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Depraved indifference to humanity and the home planet

by 5 Jul 2020Climate mobilisation, Dredging0 comments

Peter Thompson aboard the Jane Gifford, heading up the Mahurangi River

Well-Deserved Hard-Won Success: On a childhood Mahurangi River trip, Peter Thompson listened to his father and a colleague discuss how, if it was to continue to be navigable, the river would inevitably require dredging. That that work is now being funded, during the covid-19 pandemic, is a story richly deserving a book of its own, spanning the lives of a remarkable father and his remarkable son. image Mahurangi River Restoration Trust

Aotearoa has demonstrated that democracy can work. Globally, however, covid-19 demonstrates the deadly degree to which governmental and intergovernmental governance, democratic or otherwise, is grossly unfit-for-purpose.

The world’s ascendant and declining superpowers, in particular, are demonstrating the diabolical consequences of intergovernmental dysfunctionality and indifference, in failing to respond dutifully to the emergence of a new and deadly virus. But more crucially, they were already demonstrating four decades of indifference to the efforts of climate scientists to steer them away from fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions rise unabated. As of 28 June, the United States exceeded a reported a covid-19 infection rate of 7500 per million population, in territory shared only with Chile, Kuwait, and Peru. Accordingly, the Mahurangi Magazine has recast its daily updated reported-cases chart to accommodate the next grim milestone of 10 000 per million—1% of population infected. Yet globally the pandemic is in its infancy, with or without near-miraculous progress with the development, manufacture, and deployment of a sufficiently efficacious vaccine.


Coldest Town on Earth: On 20 June, Arctic-circle town Verkhoyansk, with its legendary 1892 record of −67.8°, hit an all-time high of +38.0°—just above 100°, in Daniel Fahrenheit’s 277-year-superseded scale. It should surprise no one that permafrost is being terminally altered by such temperatures, and terrify everybody that attendant methane emissions are soaring. image cnn

In the highly improbable event that this pandemic proves to be as deadly as the upper range of estimates for that of 1918Knobler S, Mack A, Mahmoud A, Lemon S, eds. (2005). 1: The Story of Influenza. The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready? Workshop Summary (2005). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. pp. 60–61., in all countries outside of China, fatalities would be more than 350 million. The next pandemic, however, could conceivably be of that scale, because while humanity now has better weapons to fight pandemics, the potential exacerbations—such as the 4.5 billion flights taken per year—are also greater. But as appalling as a 0.35-billion-death-pandemic scenario is, the upper range of estimates of potential premature anthropogenic-global-warming fatalities, for an entirely possible global temperature rise, is a chilling 7.5 billion deaths, in addition to other preventable deaths, over 100–200-year period. But while all it took to stop covid-19 in its tracks was social distancing, a survivable climate can’t be salvaged by a seven-week lockdown—atmospheric carbon dioxide endures, effectively, for millennia. If world powers wait until global warming deaths begin overwhelming intensive care units, enough new hospitals could not be built, nor new food brewing factories brought online, fast enough to avert deaths, not on a 1918 Pandemic scale, but akin a perpetual Black Death, which killed the equivalent of a billion people per year, at today’s population levels.

Kaja Kallas casting vote, 2019

Won Election to Lose War: Despite leading the Estonian Reform Party to its best ever result, gaining the greatest share of party support in 2019 by nearly 6 percentage points, populist, conservative, and right-wing parties—and the misogynistically inclined generally—spurned all attempts by Kaja Kallas to form a governing coalition. Reform Party mep Urmas Paet visited Aotearoa in 2009, when Estonia’s minister of foreign affairs. This appears to have been the beginning of a rich bilateral relationship, which includes a working holiday scheme for 18–30-year-olds. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s consummate covid-19 leadership is likely to rub off on Kallas in 2023, when the world will likely still be mired the aftermath of the pandemic—assuming the depraved, anybody-but-Kallas coalition lasts anything like that long. image Central Asia Post

The depraved indifference that allowed the herd-immunity instinct to be touted as a remotely plausible response is breath-takingly instructive. Even now, in Ardern-led Aotearoa, the same depraved inclinations are barely concealed by those to which law-of-the-jungle neoliberal ideology, long since totally discredited, remains so appealing. That is not to say New Zealand’s post-lockdown quarantine measures have been immaculate, but would-be prime minister Muller should be fighting to ensure that the system is abundantly resourced, and that testing and self-isolation, where practicable, is provided to those seeking repatriation, before they head for Heathrow, Changi, or Sydney, rather than bandstand abundantly premature border reopening. Long term, New Zealand’s covid-19-free status will confer an economic and social premium entirely beyond the reach of most of the, woefully mismanaged, world.

Estonia has demonstrated how that country, having comprehensively embraced governmental digitisation, was well set up to integrate covid-19 contact-tracing into its health information system. Assigned responsibility for knocking New Zealand’s struggling covid-19 quarantine processes into shape, Dr Megan Woods, is also the minister for government digital services and visited Estonia in 2018. Had her government not been beaten community infection a good four months ahead of the 19 September election, Dr Woods, up one to fifth place on the Labour Party’s list, would have had serious cause to regret the 15-years-and-counting that it is taking for Aotearoa to begin to emulate Estonia, which has established the gold standard for online elections. At half the cost of voting via paper ballot, small countries like Aotearoa, responsibly, cannot afford to let Estonia’s contribution to affordable good governance go to waste. Aotearoa and Estonia have the beginnings of a rich relationship that might, if adequately prioritised, have seen close cooperation on their respective covid-19 responses, including, potentially, the first robust, shared European–Pacific bubble.

Table of enrolments in Kaipara ki Mahurangi

Enrolled in Kaipara ki Mahurangi: Kaipara ki Mahurangi residents—particularly an estimated 1531 18–24-year olds—who wish to, can enrol online up until and including 18 September. But with probably even more than the 2017 record of 48% voting before Election Day, accepting enrolments on the day would be a powerful way of signalling that voting is a right, not a privilege afforded at the convenience of electoral officers, with all due respect to the Venice Commission. In the 2015 New South Wales state elections, nearly 42 000 enrolled on election day. chart Mahurangi Magazine | data Electoral Commission New Zealand

Such sublime counterfactual, however, would have needed to have been initiated and led by Jacinda Ardern and Estonia’s first female prime minister Kaja Kallas. That Kallas was denied the opportunity to continue her father’s Reform Party’s constructive role in Estonian coalition governments can probably largely be blamed on misogyny, but the anti-immigrant sentiment that has poisoned so much of the developed world provided populist leaders the whip hand. Fortunately, despite Winston Peters wooing Brexit-bankrollerNet worth reported as £100–250 million, June 2018 Arron Banks, a similarly depraved scenario is unlikely to play out in Aotearoa, but it is just one reason it is so desperately important that campaign finance be urgently, and elegantly, reformed. The depraved indifference of Donald Trump means that, come 5 September when New Zealanders begin flocking to the polls for 13 days of early voting, it will be against a backdrop of American people being infected at rates of about 100 000 per day. National and New Zealand First, with their discordant calls for the reopening of borders, are unlikely to find former supporters flooding obediently back to their respective folds.

Self-Flattening Tracing App Fizzer: New Zealand’s too-late-to-the-party roll-your-own covid-19 tracing app demonstrates, in microcosm, how hopelessly ill-prepared the world was for the utter inevitability of pandemic. But at least Germany had the humility to own its mistake and adopt the Apple–Google exposure-notification protocol that is resulting in apps that are useful in the real world. chart Mahurangi Magazine | data Ministry of Health

The United Kingdom poll indicating 59% want to see big or moderate changes in the way the economy is run post-covid-19, and only 6% of people wanting to see no changes, is instructive. It suggests that the hunger to return to business-as-usual might be being misjudged by Muller, and that comeback-kingmaker Peters and his corrupt party won’t be around to game mmpmixed-member proportional after 19 September. But nor does it mean Labour can afford to not admit to its covid-19 mistakes. Aside for taking too long to organise a robust quarantine regime—both before, but more egregiously, after, lockdown—it is persisting with an embarrassingly inept contact-tracing app. Registered by fewer than 12% of the population, and barely used, judging by the average number of scans—two and a bit, per person—the app needs to be put out of its misery. Nor is there any mention of when it will be replaced by one using the Apple–Google protocol. What it cost Apple and Google to develop the protocol has possibly not yet been calculated but any collaboration between tech-behemoth twins collectively valued at $2.3 trillion would have to be eye-watering. And if Europe’s largest, and the world’s fourth-largest, economy, Germany, could swallow its pride and adopt the GappleGoogle–Apple protocol, imagining that New Zealand Ministry of Health bureaucrats might take one for ‘the team of five million’ is far from unreasonable. Nor is a resignation necessary, whereas lame-batsince pangolins have been given a pass, in respect to CoViD-19 self-disgraced David Clark should not have been afforded that dignity, deserving to be fired precisely three months before he finally resigned, and then only from his health ministry.

Coaxial cavity gyrotron

Gyrotron Likely to Unlock Geothermal: Just as the development of a safe and efficacious covid-19 vaccine is utterly science-and-technology-dependent, so too is the decarbonisation of energy. Batteries and photovoltaic panels are far too puny to replace fossil fuels, not even matching the annual increase in fossil-fuel use—more than half a billion barrels of oil equivalent, in 2019. Renewable heavyweights hydro and geothermal will receive a survivable-climate-salvaging boost, if geothermal wells, economically, can be drilled literally anywhere on the planet, by Gyro Gearloose-esque gyrotron-generated millimetre frequencies. rendering Elsevier

How covid-19 plays out globally is far from certain, as it will party depend upon when vastly more robust testing methods are developed, and when, or if, large-scale vaccination is achieved. But what is certain about how the pandemic upfolds also holds for anthropogenic global warming. The failure to resource science, and to make best policy use of it, is having escalating lethal consequences. Vital information regarding, for example, how greatly cloud cover will amplify warming is unknown, thanks to the refusal of the United States to fund its National Aeronautics and Space Administration to deploy the satellites necessary to understand and protect the home planet. With Joe Biden failing to crushingly capitalise on the depraved Donald Trump’s unpopularity, and the new prospect of votes being wasted on an unelectable malignant narcissist, it could be 20 January 2025 before the United States is in a position to project a vision for global climate-action mobilisation. Aotearoa and Estonia—and even potential low-carbon energy exemplar Norwaywas it to replace its gas and oil wells with hot-dry-rock wells—could form a coalition of small nations with the moral power to shake the variously authoritarian and populist superpowers from their depraved indifference.

Stop the press—start the dredge Embargoed until Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party conference address yesterday afternoon, is the momentous news that the Mahurangi River dredging is included in the ‘jobs for nature’ tranche of projects funded. As most every Mahurangi citizen well knows, Peter Thompson has dedicated an escalating proportion of his life planning, preparing, and funding this vision to be consented and commenced. Restoring the navigability of the river, the goal of the Mahurangi River Restoration Trust, will shape future of Mahurangi’s tidehead town.

That the project could proceed while most of the world is crippled by covid-19, is down to geographic isolation, the science-based policy decisions and consummate communication skills of the prime minister, the caring response of New Zealanders, and—like the realisation of Peter Thompson’s vision—a shovel-ready-sized serving of serendipity.

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.


Reported CoViD-19 infection rates in Aotearoa and 27 other selected countries, and the planet

Becoming Wise Before the Event: Despite now experiencing 17 pandemics—and 6 of those since 2002—the world was found to be pitifully ill-prepared for when, with predictable unpredictability, this current pandemic manifested. Preparing for the potentially far-deadlier effects of anthropogenic global heating, as well as being an inescapable existential imperative, can, simultaneously, better equip humanity to respond to epidemics, and prevent more becoming pandemics. Here, the initially all-but-imperceptible case-infection rates displayed for India and Indonesia were grave indicators of governments in desperate denial of their countries’ now-destined roles in the raging pandemic—and early exemplar Singapore demonstrates the ruinous consequences of neglecting its most vulnerable workers. Nigeria, however, scams all 207 million of its citizens, by testing fewer than 1% of them, thus hiding the appalling impact of the pandemic there. Australia long-since lost her battle to keep within cooee of covid-19-test-kit-exporter extraordinaire South Korea’s standout response. Aotearoa, meantime, has flat-lined in a good way. All countries’ infection rates are under-reported, some because a few cases, particularly early in the pandemic, are misdiagnosed, but in other countries monstrously, due to dysfunction and/or lack of transparency. The diameter of each line on this graph is proportional to the country’s population. graph Mahurangi Magazine | data Our World in Data 12 November 2020

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Flutracking influenza-like illness symptoms, percentage reporting both fever and cough

Salutary Lesson in Seasonal Influenza: Physical distancing has also paid dividends in reducing the annual toll extracted by flu that, despite its deadliness, is treated as an inconvenience rather than the killer it is, particularly of the very young, the elderly, and the pregnant—“On average, approximately 400 deaths are attributed to influenza and its complications annually.” covid-19 provided the opportunity to begin collecting flu-symptom data earlier than was done 2018–2019. graph Department of Health Australia | Ministry of Health Aotearoa | labels Mahurangi Magazine

Lockdown modelling, Aotearoa

New Zealand’s Altered Future: Moving nine days faster than Ireland, and more emphatically physically distancing, Aotearoa has avoided Ireland’s near vertical trajectory—until the middle of May—of reported covid-19 cases. Ireland’s prime minister then donning his sweats was perhaps great optics, but responding to, for example, fellow general practitioner Dr Marcus de Brun, or to nursing-home representatives more than seven weeks earlier, would have constituted a far more heroic course of action. Aotearoa, for its own survival, now needs to convince the world to alter its determinedly fossil-fuelled future. chart New Zealand Geographic | Te Pūnaha Matatini

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