Richard North, 21/12/2021  
 


In passing, it should be noted that, at 10.30 last night, coal was producing more electricity (4.5 percent) than the entire suite of renewable energy resources (4.4 percent). That includes solar, wind and hydroelectric. Fossil fuels were generating 62 percent of the load, with gas delivering 57.5 percent.

Meanwhile, gas storage throughout EU member states currently stands at around 60 percent of capacity, compared with about 80 percent this time last year, representing an energy shortfall measured as 213 TWh.

At current levels of Russian exports, Reuters reports, storage inventories might end up below 15 percent by end of March under average weather conditions. This will be a record low.

However, with the worst of the winter weather yet to come, this forecast – currently six days old – is already out of date. With a blocking high stationary over the UK and much of northern Europe, wind-generated electricity has plummeted, eating into already slender gas reserves as gas generation pick up the slack.

The lack of wind is not a recent problem and becoming so serious that even the Daily Telegraph has noticed. It records that the lull in wind speeds over the summer has been felt in boardrooms across Europe, the weakest levels for around 60 years causing major energy companies millions of pounds in lost electricity sales.

Neither this paper nor others, though, are reminding us of the fragility of this year's supply position where the lack of wind generation is exacerbating an already fraught situation which could get substantially worse of Putin acts to limit gas supplies, in a situation where below average temperatures could already put electricity supplies in jeopardy.

While this silent crisis builds, it is fair to say that the media remains preoccupied with the burgeoning omicron soap opera – this crisis having perhaps greater political dimensions than public health elements as prime minister Johnson struggles to exert his waning authority over a fast-moving and uncertain situation.

As the narrative stands, Johnson has been urged to impose additional controls to combat the surge of omicron but is being blocked by ministers who, as the Mail headline (print edition) would have it, are defying "gloomy scientists", and refusing to back new curbs without "concrete evidence" to justify them.

The authoritarian, establishment-minded Financial Times very much sees this as exposing Johnson's precarious political position, following the "wait and see"” statement issued after yesterday's cabinet meeting.

Although Johnson said the situation was "urgent", there would be no immediate additional Covid restrictions. Instead, the government was reviewing relevant data on a "day by day" basis, with the prime minister adding: "We rule nothing out".

The FT asserts that the "stark position" for Johnson is that any new Covid restrictions are opposed by a sizeable chunk of his cabinet and scores of Conservative MPs. It claims their introduction would leave him facing a fresh bout of party turmoil.

If this is the case – and there is no particular reason to dispute it – then it is no bad thing. It represents a welcome reassertion of political control over the hegemony of politically-motivated scientists who have been relying for far too long on second-rate science in pursuit of risk-averse agendas.

Ministers – and indeed Johnson – are also no doubt influenced by the blowback from yesterday's picture of the garden party in Downing Street. Despite No 10 protestations that it was a "working meeting", it is driving a sceptical public in the direction of outright rebellion, where any new controls may be difficult to enforce.

While the Guardian sniffs about Johnson's plan being "decided by Tory rebels", one of its star commentators, Simon Jenkins has a go at explaining the phenomenon.

British politics, he says, faces an intellectual crisis - one of whom to believe. On one side is the prime minister and much of his party, pleading for no lockdown. On the other side are the massed ranks of what Jenkins calls "the science", represented largely by SAGE but backed by a "strident train" of statisticians, modellers, researchers and drug corporations.

Each of these groups, says Jenkins, is a lobby with a vested interest in caution. Their motto is protect the NHS; or – by implication – the NHS will fail to protect you. Don’t take the risks, they cry. This year may not be as bad as last, but you don’t know. When you are racing the devil, you do not stop to ask if he is tiring. Lock down now.

Correctly, Jenkins identifies both sides of the argument as political. This is not dispassionate scientists versus venal, self-interested politicians. Both are playing a political game, exploiting fear and toying with risk. And, says Jenkins, the public's only sensible reply is constantly to demand evidence for what is claimed.

As my piece yesterday adequately explains, the (quasi) scientific group are effectively relying on their own tarnished authority, downplaying or ignoring evidence which could project a more optimistic scenario than they are prepared to allow.

This has Carl Heneghan, star of one of my previous pieces arguing in the Mail on Sunday that he did not think we were being overwhelmed with Covid.

Our situation is wholly different from the one in which we found ourselves in this time last year, he says. Not only do we have the vaccines and the huge protection they offer, we have a growing number of antiviral drugs, some offering up to 90 percent efficacy for infected patients.

Then there has also been a substantial reduction in serious illness. If we go back to this time last year, the says, here were more than 19,000 patients in hospital with 2,000 daily admissions. These figures have more than halved, with a total of 7,600 patients and 900 daily admissions.

We should take confidence, Heneghan feels, from the fact that, despite their detail and clarity, worrying mathematical models have consistently over- predicted the reality, while failing to consider evidence from South Africa.

A great deal of the apparent rise in Covid cases, he adds, is actually tied to a major increase in the amount of testing. On 7 December, Britain conducted roughly one million tests. By 15 December, this had risen to 1.63 million – a rise of nearly two-thirds in eight days. This is a point I have also made.

Currently, we have more data from South Africa, where the number of people in hospitals with Covid-19 has fallen by around 25 percent.

Once again, this is not conclusive evidence of reduced omicron virulence, although it does permit scope for optimism, especially as the doubling of case figures every two days in the UK has not materialised - and does not look like so doing – national hospitalisation rates are largely stable and the death rate has shown no sign of a lift-off.

The "science" claque nevertheless want to beat down "hard and early" on the new variant – generals fighting the last war having made a complete mess of the original response, having misled politicians into thinking that a SARS-like disease could be countered with a wholly inappropriate influenza model.

In the management of this epidemic, there is only one group which has performed worse than the politicians, and that is "the science" group. It is about time they shut up, and let evidence-based science take its course, for a change.

Even if it turns out that more controls were necessary, in the current political environment, they ain't going to happen – despite the Guardian's fond hopes, so they might just as well stop whingeing and enjoy a social Christmas and a merciful release from "the science".

Also published on Turbulent Times.






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