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Modelling Catastrophe In A Climate Of Fear

Jaime Jessop, Climate Scepticism

“The government have ramped up the level of fear to a point where it’s very hard for people to hear the messages about ‘this is the way out’.” 

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire.”

“We are facing a disaster of unspoken sufferings for enormous amounts of people. And now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.”

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

So said Greta, at Davos, 3 months ago, even as another crisis was rapidly emerging, a new, real, more imminent crisis which would grip the world and force governments to act – largely, in retrospect, out of fear, not knowledge, not masses of data, not hope.

At first, UK scientists said don’t panic, then they said PANIC in big, bold capital letters. They got it wrong – twice. They got it wrong the first time because they didn’t know enough about the Wuhan Virus to casually float the idea of ‘herd immunity’. The now thoroughly discredited WHO was telling us that the fatality rate was 3.4% and R0 (the average number of people one person infects) was a lot higher than ‘flu, meaning that, if left unchecked, the disease would rip through communities and very rapidly overwhelm hospitals, meaning that the death rate would rise even higher. This appeared to be happening in Italy, though not in Germany, not in Japan, not in South Korea and not in a few other countries besides. It’s still not happening. The UK has been hard hit, even in lockdown, but it’s not happening here either. Nightingale is empty. But at the time, public fear, whipped up by the media, and amplified by ‘new’ modelling data, dictated that the government act to save lives and save the NHS.

They got it wrong the second time because they relied upon an epidemiological model (adapted from an old ‘flu model) which predicted 510,000 deaths from a virus which we knew virtually nothing about. Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, London said ‘DO SOMETHING OR PEOPLE WILL DIE!’ So the government did something and people still died, not in their hundreds of thousands, but, it would seem, in numbers probably irrespective of a lockdown which was initiated too late in the day and was nowhere near strict enough to have a measurable effect on what is probably an exceptionally contagious virus. American IMHE modellers got it wrong a third time, predicting loads more deaths in the UK and the US, even in lockdown, than actually occurred.

Climate change modellers never get it wrong, simply because even when their models don’t agree with reality, this is either because the observations are wrong, or because they still ‘do a reasonable job’ of modelling past and present climate change (especially when inconvenient ‘blips’ are ironed out by retrospective adjustments to the data), but principally because the subject of their claimed modelling expertise lies many years off in the future – climate change to be expected in 2050 or 2100, when the real impacts will begin to be felt. Imperial’s and IMHE’s worst case scenarios look way off, just weeks after they were proposed and after governments acted on the modeller’s advice. Their assumptions are being rapidly challenged by new data and research. Nothing similar happens in climate change land. Their worst case scenario (RCP8.5), though comprehensively debunked, still lives on and is still being defended by Met Office scientists on the basis that ‘carbon feedbacks (however unlikely) cannot be ruled out’.

People are still scared by Covid-19; they’re scared of dying, naturally, not in many years’ time because of bad weather, but next week, due to some horrible illness which probably escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. The government and the Medicine Men currently in control of control of government decision-making, use that fear to control us and to convince us of the legitimacy of their policy. Thus, mostly, we have obediently stayed at home, and acted responsibly whilst out, but that’s not enough for the police who’ve taken great pleasure in making up their own list of #CovidCrimes and harrassing and fining innocent members of the public guilty of committing mass murder by not staying at home. However, the data keeps rolling in and the research keeps piling up, even as we sit on the sofa and watch our economy go down the tubes and our civil liberties disappear in the haze of ‘the new normal’.

Covid-19 is not the disease we thought it was 2 months ago and the unintended consequences of lockdown (given hardly a moment’s thought by epidemiologists and politicians singularly intent on saving lives and saving ‘our NHS’) look set to be even more severe than the consequences of the disease itself.

It’s all very odd, because a few months ago, adults at Davos nodded approvingly whilst Greta reprimanded them for giving her generation false hope, saying that she wanted everyone to panic and take action. Little Greta believed that such action based upon fear, based in turn upon the scary output of climate models, would save the world and restore the God given right of her generation to inherit a ‘habitable planet’. Today, we have adults panicked into taking action on Covid-19 who have destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the younger generation, wrecked their education and who are busy bequeathing to them an austere future where their parents are out of work and their prospects for their own futures look bleak. This is basically the same as #netzero or the Green New Deal of course, but a global depression won’t save the planet in the process. Hence why some climate fanatics are OK with lockdown and economic ruin as long as it morphs long term into Green austerity.

There are signs that now Boris is on the mend, things might start to change and the government may be reconsidering its obsessive lockdown strategy, but I’m not that hopeful as yet, having witnessed the Minister for Suicide Prevention, Nadine Dorries, state on Twitter that lockdown will continue until a vaccine is developed, Grant Shapps telling us not to book a summer holiday, Dominic Raab telling us that an ‘equally distributed’ vaccine is our only hope, No. 10 telling us to stay at home and bake a cake, and five government ‘tests’ for ending lockdown which can never be met.

Gove is said to be setting up a panel which will be examining the potential negative impacts of lockdown. In this respect, we read in the Telegraph today the following:

The exit strategy is very much on academic minds. For this part of the process, we should definitely not rely solely on the mathematical modellers, says Robert Dingwall, Professor of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, and an advisor to one of the SAGE sub committees.

“There is a space in the policy making that might be occupied by a combination of sociologists, political scientists and historians who have worked on previous pandemics…you could argue there is a gap in the system of expert advice for that kind of input.

“Modellers are smart people but they’re mathematicians primarily and that’s why you need to set their advice into a social and economic context. That’s why you need to have an understanding of the real world.

“Ferguson for example keeps talking about social distancing as a kind of all or nothing thing. Whereas if we’re going to talk about an exit strategy, there isn’t going to be a VE day where we declare it’s all over.”

One problem, he says, is that “the government have ramped up the level of fear to a point where it’s very hard for people to hear the messages about ‘this is the way out’.” He describes the lockdown on parks, for instance, as “cruel and unjust.”

“It’s a policy by people like me who live in houses with big gardens.

“If the politicians are trying to follow the science, and the science is only giving them a limited range of input, then it might be quite difficult for some of these everyday considerations to get taken more seriously.”

Prof Sullivan echoes some of those points: “I think the fear out there is extraordinary. Now, it’s our view that the fear is out of all proportion to the threat and the risk. There’s been a real perspective loss here.

“I keep saying to people we have as many if not more people dying of pneumonia and loads of other conditions. I think life has to start renormalizing again with sufficient care and attention to the vulnerable.”

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