The Week That Was: March 21, 2020, Brought to You by www.SEPP.org
By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)
Quote of the Week: “There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry… There is no place for dogma in science… And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer [H/t Paul Redfern]
Fiasco in the Making? Writing in Stat, epidemiologist John Ioannidis of Stanford University emphasizes the need for solid data to address the coronavirus disease, Covid-19. Ioannidis is co-director of Stanford’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, which is dedicated to improving the quality of scientific studies in biomedicine. He writes:
“At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected. Better information is needed to guide decisions and actions of monumental significance and to monitor their impact.
Draconian countermeasures have been adopted in many countries. If the pandemic dissipates — either on its own or because of these measures — short-term extreme social distancing and lockdowns may be bearable. How long, though, should measures like these be continued if the pandemic churns across the globe unabated? How can policymakers tell if they are doing more good than harm?”
It may take a long time before vaccines or affordable treatments are properly tested. A lockdown of the economy for weeks or months can be economically devastating, and we do not have the information necessary to make prudent, well-reasoned decisions.
“The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300. Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the U.S., lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population.
“This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.
“The one situation where an entire, closed population was tested was the Diamond Princess cruise ship and its quarantine passengers. The case fatality rate there was 1.0%, but this was a largely elderly population, in which the death rate from Covid-19 is much higher.
“Projecting the Diamond Princess mortality rate onto the age structure of the U.S. population, the death rate among people infected with Covid-19 would be 0.125%. But since this estimate is based on extremely thin data — there were just seven deaths among the 700 infected passengers and crew — the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.025%) to five times higher (0.625%). It is also possible that some of the passengers who were infected might die later, and that tourists may have different frequencies of chronic diseases — a risk factor for worse outcomes with SARS-CoV-2 infection — than the general population. Adding these extra sources of uncertainty, reasonable estimates for the case fatality ratio in the general U.S. population vary from 0.05% to 1%.
That huge range markedly affects how severe the pandemic is and what should be done. A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05% is lower than seasonal influenza. If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.
After a discussion of various types of tests and our lack of knowledge on what measures may be effective Dr. Ioannidis states:
“At a minimum, we need unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making.
“In the most pessimistic scenario, which I do not espouse, if the new coronavirus infects 60% of the global population and 1% of the infected people die, that will translate into more than 40 million deaths globally, matching the 1918 influenza pandemic.
“The vast majority of this hecatomb [great public sacrifice] would be people with limited life expectancies. That’s in contrast to 1918, when many young people died.
“One can only hope that, much like in 1918, life will continue. Conversely, with lockdowns of months, if not years, life largely stops, short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake.
“If we decide to jump off the cliff, we need some data to inform us about the rationale of such an action and the chances of landing somewhere safe.” See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and Health, Energy, and Climate.
Two Crises? The essay by Dr. Ioannidis highlights the need for reliable, unbiased, solid evidence to address a threat to human health and welfare from Covid-19. We have over forty years of comprehensive, reliable, unbiased evidence to address what the UN calls a “climate crisis.” That evidence shows that atmospheric warming, where the greenhouse effect occurs, is no threat to human health and welfare. When the EPA declared that carbon dioxide endangers human health and welfare, it ignored the finest data available. When the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared a “climate crisis”, it ignored the finest data available. When US government research centers run their climate models, they ignore the finest data available to predict dangerous warming from carbon dioxide, which is not occurring. It is very difficult to identify an appropriate term to describe these public entities that deliberately mislead the public.
Already, many advocates of dangerous carbon dioxide-caused warming are advocating that society’s mobilization for Covid-19 should be an example for mobilization for the “climate crisis.” It is not. The problem with Convid-19 is the absence of solid reliable evidence. The problem with the so-called “climate crisis” is government entities deliberately ignoring solid reliable evidence. See links under Questioning the Orthodoxy and Below the Bottom Line.
Talking Trash: In many sports involving personal contact, some participants try to disrupt their opponents by making personal insults that are not tolerated in polite society. In televised professional wrestling, talking trash has been raised to an entertaining art form, without foul language. Talking trash can often be considered a form of the logical fallacy argumentum ad hominem, argument to the man – an effort to discredit a concept or idea by discrediting the person who proposes it.
In a number of once-respected publications, trash-talking is used to discredit those who disagree with the UN’s version of carbon dioxide-caused global warming, usually without credible evidence supporting the claim. For example, there are published, but false, claims that Fred Singer or SEPP took money from oil companies (Texaco, Exxon), chemical companies (Monsanto), tobacco companies (Philip Morris), and others. In its fawning review of Merchants of Doubt, Science Magazine accepted such claims and refused to publish a rebuttal.
As the ongoing cross-lawsuits in different courts and jurisdictions by Michael Mann against Tim Ball and Mark Steyn illustrates, attempting to sue for damages is a costly, lengthy process fraught with booby traps. Further, the time spent in litigation takes away from time spent on more productive endeavors. Unfortunately, in the field of climate studies, talking trash seems to be increasing.
For another example, some journalists and others assert that William Happer is not a climate scientist, thus his views should be dismissed. However, Happer is an expert in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics. AMO physics includes classical, semi-classical and quantum treatments of emission, absorption, and scattering of electromagnetic radiation – the very basis of the greenhouse effect. See links under Communicating Better to the Public – Make things up.
Greenhouse Effect – Venus and Mars: The atmosphere of Venus receives a lot of attention as an example of “runaway greenhouse.” The atmosphere of Venus is made up almost completely of carbon dioxide, with traces of nitrogen. The average temperature of Venus is estimated to be about 860 degrees Fahrenheit (460 degrees Celsius). With limited information, “runaway greenhouse” on Venus appears realistic.
What is often ignored is that the atmospheric pressure at the surface is about 92 earth’s atmospheres or about the same as the pressure 3,000 feet deep Earth’s oceans. Further, “temperatures are cooler in the upper atmosphere [of Venus], ranging from (minus 43 C) to (minus 173 C).” Thus, there is a lapse rate — the temperature drop per kilometer of elevation. The lapse rate for CO2 is about 20% larger than for air, but there are far more kilometers of atmosphere on Venus than on Earth. Further:
“Temperatures on Venus remain consistent over time. For one thing, the planet takes 243 Earth days to spin once on its axis (and it spins backwards, at that; on Venus, the sun rises in the west and sets in the east). The nights on Venus are as warm as the days.
“Venus also has a very small tilt of only 3.39 degrees with respect to the sun, compared to 23.4 degrees on Earth. On our planet, it is the tilt that provides us with the change in seasons; the hemisphere slanted closer to the sun feels the heat of spring and summer. The lack of tilt means that even if Venus got rid of its overheated atmosphere, it would still feel fairly consistent temperatures year-round.
“The lack of significant tilt causes only slight temperature variations from the equator to the poles, as well.” (fn. 1)
“…Mars’ atmosphere however is 95% carbon dioxide, 3% nitrogen, 1.6% argon, and it has traces of oxygen, carbon monoxide, water, methane, and other gases, (fn. 2)
Relative to Earth, the air on Mars is extremely thin. Standard sea-level air pressure on Earth is 1,013 millibars. On Mars the surface pressure varies through the year, but it averages 6 to 7 millibars. That’s less than one percent of sea level pressure here. To experience that pressure on Earth, you would need to go to an altitude of about 45 kilometers (28 miles). (fn. 2)
Mars’s atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. Without a “thermal blanket,” Mars can’t retain any heat energy. On average, the temperature on Mars is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius). In winter, near the poles temperatures can get down to minus 195 degrees F (minus 125 degrees C). A summer day on Mars may get up to 70 degrees F (20 degrees C) near the equator, but at night the temperature can plummet to about minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 C). (fn. 3)
Mars rotates on its axis, completing one revolution every 24.6 hours, similar to earth with a rotation of 24 hours with respect to the sun. The axis of Mars is tilted at 25 degrees and 12 minutes relative to its orbital plane about the Sun. The axis of the Earth is tilted at 23 degrees and 27 minutes relative to its orbital plane about the Sun. Though not in distance, in many ways Mars is closer to Earth than Venus.
The above has two points. One, it is tricky to make comparisons of the atmospheres of Venus and Earth. The percentage concentration of CO2 is not the most important issue. Further, Venus and Earth have significantly different rotation periods and tilts. And two, the greenhouse effect of water vapor and carbon dioxide is very important on Earth. It keeps much of the land surface habitable and capable of growing crops which otherwise would freeze at night, as stated by greenhouse effect pioneer John Tyndall in last week’s Quote of the Week. See
What Energy? Writing in Real Clear Energy Michael Kelly discusses the major sets of problems arising from political demands to make vehicles and building heating carbon-free in the UK. The Professor Emeritus of Technology at the University of Cambridge, England, states the interlocking problems “demand a full and rigorous systems-engineering analysis, now totally absent in the public debate.”
For example, in discussing automobiles alone he states:
“Next time you stand for 90 seconds filling your petrol tank, you might think of the enormity of what is happening, in energy terms. Chemical energy is entering your tank at a rate of typically 17 million Joules/second, or 17 megawatts—equivalent to the energy given off by 17,000 one-bar electric heaters! This large number is the basis of many difficulties, much glossed over in the rush to all-electric cars.
“In making personal mobility all-electric, two important considerations must be weighed. The first is that electric motors convert electricity to motion three times more efficiently, in energy terms, than the internal-combustion engine does with gasoline. The second is that we do not recharge an electric battery in 90 seconds. Neither of these avoid the difficulties I now describe.”
He goes into the problems of batteries, how to charge them, and where to get the power to generate the necessary electricity without fossil fuels. Kelly concludes:
“Put simply: infrastructural engineering capability to provide for electric cars and electric heating by 2050 is a massive and probably unachievable ambition. To attempt to accelerate it, to 2030, is madness. The rest of the world can look at Britain and choose whether to laugh or weep. One thing it shouldn’t do is emulate us.”
Writing in Watts Up With That, Paul Driessen asks a similar question: “How exactly do they plan to replace fossil fuels?” Given that green politicians are becoming increasingly bold in making unrealistic, even ludicrous, demands, they are preparing a way for extremely expensive failure. Perhaps they believe that pixie dust will save the day. Realistic solutions do not exist. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.
Oil Market Turmoil: As China was closing industries in response to Covid-19, thus significantly reducing consumption of oil, Russia decided to break with OPEC and start producing oil without respecting the limits it agreed to uphold. The situation is totally different from the Oil Crisis of the 1970s or the drop in prices of 2014. Unlike 1970, there is no assumed shortage of oil, it is a matter of price. Unlike 2014, the price is not many times the cost to the major producers. The government budgets of OPEC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, require one price with a particular volume, the budget of Russia another price with a particular volume.
The wild card is the US independent producers. The US is not a petrostate, with the US government getting a major portion of its revenues from oil. The independent producers can enter or leave the market with little government coercion. Speculation on what may happen is wild, including Saudi Arabia leaving OPEC, which it helped form. There is little benefit to discuss the speculation except to say that the situation may be bad for alternative fuels such as biofuels. See links under Energy Issues – Non-US, Oil and Natural Gas – the Future or the Past?, and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Energy — Other
Number of the Week: 365.2422 days. Years ago, students learned that Spring in the Northern Hemisphere comes on March 21, with the Spring Equinox, when the length of the day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world. This week that event occurred on Thursday, March 19, at 11:50 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time. The problem is the actual length of the year and adjustments to the calendar to accommodate that length of 365.2422 days. Also, there is some disagreement as to the length of the year – perhaps 365.2424 days. Man may create beautiful concepts, but nature does not obey. See links under Other News that May Be of Interest.
Albert Camus’s ‘The Plague’ is a picture of life—and hope—in a time of pestilence and quarantine.
By Jeffrey Meyers, WSJ, Mar 20, 2020
TWTW Summary: Given the Coronavirus or Covid-19 and the UN’s unsupported claim of a “climate crisis”, it is useful to review a threat to humanity as written by extensional writer Albert Camus in his classic novel with complex characters, riveting plot, emotional intensity and exalted themes. In his review, the fellow of the Royal Society of Literature writes:
“The world-wide Spanish influenza epidemic that began in 1918 killed about 50 million people, more than all the combined deaths in World War I. The current coronavirus epidemic is just as frightening. Official reports convey unpreparedness rather than reassurance. No one knows how long it will last or how much damage it will cause. The disease incites panic in the streets and in the shops, and infects us with fear and insecurity.
After a brief overview of Camus, the reviewer states:
“Camus’s uninspiring setting, Oran on the coast of North Africa, is ugly: baking in summer, muddy in winter; treeless, glamorless, soulless. Its citizens are smug, placid and bored. Their passions are short-lived, their vices banal. They cultivate mechanical habits to get through life and have no interest in anything but money and pleasure. They don’t think about morality, religion or death. The plague begins suddenly with the swarming appearance of festering rats, who carry their infectious bacilli to man and die in the streets. Camus observes, ‘It was as if the earth on which our houses stood were being purged of its secreted humors; thrusting up to the surface the abscesses that had been forming in its entrails.’ Like our virus, the infection is an evil visitation that seems to come from nowhere and puts everyone at risk.
“‘The Plague’ is a vivid allegory of the then-recent Nazi occupation of wartime France. The mass burials and crematoria recall the concentration and extermination camps; there’s an organized Resistance to the plague and the invading bubonic rats finally retreat. But the novel is also a grim account of the threatening contagion. It shows how desperate citizens fight the disease that ravages the city, how they respond to the quarantine and lack of a cure during the overwhelming disaster.
“Extending his focus, Camus describes an entire town in the grip of disease and emphasizes the separation of the survivors, not the suffering of the sick. He writes with detachment and scrupulous veracity in a clinical yet lyrical manner. The authorities cannot explain, control or eliminate the plague. They are not prepared for its arrival, unwilling to recognize its existence and unrealistic about its effects. Oran suffers dire consequences: cuts in electricity, rationing of food and gas, severe shortages and restricted traffic; the sudden appearance of a black market, smuggling, looting, curfews, press censorship, police surveillance and martial law.
“The characters express various attitudes about the plague and comment on the human condition. The doctor Rieux, the criminal Cottard and the clerk Grand are aware that the plague implies evil in mankind; the journalist Rambert, the magistrate Othon and the priest Paneloux develop their understanding as the plague proceeds. Trying to reconcile belief in God’s goodness with the evil in their midst, Paneloux delivers two sermons. In the first he justifies God’s punishment and declares, ‘This same pestilence which is slaying you, works for your good and points your path.’ In the second he changes his argument. He now asks if the promise of ‘eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment of human suffering’ yet challenges his congregation by asserting there is no room for doubt: ‘We must believe everything or deny everything. And who among you, I ask, would dare to deny everything?’
“‘The Plague’ portrays people’s sense of unreality and lack of readiness; their denial and despair, suffering and isolation, selfishness and sacrifice, indifference and affirmation, hatred and sympathy; the power of love and the will to prevail in philosophically absurd conditions. The selfless hero Dr. Rieux, who fights the plague and narrates the book, is outraged by the anguish of the victims and expresses the transcendent theme of love. He believes in the collective destiny of human beings and promises a better life after the plague disappears.
“Like his hero, Camus gives us hope. He believes that the deadly crisis will encourage solidarity and bring out the best qualities in people, that endurance and courage will prevail. Camus writes, ‘No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague’ and the emotions of exile and deprivation, fear and revolt. The chastened people return to normal life with a clearer vision and deeper understanding of the precarious nature of human existence. He concludes, ‘what we learn in time of pestilence is that there are more things to admire in men than to despise. . . . By refusing to bow down to pestilence, they strive their utmost to be healers.’”