. Any claims the dust was not hazardous were obviously baloney. If any initial measurements indicated a lack of hazard, that was reason not to abandon extreme caution but to suspect the quality of the measurements.