Making molehills out of mobilisation mountains
What should have been no worse than a four-thousand-death epidemic is determinedly on its way to becoming an at-least-four-million-death pandemic—a cruel and unnecessary global demonstration of the nothing-to-see-here-folks instincts of bureaucrats and politicians. In fairness, it is a human instinct—the twin of the human, and, also indeed animal, instinct to make mountains out of molehills.
With the global pattern of Brazil overtaking Italy’s reported covid-19 infection rate, but being months earlier into its first wave, and Sweden sweeping past Ireland and Spain, the extent of governmental and intergovernmental dysfunctionality could scarcely be more despicably demonstrated. That China, for all her covid-19 sins, has saved the lives of all but 4634 of its 1.4 billion citizens from the disease, is testimony to efficacy of its authoritarian governance. Any deficiency in China’s initial transparency was monstrously exceeded by the tardiness of all other countries in locking down and protecting their own citizens.
The likely, literally one thousand times more deadly outcome of covid-19 might prove to be the climate-action-mobilisation wakeup call the world needed. To date, however, that would require an exceedingly optimistic estimation of how willing the world will be the address just how deplorably unfit-for-purpose present governance structures are. Long before Lafayette Square 2020, what most Americans regard as the World’s greatest democracy had slipped to be indexed as a flawed democracy. With work, the world’s first full democracy, Aotearoa, could lead the global redemocratisation process, starting at home with addressing its corrupt campaign finance environment, and its undemocratic 5% threshold for party representation.
There is possibly no more positive sign that Aotearoa can redemocratise than whistle-blowing Dr Ayesha Verrall being Labour Party-listed from nothing, to immediately beneath self-harmed lame-duck heath minister, religious theologian Dr David Clark. On 7 April, despite being a 2019 Labour district health board candidate, Dr Verrall had had to go on national radio to warn her party that the country was woefully ill-prepared in respect to testing and contact-tracing, and that the hard-won gains of the lockdown risked being jeopardised. She was in good company, as several health scientists shut out of the government’s technical advisory group had felt compelled to communicate their concerns via the mainstream media. Governments are known to not take kindly to state-funded scientists talking directly to the media. On 23 April 2009, globally respected climate scientist Professor Jim Salinger was sacked by niwaNew Zealand’s state sector National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research for breaching the institute’s then climate-scientist muzzling media policy. On that occasion, Dr James Hansen recorded his disgust, himself having been infamously bullied, when head of nasathe United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, by none less than nasa itself. Under the George w Bush presidency, which few non-Americans imagined was other than the lowest level of madness that the United States could descend to, nasa’s administrator, Michael e Griffin, had the first, crucial line of nasa’s mission statement erased:
Tragically, the terminally incurious Bush has been bested by the malignantly incurious Trump, putting aside the latter’s wondering out loud as to whether ingesting bleach mightn’t be a whole lot less confusing than the challenge of developing an efficacious, practicably deployable covid-19 vaccine. On Monday, the imbecile-in-chief bested himself with:
It is debateable as to which is more egregious: the sentiment, or the time it took the self-proclaimed genius to come up with it. What is inarguable, is that the anaemic intergovernmental pandemic response confirms that civilisation is currently abysmally poorly served by its leaders. Without rallying leadership and radical climate-action mobilisation, anthropogenic global warming, which is perceived as not having a fraction as urgency as covid-19, is guaranteed to obliterate billions of lives. If a timeline suggesting pandemic-style urgency could be presented, the jobs of politicians would be less diabolically difficult. In 1979mea culpa! For some 73-year-old-reason published this as 1971, President Jimmy Carter’s science adviser, concerned that his boss’s enthusiasm for unconventional fossil fuels could prove fateful, commissioned a report that warned:
…the ocean, the great and ponderous flywheel of the global climate system, may be expected to slow the course of observable climatic change. A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late.
Forty-one years on…yet somehow still managed to get the elapsed years right!, the great and ponderous flywheel of intergovernmental inertia means that, for all the talk of greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, and setting up of climate commissions, carbon dioxide levels continue to climb—proof positive that nothing short of immediate climate-action mobilisation can now be defended as adequate. Having not been subjected to such a rapid increase in greenhouse-gas emissions in paleoclimate history, no certainties can be provided. The time in which carbon emissions need to be, or needed have been, zeroed will only be known in retrospect, so great are the known unknowns, the unknowable unknowns, and, of course, unknown unknowns, regarding climate feedbacks.
Climate-action mobilisation is, at last, being discussed. Some, while acknowledging the imperative, worry that World War II-style mobilisation would see an erosion of democracy. But before getting too precious, living under a full democracy, even by the Economist’s overly generous indexing, is the privilege of a miniscule 1.6% of global population. But nor, again, is it a binary choice. Countries can redemocratise and mobilise, citing the now beyond urgent need to mobilise as the reason campaign finance reform, for example, can wait no longer. Besides, failing to avert existential-threat runaway greenhouse is all-but guaranteed to result in martial law, the antithesis of democracy.
Meantime, with covid-19 cases continuing to breech what should have been impenetrable quarantine controls, the early-yearned-for trans-Tasman Sea bubble remains problematic. What could have been put in place day 1 of level 1, is fortnight-long, quarantine-at-sea, Auckland–Sydney cruises, and vice versa—almost half of New Zealand’s visitors are Australian. To begin to mitigate its aircraft emissions, Aotearoa needs to be linked to Australia by high-speed zero-carbon ferry. Then, if Australia was to fully electrify its rail system, and utilise some of the uranium it exports, rather than burn coal, to power it, Australasian transportation would approach exemplary. However, with less than 8% of its rail network currently electrified, the continent has most of its 41 000-kilometre network yet to be brought into the 21st century. Not that it is anything to crow about, New Zealand’s rail network is nearly twice as electrified, and has more rail-metres per person—about 0.12 to an Australian’s 0.08, which in turn is nothing to crow about, given it is barely on par with New Zealand’s old enemy Turkey, at the bottom of the European barrel at 0.12 rail-metres per personThe Social Atlas of Europe, Dimitris Ballas, Danny Dorling, and Benjamin Hennig.
In her adroit easing of physical distancing, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deployed the descent-from-Everest analogy. But at the risk of heresy, covid-19 wasn’t New Zealand’s Everest. Anthropogenic global warming, or its part in it, is the bastard Aotearoa must knock off. Making a molehill out of the Holy MotherQomolangma, Tibetan of all mountains that is global warming, is to perilously underestimate the team of five million’s, and humanity’s, only guaranteed existential threatunless, of course, the species survives the next billion years of the Sun’s progression towards its red-giant phase.
It is to fail to understand and protect humanity’s home planet.
Governmentally generated waves Some writers are exercised by references to waves in the context of covid-19, concerned that it implies a 1918 Pandemic-style second, deadlier wave of the disease is likely or inevitable. While, theoretically, nothing about this pandemic is inevitable, what is though, are the waves the United Kingdom and United States, and other basket-case countries, are causing by prematurely and clumsily lifting lockdowns—the result of their pathological ideology of placing economy before public health, under the puerile premise of it being a binary choice.
West Wing virtue signalling While President Jimmy Carter famously had photovoltaic panels installed on the West Wing of the White House, 20 June 1979, in Kentucky 41 days later, he blustered:
I would rather burn a ton of Kentucky coal than to see our nation become dependent by buying another barrel of opec oil.
Long since known as the Charney Report, the document titled Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment was produced in an ultimately futile attempt to steer President Carter away from fossil fuels. Four decades of egregious greenwashing, and a relentless rise of greenhouse-gas emissions, have followed. The remarkably robust estimation of climate sensitively arrived at by the report, with the help of the extended team behind it that included Dr James Hansen, was of 3° warming for doubled atmospheric carbon dioxide, plus or minusplus or minus 1.5°. It now appears that 5° is more likely, as is existential-threat runaway greenhouse. Carter’s tepid goal for the United States of 20% renewablesfor not merely electric power by 2000, has, in 2020, barely passed the halfway mark.
Achilles’ Heel of current strategies The following are the two concluding paragraphs of Asymptomatic Transmission, the Achilles’ Heel of Current Strategies to Control Covid-19, published 28 May 2020:
Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.
Ultimately, the rapid spread of Covid-19 across the United States and the globe, the clear evidence of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic personsArons MM, Hatfield KM, Reddy SC, et al. Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility. N Engl J Med. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457, and the eventual need to relax current social distancing practices argue for broadened SARS-CoV-2 testing to include asymptomatic persons in prioritized settings. These factors also support the case for the general public to use face masks when in crowded outdoor or indoor spaces. This unprecedented pandemic calls for unprecedented measures to achieve its ultimate defeat.