Notes, May 7th

US Liberties

When you’ve fully bought in to the neoliberal “there’s no such thing as society” mantra, it’s not a great surprise that a good chunk of your population insist on doing whatever they like regardless of the consequences for others.

“We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”

China Ascendant

With the US response to C19 being a complete shambles on its own soil, and non-existent internationally, China is making the most of the vacuum to enhance its global power.

Are we witnessing a shift in global power relations? Beijing is seizing the moment to increase its influence, particularly in the South China Sea, where China – to the annoyance of the U.S. and many neighboring countries – is becoming increasingly bold and cementing its territorial claims. A confidential situation report from the German Defense Ministry states: “The U.S. Navy assumes the Chinese navy will make use of the, albeit temporary, COVID-19-related absence of all U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific to deliberately increase military pressure on countries in the entire region.” The report is apparently referring to the USS Theodore Roosevelt, which has experienced an outbreak of the coronavirus infecting nearly 1,000 crew members.

The fact that China is finally managing to become a superpower – not just economically, but also geopolitically – during the tenure of U.S. President Donald Trump is not without irony. After all, it was Trump who promised during the election campaign that he would put China in its place.

Carbon Emissions Drop

Despite the World’s economies going into a semi-coordinated hibernation, CO2 emissions have only dropped around 8%. Sounds great, but, if we’re to stay under 1.5C, our emissions need to drop by that amount every year (plus, stay down!) So, where are all the emissions coming from?

So where are all those emissions coming from? For one thing, utilities are still generating roughly the same amount of electricity — even if more of it’s going to houses instead of workplaces. Electricity and heating combined account for over 40 percent of global emissions. Many people around the world rely on wood, coal, and natural gas to keep their homes warm and cook their food — and in most places, electricity isn’t so green either.

Even with a bigger proportion of the world working from home, people still need the grid to keep the lights on and connect to the internet. “There’s a shift from offices to homes, but the power hasn’t been turned off, and that power is still being generated largely by fossil fuels,” Schmidt said. In the United States, 60 percent of electricity generation still comes from coal, oil, and natural gas.

When All You Have Is a Hammer...

Australia has some of the biggest natural gas reserves in the world, so when looking around for something to juice the post-C19 economy, what better solution than to push gas as the best option, despite the fact that it’s not a climate friendly as people think.

Both Woodside and Santos have resisted the push, and argued that gas is a “clean” fuel and part of the climate solution. Like Taylor, they claim Australian gas exports are an environmental good as they reduce coal in Asia. Neither the government nor industry have provided evidence to back this up, and officials have acknowledged the competition in Japan – still Australia’s biggest gas market – is increasingly with zero emissions nuclear and renewable generation.

Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas and mining with London-based financial thinktank Carbon Tracker, says the global view of gas has flipped from it being seen as a cleaner fuel than coal, to it being the second-least desirable source of electricity.

Apparently it’s the future, though that’s not supported by any evidence - it’s just a useful way of trying to force fracking upon the states against their populations’ will.

Local Insects

A grasshopper on my garden fence.

That dot above they second set of legs is its tympanum - basically its ear.

Grasshopper

Local Insects

A Hibiscus Harlequin Bug apparently. Landed on my finger at Wilsons Outlook Reserve last weekend.

Hibiscus Harlequin Bug

Notes, May 1st

Mutation Tracking

Interesting article from the New York Times on tracking the spread of C19 by looking at genetic mutations in samples from various places.

That combination of old and new mutations suggested that the student did not acquire the coronavirus from someone who had recently arrived from another country. Instead, the coronavirus was probably circulating undetected in the Seattle area for about five weeks, since mid-January.

Since then, viruses with a genetic link to the Washington cluster have now appeared in at least 14 states and several countries around the world, as well as nine cases on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

Mobile Positioning

With various countries rolling out apps to assist with contact tracing, here’s a look at the various ways to determine position from a mobile phone and why Bluetooth makes the most sense for those apps.

This tells you not much – if anything at all about absolute location, but it does tell you about proximity with high confidence and decent precision and isn’t as creepy as RRLPing the planet. That sounds like what we’re after and there’s a good reason the Singaporean health ministry, NHSX, the Apple/Google joint project, and a bunch of others have converged on solutions that use BLE plus public-key cryptography. It does have some problems – notably, as Ross Anderson points out, it’s still radio and it doesn’t care if you were on opposite sides of double glazing, and there are complicated platform restrictions in Apple iOS to stop you being creepy and weird with it.

Humanity

Finally, Tim Harford has a nice reminder that despite all the stories of bad behaviour, the vast majority of people are actually well-behaved in a crisis

…a mere 3 per cent of shoppers had bought “extraordinary amounts” of pasta. Most of us were merely adjusting our habits to life spent away from restaurants, sandwich bars and offices with their own loo paper. We all went shopping a bit more often, and when we did, spent a little more. No cause for collective shame, but it was enough to strain supermarket supply chains.

What about those who ignore pleas to keep their distance? Again, the misdeeds are exaggerated. Lambeth council grumpily closed Brockwell Park in south London, complaining of 3,000 visitors in a single day — not mentioning that the park might easily see 10 times that number on a normal sunny Saturday, nor that taking exercise in a park is perfectly permissible.