EU Referendum blog: end of an era

Thursday 13 January 2022  


From today, 13 January 2022, the Eureferendum blog database will reside on the Turbulent Times domain, largely as an archive. This site will no longer be updated on an ongoing basis.

Our main focus will now be Turbulent Times, where we will continue to publish a wide range of topical news items, continuing an unbroken tradition with started on 22 April 2004, with this post on the original Blogspot site - which can still be accessed.

The move reflects the success of the 2016 EU referendum, the withdrawal from the EU and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. With Brexit merging onto the more general domestic political agenda, and other issues taking more prominence, we felt it was time to move on, and concentrate our efforts on our current blogging platform.

For the moment the search facility for the EUreferendum archive is rudimentary but we will be improving its functionality. We will retain the domain name which will now point to the space on Turbulent Times.

Care has been taken to ensure that most legacy links will still function, though sadly we couldn't bring the Disqus comments along with it. However, most of the recent commentary has been conducted on the TT site, so there will be no loss of continuity.

All that remains is to thank readers past and present for their encouragement and support, to hope that EUReferendum readers will stay with us on the new platform, and to welcome new readers to a blogging enterprise which, at the turn of 2022, was in its 18th unbroken year.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 13/01/2022 link

Politics: an extinction event

Thursday 13 January 2022  



At 6pm on 20 May 2020, says the Mail, "the spring sky was still a deep blue, with the lawn bathed in dappled sunlight. Those entering the garden were reportedly met with a buffet-style spread of crisps and sausage rolls, while the drinks table was stocked with gin and rosé as well as red and white wine".

"Some revellers 'brought their own booze' from the claustrophobic Tesco Express store that does a roaring trade in beer, wine and sandwiches next to Westminster Tube station. Some of the dozens of guests were said to have been looking to the sky with paranoia in case a drone flew over, while other admitted that the trashed garden after the party ended was also a giveaway".

"And amid the paranoia, Downing Street staff were allegedly advised to 'clean up' their phones by removing information and pictures that could suggest lockdown parties were regularly held at No 10, according to The Independent. A senior member of staff told people it would be a 'good idea' to remove any evidence that might even imply they had attended".

Standing back from yesterday's events in the Commons, trying to take something of a broader perspective of Johnson's admission that he attended the event, it might be pertinent to make a singular observation. Simply, the moment in politics that the leader ceases to represent his and his party's ideas, and becomes the message, the only way left is down.

In a sense, that was what brought about Mrs May's downfall. Looking further afield, it presaged the end of US president Clinton and, before him, Richard Nixon. Once their personalities and travails began to dominate their respective agendas – and the associated media coverage – they could no longer function effectively as leaders.

There may have been other factors involved in the downfall of these leaders. In politics, as in life in general, cause and effect is rarely black-and-white simple. Historians can always point to multiple factors, as with the fall of Thatcher. But the end comes when the individual politicians became more prominent than their politics.

And this , probably – maybe, I should say "possibly" – was why yesterday was a turning point in British politics. For sure, it may turn out to be a very small turning point in the grander scheme of things, no more than a footnote in the history books. But it marked the beginning of the end for prime minister Johnson.

No matter what else transpires, this was the day that the prime minister admitted to partying while people died. No matter how much he may attempt to dissemble about it being a "work meeting", he has established for the record his presence at a "bring-your-own-booze" garden party, and nothing he can no say will make any difference.

What was also significant in a small way was part of the response of the opposition leader, Keir Starmer. A lacklustre performer even on a good day, he did not fail to disappoint. One could imagine Blair in his prime – for all his many faults – eviscerating Johnson had he been on the opposition benches. But one particular intervention did land a blow. I shall quote it in full:
Everyone can see what happened. It started with reports of boozy parties in Downing Street during lockdown. The Prime Minister pretended that he had been assured there were no parties - how that fits with his defence now, I do not know. Then the video landed, blowing the Prime Minister's first defence out of the water. So then he pretended that he was sickened and furious about the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties all along. Can the Prime Minister not see why the British public think he is lying through his teeth?
To call a member a liar from the floor of the chamber – or to allude to a member lying - is, of course, "unparliamentary language" and must usually be withdrawn. Hence, from the transcript, we see immediate calls to "withdraw", whence the speaker intervened, saying: "Order. It was what the public think, not what the Member is saying". Starmer's comment remains on the record.

Previously, I have remarked that we have a unique situation where it is quite possible to go into print, openly calling Johnson a liar, without the slightest fear of challenge or legal action. And now we have the leader of the opposition openly asserting in the Commons that people think the prime minister is "is lying through his teeth", with no push-back from the Speaker.

That, alongside everything else, sets the seal on Johnson's fate. In his "apology" to the House, he claimed that, when he went into the Downing Street garden - just after 6 o'clock on 20 May 2020 – he went there "to thank groups of staff", at which point he "believed implicitly that this was a work event".

A more trustworthy prime minister might have got away with it, but the claim from an inveterate liar simply invites derision – mockery even. The term "work event" will now haunt Johnson to the end of his (truncated) career.

Nor will his weasel words help his cause. "I should have recognised", Johnson went on to say, "that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way - people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside".

It is to these "millions and millions of people" to whom Johnson offers his "heartfelt apologies", but one gets the impression that all the prime minister is doing is complaining that these " millions and millions" of plebs mistakenly believe that he broke the guidelines – so it is their fault really.

This is especially case when he goes on to repeat that he thought it was a work event, whence he tells the House, "I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening, as I have said, and I take responsibility and I apologise". But what is he actually apologising for? From the look of it, his only sin was that he failed to recognise that it was a work event – something he doubtless hopes the Sue Gray inquiry will endorse.

Personally, I don't think the Gray inquiry is going to do Johnson a lot of good. As the Guardian's John Crace puts it: "It turns out that Boris Johnson wants us to believe that Boris Johnson thinks that Boris Johnson is catatonically stupid".

Juliet Samuel, for the Telegraph sets a similar framework for his "apology", writing: "So which is it to be, Prime Minister: are you a criminal or an idiot? Faced with the choice, Boris Johnson made the only choice he could: he pled the fool". She adds:
What other conclusion can we draw from his explanation of what happened on 20 May 2020? He was apparently unaware that his entire department was throwing what appears to be an illegal lockdown party, or what to most of us law-abiding citizens looks very like an illegal lockdown party, and when he did spot the kerfuffle in his garden, popped out to say hello and then bumbled back inside none the wiser.
But there is another dimension here, to which Samuel refers. If this account is true – which she thinks unlikely - it only raises questions about his competency to govern. Thus, she suspects "a cynical rationale behind playing dumb". Johnson's statement to the House was not just a PR move. It was the testimony of a suspect trying to make it hard for the police to nail him.

Johnson, she says, must realise that admitting that he knew Martin Reynolds, his chief civil servant, was hosting a party could make him an accomplice to a crime and get fined for breaking his own lockdown rules. That, she believes, "would surely (surely?) be a political extinction event".

And yet, the countdown to extinction has already started. As Samuel observes, "his claim to ignorance might get the prime minister out of legal trouble. But to the public, it only invites mockery on top of rage". For the prime minister to be an object of universal mockery really does spell the end.

That said, despite headlines which will make uncomfortable reading for the prime minister – who is said to have hidden on the floor of his Range Rover yesterday, to avoid being photographed on his way to the Commons (it's a pity the vehicle doesn't have a fridge) – there is nothing to suggest that the end is imminent.

We are not, for instance, hearing much about the 1922 Committee and a vote of confidence. This could be because, with his payroll vote in the bag, Johnson could actually win the vote, leaving him in a strengthened position. That simply leaves individual Tory MPs sniping round the edges, but nothing much is likely to happen until Gray reports.

The Mail's Henry Deedes thinks that the "greased piglet" has slipped away again, but nevertheless concedes that the "a work event is up there with Dom's eye test at Barnard Castle". And that, however long it takes, is the extinction event.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 13/01/2022 link

Politics: breaching the firewall

Wednesday 12 January 2022  



The interesting thing about "partygate" v 2.0 is that the issue is still live, having crossed the famous Christmas firewall. That, in itself, is a stern test and very few transcend it.

What has yet to be determined is whether this is simply, or mainly, a media obsession, or whether it is rooted in a popular distaste for the Great Leader which reflects a genuine shift in the political mood of this country.

For what it's worth, the Independent offers the results of a Savanta ComRes poll, showing a clear majority (66 per cent) wanting Johnson to resign, including 42 percent of those who voted Conservatives at the 2019 general.

Perhaps significantly, this represents a 12-point increase on a previous snap poll by the same organisation conducted in December in the wake of the "partygate" allegation covering the winter of 2020 (it is easy to lose track, there have been so many).

This time round, when asked whether Johnson was still an "asset" to the Tory party, those who voted for the party in 2019 were equally divided, some 45 percent said "no" equal with those saying he should remain. There is particularly bad news for the May event organiser, civil servant Martin Reynolds. Some 65 percent of those polled said he should resign.

Savanta ComRes, though, isn't the only player in the poll game though. YouGov have also been at work, finding 56 percent of their sample calling for Johnson's resignation. Only 27 percent said he should stay, with 17 percent "don't knows".

The "resign" figure compares with 48 percent in November. Gradually, it seems, public confidence is ebbing away, although – as always – public sentiment is fickle.

As one might expect, the media is milking the story for all it's worth. They - and especially the BBC – are especially skilled at recruiting "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" equivalents, ready to emote to order about their own particular experiences.

But, with all the newspapers and broadcasters are touting for talking heads, playing the same dire game, it is not always clear whether we are experiencing genuine public sentiment. Some of the outrage, if not manufactured, is certainly manipulated – and that may be feeding into the opinion polls.

For the moment, though, just about every pundit worth their salt harnessed to the great task of pulling Johnson down into the mire (not that that is such a difficult task as he's more than halfway there already).

In good form is the Guardian's star (award-winning, even) columnist, Marina Hyde who writes under the headline: "Who's really leading Britain – Boris Johnson or the crazy-face emoji?".

In May 2020, she asks rhetorically, "who could have predicted that a potential 100-person boozy gathering could piss the general public off?" Warming to her theme, she adds: "Who could have predicted that people who'd watched their family members die on an iPad then buried them with only permitted numbers of mourners at graveside funerals would have an issue with it?"

It seems almost incredible that she is able to observe, albeit sardonically, that no one at the party, apparently, saw anything wrong in their behaviour. "Every single one of them", says Hyde, "is in the wrong job and should resign and go and work for a thinktank/be our man in Havana".

She moves on to discuss the inevitable long-term outcome, the breakdown in trust, In some ways, she writes, these are already obvious, such as rising anti-vax sentiment, but in other ways we cannot yet predict.

There is no doubt here as to who is at fault. It is down to "Boris Johnson's way of doing business". "How can we counter some people's conviction that 'The Man' is lying to them, when the man is so often shown to be lying?"

From the other side of the political fence is Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. He finds No 10's stupidity and arrogance "baffling".

Two weeks after the resignation of Professor Neil Ferguson as a government adviser for lockdown breaches, he observes, "and it is “please bring a bottle”?" "Did nobody stop to consider that, whether or not it was wrong, this might not be wise?" He and Hyde seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

"There are those who have said well, what did you expect?", Finkelstein observes. "And isn’t it all priced in?". But, he says, "we're talking about 10 Downing Street and the country’s prime minister so it is not priced in by me, and it never will be." He concludes: "And what did I expect? There can only ever be one answer to that. Whatever I expect, I demand better".

Nor is Johnson getting any solace from the Telegraph. Associate Editor Camilla Tominey writes under the headline: "'Partygate' could finish Boris Johnson – and boot the Tories out of No 10", noting that, "As Conservatives reel from claims of another lockdown-busting get-together, the PM may face the wrath of both party and country".

This is tough stuff from the prime minister's most ardent fan club as Tominey declares:
It isn't just the fact that lockdown rules were broken, hugely damaging though that is. It is that the party itself appears to be a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with a Number 10 administration that has lost its grip, doesn't appear willing to heed advice and has repeatedly been found guilty of behaving with arrogant complacency".
That leaves the infamous Laura Kuenssberg. she asserts that the goodwill-to-all-men moment the Christmas holidays promised is very much over. The subject of conversation among Tories yesterday, she says, was not the government's planned menu of policy fare for the week, but whether or not the moment had arrived when Boris Johnson, election-winner, had become Boris Johnson, discredited liability.

And now, for the second day running, the issue dominates the newspaper headlines, with the Metro launching the particularly damaging headline: "Contempt for the victims". If that sticks, it's going to hurt.

Even the relatively staid Financial Times has "Johnson faces 'potentially terminal' showdown over Downing St parties", while The Times has: "Say sorry or doom us all, ministers tell Johnson". It has some damning commentary, reporting that Johnson "glad-handed" the guests, while a cabinet member at the party joked about being caught breaking the rules, asking how it would appear if a drone photographed the event.

The Telegraph, on the other hand, sticks to the simple "Johnson losing Tory support", spreading it as a banner headline across the page, telling us that prominent Conservatives have said it was "appalling" and "utterly indefensible" that the event took place. The Mirror, predictably, is even more blunt., stating: "The Party's Over, Boris".

Unless he can find a convenient fridge to hide in, today this shambolic man faces PMQs where he has lost control of the narrative, and become the story. He will be under pressure to confirm that he was present of a 20 May party, which he has yet to do, when the mood of the House and the country will not favour more evasion.

Time and time, though, when Johnson has seemingly faced certain disaster, he has emulated the matinée action hero's "with one bound, he was free!" You can never bank on the Teflon King not doing it again, even if it does seem unlikely at the moment.

The question therefore, must be, if not now, when? There must surely come a point when even the Tories can no longer tolerate this man as a leader any more. Whether this is the moment is anyone's guess.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 12/01/2022 link

Climate change: a matter of degrees

Tuesday 11 January 2022  



I've spent a good deal of my professional life taking temperatures – mostly with hand-held electronic devices, fitted with a variety of probes - measuring a variety of foods, equipment and internal environments. Even at this level, without factoring in instrument error, I know how difficult it is to achieve accurate and consistent results.

When it comes to measuring the temperature of the planet, therefore, it takes little imagination to appreciate how the difficulties must multiply, more so when one is trying to construct an historic record spanning not just decades but centuries.

However, given the importance of the planetary temperature and the historic record – in terms of it setting the parameters for so much public policy – knowing how the measurements are taken is of more than idle interest. And I see no reason to take published figures on trust, any more so than one accepts any official pronouncements.

Being good little Muppets, though, we are not supposed to ask awkward questions. Our role is, unquestioningly, to imbibe the wisdom of our masters and betters. After all, the "science is settled" so there is no need to question anything. Our role is simply to believe what we are told.

In that context, we now have handed down to us the latest ex cathedra pronouncements from the magisterium of the state broadcaster, which proudly instructs us that: "The past seven years have been the hottest on record, according to new data from the EU's satellite system".

This has been relayed by the dutiful Guardian, with a similar headline, prefaced by the obligatory "Climate crisis" descriptor.

So far, few other legacy media organisations have retailed the report, although Sky News is on the case with: "Last seven years were warmest on record 'by a clear margin', say EU scientists".

Evidently seeking to outdo the BBC, it also tells us, "The latest data from the European Union's Copernicus service shows 'signs of another nail in the planetary coffin'", not forgetting to add its standards link: "Why you can trust Sky News".

It's too much to expect much technical detail from popular media reports, and all we get from the BBC is that: "the Copernicus data comes (sic) from a constellation of Sentinel satellites that monitor the Earth from orbit, as well as measurements taken at ground level.

This is just as well we are told this, as the "record" goes back to 1850 and, unless readers know different, the EU wasn't around in 1850. As for the satellite systems, the EU relies for its temperature data on the Sentinel-3, with the first launch on 25 February 2016.

As far as I can ascertain, though (following the trail is not easy), the Sentinel-2 series is optimised for sea temperature measurements. This constellation is thus due to be augmented by the Sentinel-8 system, which will be optimised for land-surface temperature measurements. The projected launch date for this system is not until 2029.

In the interim, it seems that land surface temperature (LST) are estimated from Top-of-Atmosphere brightness temperatures, derived from infrared spectral channels using the Meteosat Second Generation, GOES and MTSAT/Himawari constellations of geostationary satellites.

Nevertheless, regardless of the satellite systems used, it stands to reason that the EU's data set is relatively recent (and incomplete) which no doubt explains why the record must be supplemented by measurements taken at ground level – lots of them.

Since we're not supposed to ask questions – much less awkward questions – we should not even be thinking about comparability issues. Thus, it must be a matter of supreme irrelevance that satellites measure surface temperatures, while the ground stations measure air temperatures.

There have been many studies – such as this, pointing out the differences. In summary, not only are the two influences by different factors, but ground temperatures tend to be more extreme than their air temperature equivalents.

The satellite data – as ESA admits - are also subject to their own specific limitations, which affect the accuracy.

According to the space agency, the accuracy of Sentinel data is limited to 1ºK. The best performance is at night when differential surface heating is absent". The data from top-of-the-atmosphere proxies are likely to be even less accurate, although I have no specifics on this.

Now, if one was encouraged to ask questions, one might look closely at the statement made by Mauro Facchini, the head of Earth observation for the European Commission. As retailed by the Guardian, he says: "The 2021 analysis is a reminder of the continued increase in global temperatures and the urgent necessity to act", with the Copernicus data showing 21 of the 22 hottest years having come since the year 2000.

Firstly, one might ask how Copernicus can reach back to the year 2000, to provide useable temperature data, and how it can be compared with historic data which are collected on a completely different basis, with different biases and errors.

Most of all, though, if one was allowed the luxury of open questioning, one might ask how it is that we are being told that the global temperature is 1.2ºC above pre-industrial levels, when the accuracy of the system is probably limited to whole figures.

Of course, if the science wasn't so settled, and anyone asking questions wasn't immediately dismissed as a "denier", then I am sure we could ask our masters and better to reach down and explain the details to us mere mortals. And, doubtless, there is a very simple answer, which our gifted climate scientists could provide.

As it is, they seem to be struggling to convince us that, with the claim that 2021 ranks as only the fifth hottest year on record, we still have a climate "emergency".

For this, we have the BBC's Justin Rowlatt, proudly described as their "climate editor" – although I bet he doesn't actually edit the climate. If he could, perhaps we wouldn't have to cut our emissions, and could abandon "net zero".

Rowlatt tells us "it would be easy to dismiss the latest global temperature figure as a non-event", but these annual temperature updates, he says, measure out the pace of change in our world. "The increments may be tiny", he adds, "a fraction of a degree", but the direction of travel is inescapable.

And therein lies the problem. It is hard enough accepting that it is even possible to measure the global temperature, or that representing the planetary temperature by a single annual figure has any meaning – especially when the Guardian now talks about heating.

But, when Rowlatt talks so glibly of fractions of a degree, someone needs to explain to us mere plebs how it is that a system which has so many inbuilt errors and biases, that one is even able to speak reliably in terms of single degrees, much less than fractions of a degree.

However, as long as the science is "settled", this is something that quite obviously we don't need to know. It's getting hotter, even when it's getting cooler. That's all we need to know.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 11/01/2022 link

Covid: over by Christmas

Monday 10 January 2022  



I don't know whether it was because of Sunday, when other cabinet ministers were spending more time with their families, but the government's duty noise-maker seems to have been education secretary Nadhim Zahawi.

He was wheeled into place to "play down" the Sunday Times report that Johnson was poised to discontinue free lateral flow tests. But since the old adage applies, that nothing is true in politics until it is denies, all the hapless Zahawi managed to do was confirm the Times story.

The Guardian, which reported the intervention after a Sky television appearance by Zahawi, noted that ending the free-for-all on LFTs "would lead to fewer infections in the community being identified", without perhaps realising that this is precisely the reason why they must be abandoned.

Only once we have been liberated from the treadmill of daily Covid reports can any sense of normality return. This, therefore, seems a vital first step in releasing us from statistical tyranny, where the last daily figures (6 January) still had a colossal 1,820,674 Covid tests being administered, bringing the seven-day total to 11,676,544.

With that, we certainly seem to be over the worst as far as the daily case reports go, down from the latest daily peak of 212,814 on 30 December, to 14,475,192 – the third drop in as many days, as figures begin to stabilise after the Christmas break.

This is leading to some of the more astute pundits to break ranks, with the Guardian also reporting that "leading statistician", prof David Spiegelhalter, had "poured cold water" on the idea of a big rise in intensive care admissions and deaths from the omicron wave.

His view is that Johnson's move in resisting lockdown measures over Christmas was "a gamble", but he thinks that "he may have got away with it", while hedging his own bet by observing: "we're going to have to see in the next few weeks".

Spiegelhalter gets more room in the Sunday Telegraph, which had a buoyant piece headed: "Covid cases approach their peak in all parts of England, data show", noting that this development came "as the number of people on mechanical ventilators reaches lowest level since October".

But, in an industry wedded to prestige, it needs the likes of Spiegelhalter to explain the significance of figures that virtually anyone with a pulse could work out for themselves.

First to get an outing, though, is prof Paul Hunter, described as "a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia and an adviser to the WHO", thus establishing his prestigious credentials. Weeks after even the local street sweeper could see the light dawning, Hunter is at last able to say: "I think it's beginning to look quite hopeful".

Contributing his "no shit Sherlock" insight to the commonweal, he tells us: "The worst case scenarios that were being talked about before Christmas by the SAGE modellers aren't coming to pass, fortunately".

He then adds, "I think the [number of hospitalisations and deaths] are going to be falling a long way below the worst case scenarios that were being talked about before Christmas", concluding that, "In England we peaked at around 3,800 - 4,000 hospitalisations a day, on average, a year ago, but we will probably peak around 2,000 this winter".

Prof Kevin Fenton, described as "Public Health England's regional director for London", then gets an outing, after telling Sky News that the capital's omicron wave peaked in London over the new year period. But he warns that ONS data suggest that nearly ten percent of London's denizens are still infected with the virus, so the "critical phase" of the pandemic is not yet over.

Only now do we come to Spiegelhalter, now promoted from a mere "leading" to an "eminent", who concurs with Hunter in thinking that "it is possible" hospital admissions will stay below 3,000 a day.

Yet, he can't resist covering that backs of the Covid Mafia, referring to the "overzealous models from December", when "little was known" about omicron. These wild predictions, were "not due to faulty science or pessimistic experts" – oh no!. They were because the variant is less deadly and vaccine-evading than was feared when the models were made.

At this point, though, we can slip over to another part of the Telegraph which carries the headline, "New dodgy data row as UKHSA warned over 'implausible' Covid statistics". With the sub-heading telling us: "Public trust 'at risk' after officials took days to justify controversial figures quoted by Sajid Javid over the spread of omicron variant".

This refers to the UK Health Security Agency, which has been warned by the Office for Statistics Regulation warned that Javid's claim that there were 200,000 omicron infections a day by mid-December "caused confusion" after officials failed to justify the figure for a further three days.

Here, to do him justice, Spiegelhalter at the time did warn about over-egging the figures, cautioning that the exponential growth being claimed at the time could not "go on for ever".

The Mail though, is less than charitable, with the headline: "Gloomsters' scientists admit they were wrong about 75,000 Omicron deaths", adding: "Scientists who warned Britain could face 75,000 Omicron deaths unless more restrictions were imposed, now say winter Covid deaths will be 'substantially' lower than originally feared".

With panic mode gripping the Covid Mafia in mid-December, it could have been so different has, as the Telegraph is belatedly saying, "It's time to heed the experts who provided the earliest data on omicron and are astonished at the UK's reaction".

In mid-December, it will be recalled, Carl Heneghan – a professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford – and Tom Jefferson, a senior associate tutor at the University of Oxford, were complaining that none of the South African data seemed to be getting through to those in charge of the UK's response.

Now we have "legitimate questions" being asked about why Britain was so dismissive of the evidence from South Africa, in particular by Angelique Coetzee, chairman of the South African Medical Association and the first doctor to raise the alarm over omicron.

Coetzee was among those who reported that omicron caused "very, very mild" symptoms compared with delta, and she hypothesised that it "could potentially be of great help to us" by replacing the more dangerous delta variant and helping the population to reach herd immunity at minimal cost to life. She says she was "astonished" at the panicked response to it in the UK. "I don't understand why it’s happening", she says. "It doesn't make any sense to me. The fear that has been spread in Britain – why is that being done?"

However, all's well that ends well, or so it seems. Today's Times is recycling much of the weekend press and comment, with the headline: " We'll avoid Covid crisis, say upbeat NHS chiefs".

Calling in aid the egregious Chris Hopson - who wants a million more staff to make the health and care system work – Spiegelhalter, and a galaxy of Covid stars, it now appears that the epidemic was indeed "over by Christmas" - last Christmas.

All we need is for the rest of the Covid Mafia to catch up, and admit it - not that "4,000 deaths" Ferguson ever will. But even without him, we can turn to focusing on the cost of living crisis, which is set to become the major concern for 2022. If we're going to stay miserable, we might as well have something different to be miserable about.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 10/01/2022 link

Covid: the game is up

Sunday 9 January 2022  



We're not quite there yet, but the epidemic has moved inexorably towards its close, its administrative death heralded by today's The Sunday Times.

This paper reports that Johnson is to announce "within weeks" that free lateral flow tests are to be discontinued, when the country will be told to live with Covid. Free tests will only be provided in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms.

Contact tracing by NHS Test and Trace is also likely to be scaled back, which in turn will lead to a reduced number of PCR tests being administered – the effect of which, combined with the inevitable reduction of LFTs, will mean that we're no longer slave to the meaningless litany of daily Covid "cases", to which the media has become addicted.

The plan, incidentally, could also save billions of pounds, as more than £6 billion of public money has so far been spent on mass testing with LFTs. But this will only be a fraction of the overall savings to the economy as the nation is released from the spell cast by a disease which is now on a par with seasonal flu.

Even the Guardian and its co-conspirator, the Observer are beginning to recognise that the game is over, the website running a clutch of articles over the weekend which allow for the possibility that the Omicrons have failed in their bid to conquer the Earth.

First out of the traps, appearing in the mid-afternoon yesterday, was a report headed: "Omicron could be 'first ray of light' towards living with Covid", presaging a gradual relaxation of the reign of terror.

However, it is abundantly clear that the "ray of light" is only one step removed from the "glimmer" that Jenny Harries was prepared to allow just before Christmas, as the report's sub-heading tells us that: "UK government scientist predicts possibility of less severe variant but warns 'we're not there yet'". Clearly, the Covid Mafia are not prepared to release their grip just yet.

The "scientist", unfortunately, is another modeller - Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) and a University of Warwick professor. Showing the same tendency as his co-modeller, prof "lockdown" to be dragged kicking and screaming towards the light.

All the brave modeller is prepared to concede is that omicron "could be" an indicator that in the future there may be a less severe variant that is similar to the common cold. But, with the paper anxious to tell us that Covid "cases" are continuing to rise in the UK (even though they are not), and hospitalisations at are their highest in almost a year (although less than half the January peak), he says, "we're not quite there yet".

These modellers are supposed to be superior to us mere mortals, with their Wizz-kid computer programmes which are so much more efficient than chicken entrails at telling the future.

But all we get from this guru is a prediction that we "may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version". One suspects that he's spending so much time at his keyboard that he is unable to detect what is happening around him.

Tildesley, though, seems out of line with another boffin, this one Dr Clive Dix, former chairman of the UK's vaccine taskforce. He takes the view that we've already reached the stage when Covid should be treated as endemic, similar to flu. And when the booster campaign has run its course, he says, mass-vaccination should end.

"We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary", he adds, arguing that ministers should urgently back research into Covid immunity beyond antibodies to include B-cells and T-cells (white blood cells).

The new approach, Dix believes, should be to create vaccines for vulnerable people specific to Covid variants. In his view: "We now need to manage disease, not virus spread. So stopping progression to severe disease in vulnerable groups is the future objective".

With that, it seems, NHS bureaucrat extraordinaire, Chris Hopson, has realised that the game is up. He is allowed an authored piece for today's Observer headed: "It's time to transform the NHS – the pressures of Covid have left no doubt", with the sub-heading admitting that: "The pandemic has exposed the fact that Britain's healthcare system does not have sufficient capacity".

This goes halfway towards the point I was making last Thursday, that we were not seeing a Covid crisis, per se, so much as an administrative crisis in the NHS – largely brought about by the increased testing and the current self-isolation policy.

Supporting his producer-led organisation, though, Hopson, takes the opportunity to complain that, after a decade of the deepest financial squeeze in NHS history, the health and care frontline is going to be stretched perilously thin in places over the next three weeks.

But he nevertheless argues that, thanks to our national structure, the NHS can deliver in ways many other national health systems can't, having on 18 January 2021 coped with 40,000 Covid patients in hospital on the same day.

We can, he says, create "insurance policy" super-surge capacity across the country at incredible pace, with the first eight hubs now in place and he also boasts of creating "virtual wards", using new technology to monitor less seriously ill patients remotely, only bringing them into hospital when needed.

Yet, what he doesn't address anywhere is the fact that, over the past two years the NHS has been transformed largely into a national Covid service, building up unsatisfied demand which translates into a waiting list of millions and, doubtless, increased mortality arising from undiagnosed and untreated non-Covid ailments.

While the NHS has to keep running to the Army for assistance, his memory probably doesn't run to recalling that, up to 1968 when it was disbanded, we had the Civil Defence Corps which, at its height, boasted 330,000 personnel, mostly volunteers, complete with its integral National Hospital Service Reserve (stand down parade pictured).

Although under the authority of the Home Office, with a centralised administrative establishment, the corps was administered locally by Corps Authorities at county level, each division equipped with its own fleet of ambulances, field hospitals and trained staff capable of taking over from the established services in the event of nuclear attack or other major emergency.

I have already written about the idea of designing and maintaining public buildings, such as sports halls, which can be quickly converted into "fever hospitals" when the need arises, and also suggested ways in which staffing could be supplemented.

With the equivalent of a civilian territorial army – perhaps linking with an expanded St John's Ambulance Brigade – we could with a little imagination, provide a surge capability for the NHS, allowing it to deal with its normal medical load while the reserve services coped with the overload – not forgetting that this government failed to make effective use of already existing local authority services.

Nothing Hopson writes, suggests that he has even begun to understand the issues arising from the Covid epidemic. Rather, he wants a "fully funded, workforce plan" to attract and retain an extra million health and care staff, a "national transformation programme that embeds modern technology, 21st century medicine, integrated care closer to home and much greater emphasis on prevention at the heart of our health and care system".

And when "son of Covid" comes calling, the NHS will be just as unprepared for it as it was when this epidemic struck, lacking as it does the core capacity for dealing with infectious disease epidemics within the existing structure, while also delivering routine health care.

That then leaves us with the Sunday Telegraph which warns, "Britain faces surgeon shortage, as cancelled operations leave graduates under-qualified", retailing that: "More than one million elective operations in which trainees would have gained vital experience have been ‘lost’ to the Covid pandemic".

When the disease does finally disappear from daily public consciousness, therefore – which cannot be long now - it will still cast a long shadow, while we can have no expectations that the authorities will develop any better capabilities for dealing with the next epidemic than they had for this one.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 09/01/2022 link

Politics: time to get back to work

Saturday 8 January 2022  



Two years into the Covid epidemic, it is fair to say that it is still absorbing so much bandwidth – at almost all levels of society – that it is blocking out much of the normal political discourse, and distorting both priorities and responses.

Part of the problem may be that the ongoing soap-opera has become so embedded in the daily fare of politics and the media that it is difficult to let go. It's not like a war, where there is a defined end with an official declaration of peace. The saga just goes on and on, without apparent end.

However, an end may be in sight. Virtually every metric of consequence suggests that the burden of illness in the Covid epidemic – in the UK, at least – is proportionately less during this wave, compared with the previous episodes. And even some of the indicators are now proving to be ambiguous, on the back of real data.

For instance, we have had considerable difficulty distinguishing between those admitted to hospital because they are stricken with Covid 19, and those who are in hospital for other reasons and happen to test positive for the virus – without necessarily suffering symptoms of the disease.

There have even been suggestions that long-term patients in mental hospitals, who have been demonstrated positive for the virus – with no actual illness - have been included in the hospital figures.

Now, however, recently published data indicate that number of patients included in Covid hospital figures who were actually admitted for other conditions rose to nearly 50 percent in some areas.

NHS data up to 4 January show that there were 13,045 people in hospital with Covid in England by that date, but 4,825 had been admitted for other reasons. In the Midlands, true cases of Covid are currently just 55.3 percent of cases and fell to a low of 53.8 percent on Monday.

This means, the Telegraph says, that nearly half (46.2 per ent) of those included in the figures had been admitted for a different reason, but tested positive on arrival or shortly afterwards.

For England as a whole, nearly 38 percent of Covid hospital cases are not primarily Covid – up from 33 percent in the previous week. In London, the percentage of non-Covid cases included in the figures hit a high of 44.7 percent on 2 January but has since fallen to 38.2 percent.

As to the overall effect of the disease, we have the Mail advancing the thesis that the omicron variant is even "less deadly" than seasonal flu, killing 100 times fewer people than the delta variant.

This is very far from being a universally accepted finding but it does presage hopes for a direction of travel which, if it materialises, could mark the point at which Covid slips its leash to become endemic, a background illness of the same significance as winter flu or even the common cold.

Bluntly, this cannot happen soon enough as the obsession with this illness is fast becoming a luxury we cannot afford. In fact, with every passing day, it seems that we are no longer dealing with a Covid crisis. Rather, it has morphed seamlessly into the annual NHS crisis, where the underlying defects in the service are being obscured by the emphasis on Covid.

And this is by no means the only sector where this is happening. Covid was already making it difficult to discern what was happening with problems such as Brexit, but now other issues have since multiplied and come to the fore. A already complex picture is even more difficult to read.

Amongst those "other issues" is the soaring price of gas, the implications of which have been treated with an almost criminal level of superficiality by politicians and media. This is not just a matter of increased domestic energy bills – bad enough though that is.

Higher energy prices will have a knock-on effect right though the economy, from the energy-intensive production of materials such as aluminium, to the manufacture of glass containers. But what has barely been rehearsed is the impact on the price of food in the coming year, not least because of high fertiliser prices which could see lower crop yields.

But, while the blinkered economic debate in the UK, particularly on Twitter, insists Brexit is to blame for food prices and shortages where they arise, these are global issues, affecting other developed countries such as Germany and the United States, as well as less developed countries such as Pakistan, where political instability is already rife and greater pressure on food supplies could tilt the country over the edge.

One has to go far beyond the legacy media in the UK, though, to learn that there is a burgeoning wheat shortage, not just in the United States but globally, where stocks are already down and consumption is expected to outpace production in 2022.

The best indicator of things to come are world food prices, which jumped 28 percent in 2021 to their highest level in a decade. Hopes for a return to more stable market conditions this year are slim.

Part of the reason for the price hikes is said to be China, which is accused of hoarding key commodities.

By mid-2022, according to the US Department of Agriculture, China will hold 69 percent of the world's corn reserves, 60 percent of its rice and 51 percent of its wheat. By China's own estimation, these reserves are at a "historically high level". For China, such stockpiles are necessary to ensure it won’t be at the mercy of major food exporters such as the US.

It should also be noted that European producers are still having Covid-related staffing shortages, and though the UK has relaxed visa quotas for food workers, attracting foreign workers has not been successful and retention is proving difficult.

While we obsess over Covid, significant changes are taking place in the industry, and more changes will need to be made to accommodate the vastly changed economic and operational conditions. It is unlikely that consumption patterns can remain unchanged. We are looking to a future where the food bank is a permanent feature and, with inflation on the rise, Brits are about to discover anew the real meaning of the word austerity.

As to our energy woes, Europe has made a rather unwholesome mess for itself and there is now global competition for LNG supplies. As we see LNG ships being diverted to Europe, players like Japan are going to come back into the field and out-bid the Europeans.

Any temporary relief from diverted supplies is unlikely to extend beyond February and a sign of things to come is the closure this week of Hunterston B nuclear power station, after 46 years in service.

The problem with energy, as we have been pointing out endlessly, is that there is a considerable time-lag between policy formulation and seeing the results. The time to act to ensure energy security and affordability was over a decade ago. Successive European governments failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining. And in fact, went up on a ladder with hammer to bash more holes in the roof.

As to Brexit, haulage routes are beginning to choke under the weight of border formalities, which the government is presently putting down to teething problems.

Doubtless, the a new system will take time to find a rhythm and hauliers will get used to the new requirements, but will also see some supply chains folding. Unplugging form the single market is not consequence-free, the extent of which is yet to impact, as the phytosanitary controls at the UK borders do not kick in until later in the year.

Then there us the relentless propaganda on climate change, which is poisoning public policy and adding vastly to costs of living across the board, which thrive in the darkness of anti-science and technical illiteracy, and which need to be exposed to the light.

Altogether, it is time for our politicians in particular to break out of the turgid introspection induced by Covid, and to get back to work. From being the great threat of the age, omicron is rapidly becoming the least of our problems, the extent of which can no longer be neglected.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 08/01/2022 link

Covid: it's how you tell it

Friday 7 January 2022  



I don't rank the subjects in which I am least interested. To do so would belie the lack of interest. But, if I were to do so, Serbian tennis players and Australia would be close to the top – or bottom, depending on how you rank them. Combining the subjects drags them down even further, or up.

Yet the combination was top of the news agenda for most of yesterday, replaced on the BBC website only by its obsession with US politics, as it rehearsed last year's Capitol attack, offering four unbroken hours of video coverage of the events.

I don't know what that says about the legacy media's news values – or mine – but it is probably fair to say that mine and the rest of the media are not in perfect harmony – and less so with the Guardian which has just won investigation and journalist of the decade awards, respectively for coverage of Windrush scandal and for the Panama Papers investigation.

Scoop of the decade, it seems, went to The Times for its work exposing sexual misconduct by Oxfam workers in Haiti. But the Guardian was also nominated in this category for its reporting on Dominic Cummings breaching lockdown restrictions to drive to Barnard Castle during the first Covid lockdown.

As regards today's front pages, the one thing you won't find at the top of the bill is Covid, presumably because the daily "case" rate (actually positive tests) has dropped from 194,747 yesterday, to 179,756. Since this hardly fits with the rampant surge narrative, it is being played down in some quarters. Only the BBC is reporting: "Daily cases rising sharply".

The Guardian, however, is doing its best to spread the gloom, highlighting the seven-day "case" figure, which is up 29 percent on the week before.

So desperate, it seems, is the paper to ramp up the crisis that it points out that there were 17,988 "Covid patients" in hospital, telling us that this figure is up from the 17,295 recorded the day before. What it doesn't state is that these are "with" Covid, including patients admitted for other reasons who have subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Further obfuscating the data, it refers to the latest weekly Flu and Covid-19 Surveillance report from the UK Health Security Agency, rather than the daily reports in the official website, which has hospital admissions dropping from their 29 December peak of 2,585 to the 2,078 recorded on 2 December, while patients in mechanical ventilation beds have dropped marginally from 911 to 875 (as of 5 December).

We are told, though, that there have been a further 231 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test, without a reminder that the previous day's figure (unadjusted) was 334. Nor are we allowed to know that testing remains at record levels, standing at 2,031729 compared with yesterday's 2,050,101 – once again above the two-million mark.

What isn't really being discussed openly either is that the booster vaccination programme seems to have stalled. Some might say that it has collapsed. The initial target, of course, was that all adults were to be jabbed by the end of the year, later "clarified" when the government explained that this meant everyone would receive an offer of a jab by the end of the year.

The high-profile vaccinations over Christmas Day turned out to be little more than a publicity stunt, with only 10,480 turning out, compared with the pre-Christmas daily peak of 968,665, on 21 December. And since Christmas, as I suggested might happen, the programme has struggled to pick up momentum. The latest count stands at 247,478 with the overall rate standing obstinately at around 60 percent (60.6).

Johnson himself, in between fighting off more allegations, he seems to be worried about the (relatively) low rate of booster vaccinations, directing criticism against "anti-Covid vaccine activists" for spreading "nonsense" on social media, complaining of "conspiracy theorists".

"I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong", he told broadcasters on a visit to a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton.

At least the Guardian seems to be on-side there, profiling a "California prosecutor" who campaigned against vaccine mandates, reporting that she has died of Covid while unvaccinated.

One bit of news we've been waiting for comes via the Mail, which is telling us that hospital stays for Covid patients are getting shorter. From May 1 last year, the paper says, over 80s were usually hospitalised for 11 days, but since 1 December they have typically required a bed for around five.

It is a similar story for the 50-69 and 70-79 age ranges. During the third wave, the first group needed hospital beds for seven days, the latter eight. Now both are down to five days. For those under 50, dwell time falls from four days to three. And overall, mortality has dipped twenty-fold - to around 0.15 percent of cases now compared with over 3 percent at the pandemic's worst.

This, the Mail thinks, could be a game-changer for the NHS, and it certainly welcome news. But this is not what the Guardian wants us to hear. It focuses on telling us that "Hospitals outside London 'expect more Covid patients than last January'", citing Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.

He "fears" that hospitals outside the capital will not be as able to cope with the new wave of admissions as those in London (without remaining us that some areas on London had the lowest rate of vaccination in the country). His view is that deeper staffing problems, higher levels of sickness absence, older populations and in some cases worse social care provision will make the difference.

With equal prominence, we are being told: "At least 24 NHS trusts declare critical incidents due to Covid pressures" - a factoid "revealed" by transport secretary, Grant Shapps. However, he does concede that it is "not entirely unusual" for NHS trusts to "go critical over the winter", even if "there are very real pressures which I absolutely recognise".

On the other side of the political divide, though, the Telegraph is taking a more optimistic view, headlining: "Omicron wave may be slowing as Covid cases drop for second day in row - but over-75s still at risk".

It too is playing with figures, but it does add that cases are continuing to fall in London and there is evidence that steep rises are beginning to tail off in the North West, the South East, the East Midlands and the East of England.

To a certain extent, this was mirrored in The Times yesterday which ran a lightweight article headed: "Finally, the worst of Covid may be over", having writer Helen Rumbelow burble that "Covid doesn't feel quite so scary", asking: "Is there hope at last?"

Sky News, though, is reporting that some 200 Armed Forces personnel are being deployed to support the NHS in London "as hospitals grapple with staff shortages".

Military medics will assist NHS doctors and nurses with patient care, while general duty personnel will help fill gaps caused by other absences, leading the Royal College of Nursing to claim that the deployment means the government can no longer deny there is a "staffing crisis" within the NHS.

Whether people care to run screaming for the exit, or not, therefore, now seems very much to be influenced by their places in the political spectrum. Clearly, Johnson loyalists are more optimistic while those who oppose him see Covid as another stick with which to beat the prime minister.

As to what actually is happening, eventually we might get some objective reporting, although that might have to wait until the situation has settled, whence the media can tells us what we already know.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 07/01/2022 link

Covid: crisis, what crisis?

Thursday 6 January 2022  



With the resumption of normal hostilities after the Christmas break, the media is full of Covid stories, with the NHS crisis high up in the headlines. But this is no ordinary crisis – it is one invented and assiduously cultivated by the Covid Mafia and the inevitable outcome of the latest example of their mismanagement of the epidemic.

Triggering the latest round of "panic porn" are the latest official figures, which record a record 194,747 people tested positive and 334 deaths "within 28 days of positive test", enough to get the wibblers in the BBC and elsewhere adopting their crisis faces as they intone the news.

The "case" figure is quite obviously a record, an unprecedented level that is higher than anything previously recorded. On the same day last year, the system recorded 65,051 "cases" – almost exactly a third of the current case rate.

Yet, as always, the devil is in the detail. While the cases are staggeringly high, this is not the case with most of the other figures. With hospital admissions, for instance, the daily peak in 2021 was on 12 January, reaching 4,583 patients. For the same day equivalent, the figure was 4,119 with the 7-day average at 3,976.

This time round, the daily admissions figure stands at 2,258 and, while in January 2021 there were nearly 32,000 patients in hospital (with the tally rising sharply to a peak of nearly 49,000 a week later), the latest occupancy figure stands at 16,309, almost exactly half the level of last year.

As significantly, patients in mechanical ventilation beds registered at 2,645 on a steeply rising curve which peaked at 4,076 on 22 January. The current figure (4 January) stands a 911, considerable less than half the figure at the same time last year, and less than a quarter of the peak figure. Furthermore, despite the alarums over the situation in London and elsewhere, the curve is essentially flat.

Deaths, incidentally, were recorded at 906 for the day, this time last year – again on a steeply rising curve - compared with 334 currently, a figure which is inflated by the addition of previous day's figures.

But, apart from the current case load, there is one other figure which is also breaking records – the number of test conducted. This time last year, 498,624 tests were undertaken. Yesterday, we saw registered an incredible 2,050,101- the first time ever that the two-million barrier has been broken - over four times last year's figure.

By now, it should be obvious even to the feeble brains of "half" Whitty, Harries, Hopkins, et al that – all things being equal – if you significantly increase the rate of testing in the community, then you are going to see correspondingly more positives reported.

In this event, though, we are seeing a four-fold increase in testing but this is only matched by a three-fold increase in people testing positive, less than half the number of people being admitted to hospital and a fraction of the death date.

What we're not getting (yet) is dwell time figures in hospitals, although there are indications that these will be shorter. But there is also another helpful indicator that suggests that local "surges" are shorter than they were with the delta variant, peaking quickly before burning out rapidly and subsiding to relatively low levels as the infection ripples through the country.

On the basis of a more wide-ranging analysis than we are seeing in the legacy media, therefore, it is appropriate to suggest that we are not seeing a Covid crisis, per se, so much as an administrative crisis in the NHS brought about by the increased testing and the current self-isolation policy.

This, according to this report (in the Mail has close to ten percent of NHS employees estimated to be off sick or self-isolating.

Belatedly, as they begin to experience the results of their own folly, health service officials (with the assent of government) are removing the requirement for people showing positive on a lateral flow test, without suffering symptoms, to take a confirmatory PCR test.

On top of this, the isolation period has been cut from ten to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow test on days six and seven. But now, Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation is calling for two more days should be shaved off the period, in order to get more health service personnel back to work.

Here, there are the beginnings of suspicion, articulated by the Telegraph that the current rules are "'open to abuse".

There has already been anecdotal evidence that some less than highly-motivated employees have been taking multiple lateral flow tests until they have been able to produce a positive, then to call in sick. And, with unions advising members that, under current Covid rules, they can stay off work for 28 days without a sick note, there are "growing fears" that the system itself is fuelling absenteeism in the public sector.

Rarely, it has to be said, therefore, has the medical establishment been caught out so comprehensively, and misread the situation – from "top scientist" Neil "lockdown" Ferguson, to the latest Guardian pundit, William Hanage - professor of the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard.

Hanage argues that to call omicron's rise in the UK "precipitate" is to violently understate matters. But he is, like so many, relying on the record daily case rates without looking at the underlying test rate.

Referring to this "astonishing surge of infection", he goes on to suggest that, if omicron was "half as virulent as delta, but infected four times as many people, twice as fast, "that's still a wrecking ball aimed at a teetering healthcare system".

But, if real world figures show that quadrupling the testing produces only a three-fold increase in positives, while hospital admissions are more than halved, then even to call it a "surge" is to violently overstate matters.

However, another factor in the mix is the difficulty in managing bed allocations. One trust manager reports that his hospital still had beds available but that these could not be given to non-Covid patients as every other patient on the same ward had tested positive.

Once again, the NHS is being stymied by its own dogma, and its insistence in putting all its eggs in the district general basket, instead of building a properly functioning network of infectious disease hospitals. Not only does the NHS seem incapable of solving its own problems, it seems to lack the capability even to identify them properly.

Thus we have the NHS Confederation squealing for the introduction or a raft of emergency measures, to deal with problems of its own making which, at best, can only provide temporary expedients.

Against the steady drumbeat of publicity, lamenting the "overwhelmed NHS", bolstered by spurious statistics and shroud-waving politicians and medics, Johnson is going to have his work cut out, trying to hold the line against additional measures.

As with climate change, there is far too much invested in the crisis rhetoric, while the media is amplifying the "panic porn" for its own purposes. Any advantage in toning it down is far outweighed by the gains in maintaining the crisis atmosphere, which serves to obscure the structural deficiencies in a dysfunctional service.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 06/01/2022 link

Climate change: eager beavers

Wednesday 5 January 2022  



Rooting around t'internet yesterday for an update on Arctic ice extent, I came across this article from 15 January 2018, headed: "We Have Five Years To Save Ourselves From Climate Change, Harvard Scientist Says".

The Harvard scientist in question was professor James Anderson, best known for his work linking chlorofluorocarbons to the Ozone Hole. He was awarded Chicago's 2016 Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service in part for contributing science that led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, so he must be considered a person of prestige.

Said person is now reverently quoted in Wikipedia for declaring back in 2018 that: "The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero".

At that point, with him claiming that 75-80 percent of permanent ice had melted in the last 35 years, he posed the rhetorical question: "Can we lose 75-80 percent of permanent ice and recover?", answering the same with the blunt statement: "The answer is no".

The answer was in the negative, in part because of what we were patronisingly told, "scientists call feedbacks" - some of the ways the earth responds to warming.

Among those feedbacks, Anderson asserted, was the release of methane currently trapped in permafrost and under the sea, which he and his fellow travellers claim will exacerbate warming. Another was the old favourite, the "pending collapse of the Greenland ice sheet", which Anderson said would raise sea level by 7 metres (about 23 feet).

Despite prodding and poking though, the Greenland ice sheet has not obliged, which possibly explains why the attention has moved to the Antarctic, where the Thwaites "doomsday" Glacier has become the poster child for dire warnings of sea level rise.

Anyhow, the reason for my initial delving was a remarkable piece in our old friend, the Guardian headed: "Dam it: beavers head north to the Arctic as tundra continues to heat up", with the subtitle telling is: "Dammed rivers could accelerate climate crisis as creatures move into previously inhospitable areas".

What struck me about this article was the sheer perversity of the newspaper. Here we are with the Arctic ice extent at an 18-year high, with low-temperature records in Siberia, Scandinavia and Alaska being broken, amid reports of "brutal sub-zero cold", about which the paper had been totally silent. Instead, all it could do is wibble about beavers and melting tundra.

Here, I don't think it's untoward to suggest that the Guardian's priorities, if not its timing, are a little skewed. One might also posit that there was an amount of selectivity in its reporting, somewhat favouring the "climate change" narrative.

Actually, we don't have to speculate on this – as regards the Guardian or the legacy media in general. As the Independent helpfully tells us, in general usage the term "global warning" is dying out in preference to the words "crisis" and "emergency" in climate-related reports.

Researchers from the Language learning platform Babbel and the Media and Climate Change Observatory have analysed language trends and terminology around climate issues used by UK newspapers from January 2006 to October 2021.

They found the term "climate catastrophe" has been used three times more in 2021 than it was in 2020, "climate emergency" is now mentioned on average 126 times per month – 63 times more than before 2018 – and use of the phrase "climate change" has fallen 27 percent between March 2017 and September 2021. The term "global warming", meanwhile, is dying out. The term was used only 441 times in October 2021, a fall of 40 percent against its peak in September 2009.

This, incidentally, applies across the board, not just the warmist tomes. Newspapers analysed include The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, The Guardian and The Observer, The Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror, The Times and The Sunday Times, and The Sun and News of the World/The Sun On Sunday.

Basically, the entire print media has given up on any pretence of objectivity and bought into the "crisis" Kool Aid. This, of course, we knew. Papers don't sell news, these days – they sell agendas. And, despite their outward political leanings, they are wedded to alarmism.

Returning to the Guardian and its beavers, its sense of timing seems all the more bizarre when we find that the report is basically a rehash of a story first published in 2018 and then updated in 2020.

Then, however, the lead scientist - Ken Tape, professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – was somewhat diffident about his findings. He thought that climate change was "definitely playing a role" but he and his researchers did not rule out the idea that beavers were returning to an area they had inhabited in the past, having been wiped out by trapping in the 19th and 20th centuries. Both of these things, said Tape, could explain their expansion north.

Ironically, when beavers build their dams, they are slowing down streams and flooding the surrounding land. That introduces a new source of heat to the area, adding to the gradual decline of permafrost. Additionally, creating a pond where there was none before creates thermokarsts. Beavers then tend to flock to these thermokarsts, compounding the impact they were already making on the landscape.

"What we see is that beavers seem to be accelerating the effects of climate change when they make these ponds", Tape said back in 2020. "And if it were just a few dozen ponds, it wouldn't be a big deal. But what we're actually seeing is thousands of new ponds over the recent decades".

So much for the science but, by the time the Guardian gets its hands on the story, there is no doubt that the beavers have ventured north because of the increase in temperature, allowing only the combination with a reduction in fur trapping over the past century.

Even in their 2021 update, however – on which the Guardian report seems to be based, Tape et al still assert that: "It remains unclear whether beaver colonisation of the Arctic is occurring due to climate change ameliorating habitat or a decrease in trapping pressure, or some combination of both".

Fieldwork, the team says, is underway to characterise the impacts of beaver ponds on aquatic and terrestrial Arctic ecosystems, starting with hydrology and permafrost, and continuing downstream to methane flux, fish populations, and aquatic food webs. "As a result of these efforts", they write, "most of the questions surrounding beaver engineering in the Arctic are presently being examined but are unanswered".

Interestingly, another unanswered question is why, since 2012, there have been no new Arctic records for minimum summer ice extent, to the extent that researchers are hypothesising about "negative feedback on loss of Arctic sea ice during the summer". That rather tells you something about the warmists, who seem almost distraught at the "failure" of the ice to disappear.

Nothing of this need trouble the Guardian though. In its simplistic little world, the tundra is obligingly melting because of climate change, causing the beavers to romp northwards to make their new homes. If ever the newspaper was to confront the reality, it might have a nervous breakdown. As it is, Moonbat cries "most days now", so I suppose we are making some progress.

Also published on Turbulent Times.



Richard North 05/01/2022 link
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