COVID Death Rate

Hard to get a handle on the coronovirus issue. The Australian Dept. of Health are claiming a death rate of 3.4%, but seem to be miscalculating it.

They are calculating the number of deaths as a proportion of the number of infections, which is incorrect. When when you contract a deadly disease there are two possible outcomes: you either get better or you die. While you are still sick you are ‘unknown’.

Logically then, the correct calculation is the number of deaths as a proportion of infections which are resolved.

Using the correct calculation shows that it’s killing approx. 7.75% of people infected, though that does seem to be coming down slowly.

Some more stats are available here

State of the Environment

Bill McKibben, one of the earliest to write about climate change and the founder of [350.org][http://350.org], has a article on the state of play in the New York Review of Books. In it he looks back on what scientists got right with their early modelling…

These climate models got their first real chance to shine in 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines, injecting known amounts of various chemicals into the atmosphere, and the models passed with flying colors, accurately predicting the short-term cooling those chemicals produced.

…recalls that the oil companies were well aware of the problem even while they did their best to ensure no meaningful action was taken…

Exxon, for instance, got the problem right: one of the graphs their researchers produced predicted with uncanny accuracy what the temperature and carbon dioxide concentration would be in 2019. That this knowledge did not stop the industry from its all-out decades-long war to prevent change is a fact to which we will return.

…and goes on to point out that we need to do way more than we’ve been doing.

To meet the Paris goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world would need to cut its emissions by 7.6 percent annually for the next decade. Stop and read that number again—it’s almost incomprehensibly large. No individual country, not to mention the planet, has ever cut emissions at that rate for a single year, much less a continuous decade. And yet that’s the inexorable mathematics of climate change. Had we started cutting when scientists set off the alarm, in the mid-1990s, the necessary cuts would have been a percent or two each year. A modest tax on carbon might well have sufficed to achieve that kind of reduction. But—thanks in no small part to the obstruction of the fossil fuel industry, which, as we have seen above, knew exactly what havoc it was courting—we didn’t start correcting the course of the supertanker that is our global economy. Instead, we went dead ahead: humans have released more carbon dioxide since Hansen’s congressional testimony than in all of history before.

The whole article is worth a read to get an idea of where we are currently and the potential for change, from increasing use of renewables to divestments and campaigns to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

TDU Roundup

January in Australia, for a club cyclist at least, means a pilgrimage to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under. I hadn’t been for the last two years, so I was overdue a visit this year and when Stu said he was going down for a half-week, I was in too.

The usual protocol is for our club to ride around 100km per day, stopping at the occasional bakery to refuel and intersecting with the race route to watch the pros in action. Depending on numbers, we usually have more than one bunch, with the fast bunch doing a few more kms (up to 130) and the slower bunch doing 80 or so. Everyone rides the climbs at their own pace - whether that’s all-out to see how fast you can go, or a comfortable effort - and we re-group at the top.

Usually I flit between the two groups, riding at the front of the slow group, or hanging on to the fast group, but this year it became apparent from the first climb that I was the tail-end Charlie on all the climbs, even in the slow bunch! Not enough hard training in the last few months, or really any training at all.

Sure, I’d been riding a few times a week, but not really following anything structured that you could call a training plan, and now my lack of fitness was revealed 😁 Unfortunately there was only one bunch this year as numbers were down, but I managed to find one or two others each day who were around my pace and happy to do a few less kilometers and it all worked out in the end. I’ve ridden those roads enough times to know my way around, so my preference is to let the main bunch do their own thing, rather than me holding them up. Sounds altruistic, but it’s actually me being selfish and not wanting the pressure of trying to keep up! The Adelaide hills are still a great place to ride, even if most of your club-mates are on a different route.

Bushfire aftermath at Cudlee Creek

A few days before Christmas, a bushfire broke out in Cudlee Creek, an area we habitually visit, and riding through there this year was eye-opening. The scent of smoke was still in the air, more than three weeks later, as we rode down roads surrounded by burnt trees and slopes, marvelling at how houses had been saved despite being surrounded by burnt-out land and then being reminded of the toll these fires take by the occasional ruin of a house that couldn’t be saved. One thing is certain - the Country Fire Service did a really good job under pretty testing circumstances.

Thanking the Country Fire Service

The Gig Economy

The New Republic has an article on the gig economy, titled ‘The Silicon Valley Economy Is Here. And It’s a Nightmare’ looking at the effects of companies like Instacart and Uber classifying their workers as independent contractors to get around labour laws.

Rideshare gig drivers have reported earning so little that they resort to sleeping in their cars during off-peak times so that they don’t have to waste time commuting to higher-earning areas when they start driving the next day. Most gig companies don’t offer reimbursements for expenses like gas, parking, or tickets. Nor do they provide adequate insurance to cover wear and tear on personal vehicles, or hikes in data-usage plans for workers’ smartphones.

All the risks and expenses are shifted to the worker, with the compensation for the job being driven lower and lower.

These broad structural conditions of inequality have accelerated thanks to Big Tech’s penchant for skirting labor laws, such as the minimum wage, through classifying its employees as contract workers. When Cotten first started as an Instacart shopper, she did well, earning up to $22 per “batch.” However, Instacart soon flooded her region with new shoppers, which drove down her wages to as little as $3 an order. The added competition meant that if she couldn’t work, someone else was there to pick up the slack.

Sounds like globalisation in miniature. Instead of your job going to China or India, it just goes to anyone in your area who’s willing to work for a lower percentage of minimum wage than you are.

The Sinking Dutch

Interesting article on how extraction of water to drain peatland over many years is slowly sinking the Netherlands.

In 1953, the Netherlands experienced a flood that killed more than 1,800 people. That disaster led to the development of the Delta Works, a hugely successful series of national construction projects that created the world’s largest storm barrier.

“The problem is that we’ve been very good at adaptation to land subsidence,” says Erkens. “But all we’ve done is adaptation. We haven’t done any mitigation of land subsidence.”

Floods are catastrophic events that make the evening news and require government inquiries, but the slow drop of the ground level doesn’t draw the same attention. As a result, few people have been aware of the growing crisis, including Niezen, who didn’t give the subsidence problem much thought until she became an alderman.

But now more people are noticing. “Climate change was a game changer,” says van den Born.

Particularly pertinent now that Australia has experienced months of bushfires and our climate-change-denying Government is suddenly all talk about ‘adaptation’ and less enthusiastic about ‘mitigation.’