Sunday, 18 April 2021

Too Much or Too Little Faith in the Covid-19 Vaccines?

Stephen Buranyi (a writer specialising in Science and the Environment) suggests people are becoming too pessimistic, sometimes believing that the Covid-19 pandemic will never end (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/12/ignore-scare-stories-covid-vaccines-variants-scientific-optimism). Buranyi points out that 'the science' is just 'informed guesses by experts'. Having said that, 'informed guesses by experts' (all that can be done in the event of a new phenomenon), has proved much better at guiding responses than some of the distinctly 'ill-informed guesses' by certain politicians. Buranyi's admitted optimism is clearly based on his belief that the developed vaccines are 'beyond very good'. He suggests the vaccine roll-outs will either drive Sars-CoV-2 down to near extinction or else constrain its force and spread so it becomes a 'manageable concern' (like mumps). Buranyi clearly thinks that talk of dangerous viral variants, with an ability to completely negate the effects of the vaccine roll-outs, is an unhelpful scare story. I hope he is right but this is just another 'informed guess' (one he is entitled to). Speaking on behalf of the Pessimist Party I would just note 1) The vaccines are not currently reaching many populations (and won't do so for some time); 2) We know that some people will refuse the vaccine, even if they have access to it; 3) Wherever the virus can locate (in people or other animals), it can mutate and 4) Humans are expert at spreading viruses around the globe. I think the closest parallel for Covid-19 is seasonal influenza rather than mumps. We get new variants every year. These require a new vaccine and its efficient roll-out. We have neither managed to drive the influenza virus to near extinction nor can we ignore the fact that it kills some of the people it infects. In one sense, the Covid-19 pandemic will never end! Or should I have more faith in the vaccines?

Bags of Scope?

The 'Bags for Life' campaign in UK supermarkets doesn't appear to be working (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/18/supermarket-bags-for-life-must-cost-more-to-cut-plastic-use-urge-campaigners). The campaign aimed to reduce the number of times people paid for single-use plastic bags. It was part of the drive to reduce the use of plastic packaging. Fewer, single-use bags are used but the government will increase their price from 5p to 10p each, to maintain this downward trend. The trouble is that 'Bags for Life' can cost as little as 20p in some stores. They also contain much more plastic than their single-use counterparts. It's only an example, but Marks and Spencer sold 6 times more 'Bags for Life' in 2019 than they did in 2018. Environmentalists think 'Bags for Life' have mutated to become 'Bags for a Week' and are currently much too cheap.

That's Alright Mama?

So, a visit to Shanghai by US Climate Envoy John Kerry, to see his Chinese counterpart, appears to have gone well (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/18/us-and-china-commit-to-cooperating-on-climate-crisis). The US and China issued a statement saying they are "committed to cooperating on climate change". This is a good start. It's certainly better than being committed to obstructing attempts to limit climate change (often the case in recent times!). The trouble is that words are cheap and meaningful action is urgent. In spite of its rapidly-recovering post Pandemic economy, China is still the biggest coal user in the world. Sacrifices will have to be made by nations, if action is going to be fast enough. The trouble is that many countries are obsessed by not disadvantaging their economies in the process. Kerry was sensibly careful not to become embroiled in a blame game at the meeting. There are also too many fancy schemes empowering industries and politicians to declare progress where no progress has been made. Even if the world ceased burning coal, oil and gas tomorrow, it would take a long, long time to get back to pre-Industrial levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. It's scary to note, that the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were near current values, the mean sea level was more than 16 M higher than today.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Physician Heal Thy Self?

The UK's Covid-19 vaccination roll-out has been perceived as a great success. The jabs have mainly been administered by health workers in the country's National Health Service (NHS). In spite of this, about 15% of health service workers in England remain unvaccinated (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/17/fears-frontline-nhs-staff-are-refusing-to-get-covid-vaccine). The numbers of health workers coming forward for a jab has, apparently, markedly reduced over the last fortnight. This is raising concerns that some staff working in hospitals and care homes are actually refusing the vaccine. Some policy-makers feel that vaccinations should be mandatory for certain types of work in the NHS. Some health leaders, patient's group and unions are strongly resisting this suggestion, arguing that persuasion is better. This is a difficult one. It basically weighs the self-perceived safety of the individual against that of the people they have to professionally deal with. It could all turn nasty, if a coercered individual had a life-threatening adverse reaction to vaccination. Having said that, the greater the uptake of the vaccines, the safer all society will all be. None of this is new to me. I remember that one of my own sons had to be revaccinated against all childhood diseases (they wouldn't take our Welsh GP's word for it), before he was allowed into an Hawaiian school.

Whiter Than White

Purdue University are developing a new white paint (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/15/whitest-ever-paint-could-help-cool-heating-earth-study-shows). This paint reflects an impressive 98% of sunlight, as well as redirecting infrared radiation. The intention is to use the paint on the flat roofs of buildings. The paint cools surfaces by 4.5 degrees Centigrade below ambient temperature. Purdue paint would not only cool buildings but would reduce the demands of air-conditioning. As they say, 'Every Little Helps', especially in hot cities.

There's a Kind of Hush?

Scientists, using more than 230 non-military hydrophones (devices that pick up sounds in water), confirmed that 2020 was 'the year of the quiet ocean' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/17/covid-pandemic-made-2020-the-year-of-the-quiet-ocean-say-scientists). The Covid pandemic resulted in much less noise pollution being generated in marine habitats. There was less noise from ship's engines, trawling activity, oil platforms, sub-sea mining etc. Noise pollution is known to disrupt many marine species, especially cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Low frequency signals, such as those generated by these human activities, can also travel thousands of kilometres in seawater. The scientists will use 2020 as a base-line, for accurately assessing the impact of marine noise pollution.

Geese Release?

Pate de foie gras is a French delicacy made from the fatty livers of force-fed geese. Yet another Anglo-French spat seems to be brewing, as the UK government is said to be 'thinking' of banning its import, on animal cruelty grounds (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/17/we-love-foie-gras-french-outrage-uk-plan-import-ban-delicacy). The leader of the Foie Gras Producer's Association is said to be "shocked and outraged", at news their product might become unexportable to the UK. Presumably, when the UK was a member of the EU, it had to accept legally-produced food items from all the other members. Now Brexit has occurred, the UK is free to to pick and choose. Having said that, not all food production practises in the UK are entirely 'cruelty free'. If the British don't like the method of foie gras production (and they can hardly say they are ignorant about it), they can always choose not to buy or order it. It may be a bit 'conspiracy theory' but, is the UK government simply currently picking fights with Europeans, for its own purposes? The 'dead cat' approach to politics has a long tradition in this country!

Too Much or Too Little Faith in the Covid-19 Vaccines?

Stephen Buranyi (a writer specialising in Science and the Environment) suggests people are becoming too pessimistic, sometimes believing th...