A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).



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Outside China 5% of cases are severe; Singapore may be three months away from running out of hospital beds

In short:

  • Outside China, 2% of cases have progressed to “severe”. But if the lag is eight days then progression to severe is more like 5%.
  • In China about 1/5th of severe cases are “Critical”
  • If that rate occurs in the West, hospitals will be overwhelmed if just 1% of the population gets infected.
  • In Singapore, the doubling period for confirmed cases is about nine days.
  • Currently the spread is not exponential outside China (most days)

News today: First victim in Europe — an 80 year old Chinese tourist.

Stats:           Total cases outside China: 787            Deaths: 4           Severe cases: 18 (2%)

Early days of “outside China” data

The 2% rate of severe cases is an underestimate above. There is an eight day lag from diagnosis to “severe,” and then a longer lag to death. Total cases outside China on Feb 8th was 354. So a more realistic estimate is that about 5% of confirmed cases outside China have now progressed to “severe” (i.e. 18/354).

What does severe mean? It appears “severe” means hospitalized but not necessarily in ICU. In China, the rates issued in a Feb 7 press release were 82% mild, 15% severe, and 3% critical. From that, we might assume that only a fifth* of “severe” cases are critical and therefore in need ICU care, so outside China that might be 1% of all recorded infections. (Remember the Chinese statistics are all from hospitalized people, outside that in the whole population it probably is much lower, because many people apparently get a cold and stay home and aren’t included. Though there are some who stay home and die at home and they aren’t included either. Twitter shows vans visiting apartment complexes, and being loaded with bodies. How many? Who knows. This is why statistics outside China are the only ones that count.)

*Technically one sixth (3/15+3 — the accumulated severe plus critical total)

Singapore cases graph coronavirus

Graph source: CNA

Estimating when trouble may really start in Singapore

So, with Western hospitals,  perhaps only  5%  of confirmed cases become “severe”, and only 1% of confirmed cases need an ICU. Current ICU bed availability in the West is typically about 1 bed per 12,000 of population (and there are even fewer of the proper “negative pressure ICU” rooms we need for best quarantine of an aerosolized disease**). Once the the infection has reached 1% of the total population in a Western nation, about 120 out of 12,000 people have a confirmed case, and about 1% of them — or 1.2 patients — will need an ICU bed. At that point, all the ICU beds are in use, and we have run out of ICU places — even if none are required for other uses. Not happy days in hospital-land.

Obviously we need to slow the spread of the virus urgently, aggressively, so that hospitals don’t have to send people home with an oxygen tank, a how-to-guide and good wishes. Even being optimistic and if the rate of progression to “severe” is only one fifth as common in the West as it is in China (there are reasons to take an optimistic stab), our current medical system stops being able to cope when about 5% of the population gets infected. All numbers are loose — the 5% rate of severe cases assumed in Singapore above might be too low –  in Singapore the exact current rate is 8% in HK it is 13%. Sorry about all these numbers.

**Aerosol or not? There is a lot of disagreement over whether it is or isn’t?

The exponential curve we don’t want

The exponential growth of infections in China meant that hospital system was always going to get overwhelmed. It took just two months. The Lancet reported on January 24th that, of the first 41 patients admitted in Wuhan (by Jan 2nd), 32% ended up in the ICU and 15% died. In the Wang study the news was better:  26% of 138 patients needed ICU and only 4% died. But one month after the first study, by Feb 5th, Wuhan hospitals were overwhelmed and turning away all but the most severe cases.

As I said on my first post two long weeks ago, human brains don’t seem well adapted to planning for exponential curves.  The doubling period inside China was six days in January. Outside China it is about eight days so far, though that is mostly dominated by the unfortunate cruise ship, which is in lock-down off Japan. Ominously, the doubling period in Singapore — which has dedicated advanced infection tracking — is about nine days (40 infections on Feb 8, and 72 today).

Singapore bad case: assume 10 day doubling, 5% progress to severe, 1% progress to ICU

To give some idea of how rapidly this might go, ponder that those 72 cases in Singapore could become 73,000 with ten doublings — which is only three months away. Of that, there may be around 3,500 severe cases and 700 ICU cases. There are probably around 12,000 total beds in Singapore hospitals.  Occupancy rates already peak at 85% in March. That’s not a happy set of numbers.

To extrapolate (just to make a point), in less than six months the entire population of six million Singaporeans could theoretically have been exposed — except that sometime around four months the growth curve would slow, because a large section of the population will already be immune (we hope) and the most vulnerable will already have caught it. I expect things will be slower as we learn more how best to help those with it, and how to quarantine. But we can see why Singapore’s health officials are sweating and working so hard to track and trace and hunt down every last case (which they haven’t been fully successful at). What they are not announcing publicly is that without any effort to slow this, or any anti-viral or vaccine, and without entirely shutting schools, factories and enforcing a mass home quarantine, Singapore is only a few months away from hospitals reaching full capacity. We can all see why they don’t want to dwell on worst case possibilities in public. Beyond a few months, without a slowing, the unthinkable, potential pandemonium and mayhem unfolds. We hope that doesn’t even come close. But keep those worst case numbers in mind. Anyone who says “it’s like the flu” hasn’t run the numbers. This is nothing like the flu.

As hospitals fill, manufacturing systems and supply chains will decay. The system will be far beyond the normal epidemiological curves. It will be hard and then impossible to get enough masks, consumables, or even medicine (especially if it’s made in China). If things hit that point, it’s a “black swan”. China is deep inside that.

Best case: West contains the spread

As always, let’s repeat the optimistic caveats: Covid 19 will likely be less severe outside China due to cleaner air, healthier lungs, better diets, lower population density, possibly genes (ACE2 receptor), cultural habits, more sun, better nutrition, lower rates of smoking, and better medical systems.  We also got a head-start and, if we are not totally stupid, we might use that to our advantage. We hope we can stay above all this and help the poor sods stuck in China, and probably Africa, and possibly Indonesia, India, etc. We won’t be much use to them if we lose control ourselves. The point of this post is to raise awareness that Singapore is walking on a ridge between control and a deep abyss, and it’s not out of the question that the West may follow. We really really don’t want to get on the wrong side of that exponential growth curve.

Perhaps we are seeing the awful result of malnutrition in China?

I’m astonished to note in the Wang et al study that two thirds of those in the ICU are listed as having “anorexia,” whereas that one third that didn’t need an ICU were listed the same way.  I am baffled that there is not more discussion of this. Does it mean malnutrition? Is it a bad translation?  (Anoxia is spelt like anorexia?)

Patients treated in the ICU (n = 36), compared with patients not treated in the ICU (n = 102), were older (median age, 66 years vs 51 years), were more likely to have underlying comorbidities (26 [72.2%] vs 38 [37.3%]), and were more likely to have dyspnea (23 [63.9%] vs 20 [19.6%]), and anorexia (24 [66.7%] vs 31 [30.4%]).

Perhaps some medico’s can help out — it simply makes no sense that most elderly Chinese would be anorexic in the same sense as the term is used in the West.

As for dyspnea — it means means “shortage of breath”.

The good news: Outside China things are not exponential

Not yet anyway.

Cases outside China

Coronavirus Cases outside China | Worldometer

Obviously it could go exponential, and probably will if the virus takes hold in places like Africa (which has just reported it’s first case). But Africa hasn’t done much testing, and has a large fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) population of Chinese workers. If things take off in Africa, we will need a new category of graph “Cases in The West”.


Daily growth outside China



Still noisy early data, and we can’t tell at this point whether the West will keep control or lose it.

As long as the growth factor is below one (in the growth of daily cases below), the growth is not exponential. However, be aware that at some point our ability to slow the linear growth and keep it under “1″ will be overwhelmed. It is simply not possible to do exhaustive tracking of each new case, tracing back to find the source and isolating all the other contacts.  At 50 cases Singapore had one unexplained source. Is that the point nations lose control? We don’t know. Singapore might get lucky. They will be tracking hundreds of people.

Cruise boats aside I hope this is a pattern that stays under 1. But there is that nagging concern about untested cases and the superspreader wildcard. Perhaps Singapore was just unlucky and got one, or perhaps even the strain of virus there may be different. Mutations are high in single stranded RNA viruses so there is possibly a cloud of different ones spreading right now. The most infectious strains will win that race, we just hope they are also less nasty.


Coronavirus, daily growth, Worldometer graph.

Daily growth curve outside China. The red line is “1″. Above that is exponential growth.  |  Worldometer.


There are new hints today that the virus may weaken hearts and that those recovered may still not be out of the woods. I need to follow that. There were reports like that a few weeks ago, but those referred to the first week of infection. People were sent home, then had to come back.

I’ve heard that China has very stringent tests before people are declared recovered, which is why it takes a month to get on that list. But of course, if the experience of fighting Covid 19 leaves long term damage in some tissues there is probably no data on that yet.

A historic event. Let’s hope it gets boring soon.



Huang et al (2020) Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, Lancet.

Wang et al (2020): Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients With 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China – JAMA, February 7, 2020

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Weekend Unthreaded

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Let the Coronavirus disruption begin: planes held in London and prof warns “this is virus he fears most”

Partial post hoc reactive quarantine holds seven planes at London airport– seriously?

Madness. Eight planes have been held up for hours in London airports as they land with people with coughs and colds and try to check suspected cases. By the time people are symptomatic, its too late. Temperature checks may catch the most contagious people but now one person with a unrelated common cold can also cause a major and unnecessary disruption while other infective people can freely fly in and walk straight through.

Asymptomatic people can potentially infect 2 to 3 random people (or 10) who may then also infect 2 – 3 random people each before the Epidemiology SWAT Team realizes and starts testing and tracking. We play an impossible game of catch up in a race to isolate all possible contacts.

HOURS of misery in coronavirus lockdown at Heathrow:

DailyMail UK

Passengers endured hours of misery at Heathrow Airport this morning when up to eight planes were put on lockdown over coronavirus fears after passengers on board complained of symptoms of the deadly virus.

MailOnline understands a British Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur was held up on the tarmac for two hours when it landed at 6.45am after cabin crew grew concerned a Malaysian family ‘of around eight’ might have the contagious infection, now named SARS-CoV-2.

One passenger on the plane said that health workers in protective gowns and face masks came on board the BA34 flight and set up a screen around the family before evacuating everyone off the plane row by row.

The first confirmed case in London was only Wednesday. The phase transition from low-risk to hours-of-disruption is quick, eh? Last week this was “low risk” now the shops of chinatown are empty. A strict quarantine is the only thing that can save businesses like this.

The West has a choice here: Build hospitals or holiday cabins

We could start building emergency hospital ICU rooms like China has, or we could start building quarantine cabins which are infinitely cheaper and ask all entrants from countries with uncontrolled cases of Covid 19* (or SARS CoV 2, whatever it is called) to go through a two week quarantine. This will limit traffic drastically, affecting weddings, conferences, holidays and all kinds of business. It will be costly and inconvenient, but it will possibly save people and quite a lot of money. (ICU care is $5000 a day). Separated families can still be reunited after the two week delay. Am I mad, stopping all flights to nations at risk seems like the cheap conservative option?

Our hospital system is designed to cope with the annual flu load, even if this only doubles it, it will be onerous, hard choices are coming. If 10% of cases need major hospital help (as we see in the cases in Hong Kong and Singapore) the system will be overwhelmed.

I repeat, now that we know this is very infectious the best case scenario is that the virus causes thousands of undetected low grade infections, and that for some reason it is not as severe in the West (genes, pollution, medical care, lower population density, summer, past infection immunity, etc). Perhaps it blows over and we can look back and say “hyped”. We’ll know a lot more in a few weeks time. Are three weeks worth of weddings and conferences really worth the risk?

The disruption of closing borders is nothing compared to the disruption of post hoc late quarantine. Once the virus gains a foothold schools will have to close, businesses and factories will shut. People will need to stay home.

On the Diamond Princess — when will we get those people off that boat and put them in proper quarantine — one where they are not breathing the same presumably unfiltered air? Perhaps these cross infections are due to food handling, the walks to the deck or some other route. Where is this being discussed?


This is the virus I fear the most’: British scientist

By Danyal Hussain and Ryan Fahey For Mailonline

Professor Neil Ferguson, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, revealed that ‘this is the one I’m scared of’ when asked about the killer coronavirus, which is causing increasing alarm all over the country.

However, he insisted he was not predicting 400,000 deaths, but was warning that the figure ‘is possible’. He said he would rather and adding that he’d ‘prefer to be accused of overreacting than under reacting’.

Research indicates that 60 per cent of Britons could be affected by the virus, formally known as COVID-19.

 Which is more scary, a half a degree temperature rise in 50 years or a flu that kills 1% in coming months?

Latest tally: John Hopkins CSSE  and Worldometer

h/t Bill in Oz

*Sadly, we probably need to include countries with no cases but inadequate testing. This will increase pressure for nations to control their cases — a big added incentive to manage their health (perhaps with as much help as we can give).

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#Walkaway from the hate — a democrat voter joins a Trump rally and realizes that’s where happy normal America is

What an excellent piece of writing.

US Flag, Flying.Karlyn Borysenko didn’t like what she was seeing in the world of knitting — it’s hard to believe, but even there the Social Justice Warriors were mobbing people for innocuous offenses. Watching the anxiety and pain inspired her to get out of the echo chamber in an attempt to understand the deplorable Trump supporters. But in attending a Trump rally she discovered how toxic and out of touch the Democrats were.

These are just snippets — read the whole piece. This awakening and others like it could feed a deadly meme for Democrats. If the idea of attending both kinds of rallies catches on it’s a major breach in the wall.  The idea of bridging the divide by listening to the unspeakables, by meeting them, threatens the whole freeloader elitist cult. Apostates face harsh punishments. Borysenko may need some support.

The parallels in the climate world are obvious. As I said ten years ago, it’s the overdone hate and namecalling that drives fencesitters to come seeking answers from skeptics…

As that hate invades every corner of life the Empty Left sows it’s own undoing.

h/t David E

 After Attending a Trump Rally, I Realized Democrats Are Not Ready For 2020

Karlyn Borysenko:

I’m an organizational psychologist and mindfulness expert…

…I started to question everything. How many stories had I been sold that weren’t true? What if my perception of the other side is wrong? How is it possible that half the country is overtly racist? Is it possible that Trump derangement syndrome is a real thing, and had I been suffering from it for the past three years?

And the biggest question of all was this: Did I hate Trump so much that I wanted to see my country fail just to spite him and everyone who voted for him?

Fast-forward to the New Hampshire primary, and we have all the politicians running around the state making their case. I’ve seen almost every Democratic candidate in person and noticed that their messages were almost universally one of doom and gloom, not only focusing on the obvious disagreements with Donald Trump, but also making sure to emphasize that the country is a horribly racist place.

It took some bravery to visit the enemy territory. Everyone said it was risky…

I’m not going to say it didn’t get to me a bit. When everyone around you is nervous for your safety, it’s hard not to question if they have a point. But it also made me more determined to see it through, because it was a stark reminder that both sides view each other exactly the same way. They are both afraid of the other side and what they are capable of. I couldn’t help but think that if they could just see the world through the lens of the other for a moment or two, it would be a stark revelation that they don’t know as much as they think they do.

Waiting in lines with four hours to go:

As I waited, I chatted with the folks around me. And contrary to all the fears expressed, they were so nice. I was not harassed or intimidated, and I was never in fear of my safety even for a moment. These were average, everyday people. They were veterans, schoolteachers, and small business owners who had come from all over the place for the thrill of attending this rally. They were upbeat and excited. In chatting, I even let it slip that I was a Democrat. The reaction: “Good for you! Welcome!”

Democrats are full of doom and gloom. The Trump rally was full of jubilant excited people:

Once we got inside, the atmosphere was jubilant. It was more like attending a rock concert than a political rally.

I had attended an event with all the Democratic contenders just two days prior in exactly the same arena, and the contrast was stark. First, Trump completely filled the arena all the way up to the top. Even with every major Democratic candidate in attendance the other night, and the campaigns giving away free tickets, the Democrats did not do that. With Trump, every single person was unified around a singular goal. With the Democrats, the audience booed over candidates they didn’t like and got into literal shouting matches with each other. With Trump, there was a genuinely optimistic view of the future. With the Democrats, it was doom and gloom. With Trump, there was a genuine feeling of pride of being an American. With the Democrats, they emphasized that the country was a racist place from top to bottom.

People in cults don’t question their leader:

Some people say, “Well, obviously they’re having a great time. They’re in a cult.” I don’t think that’s true. The reality is that many people I spoke to do disagree with Trump on things. They don’t always like his attitude. They wish he wouldn’t tweet so much. People who are in cults don’t question their leaders. The people I spoke with did, but the pros in their eyes far outweighed the cons. They don’t love him because they think he’s perfect. They love him despite his flaws, because they believe he has their back.

As I left the rally—walking past thousands of people who were watching it on a giant monitor outside the arena because they couldn’t get in—I knew there was no way Trump would lose in November. Absolutely no way.

I refuse to be a part of the divisiveness any longer. I refuse to hate people I don’t know simply because they choose to vote for someone else…

read it all

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Coronavirus — early rates of severe cases in Hong kong and Singapore are over 10%

Global Markets were shaken by the sudden rise in numbers out of China yesterday. But the increase was not a surprise for anyone who has been watching social media and the measures being taken in China. That China is now allowing the WHO in may be an admission that they really do need help.  The explanation for the jump is that China changed the definitions.  They are also admitting that there may be many cases of people with low grade infections, but also unattributed deaths as well. For days the ratio of cases to deaths was suspiciously 2.1%, 2.1%, 2.1% …  Now perhaps it’s a tiny bit closer to the truth.

The tally outside China continues to rise: there now 587 cases, with 3 deaths (1 new one in Japan) and 24 people classified as “serious critical”.  These are the key figures to watch. We expected the number of cases that were severe to rise as the five to eight day lag unfolds from the first symptoms to the onset of breathing trouble. So at the moment 4% of cases outside China are headed for hospital intervention, perhaps ICU (does anyone know the definition of “Serious Critical”?). That will keep rising. We need to see that leveling off so we know what kind of load to plan for with ICU units. The early days rates of serious cases in Hong Kong (11%), Singapore (14%) and Japan (2%) are a concern. Unless there is a genetic factor or other localized risk the current low levels elsewhere will presumably trend up to match. I’ll write more on that soon, but “hoping” those rates will be lower is not much of a strategy, though if we are lucky, rates may be lower.

Germany has 16 cases, none of which has progressed to severe. The first five cases were all diagnosed by Jan 28th, but how many cases were there in Germany on 4th Feb? The lag in case progression means only these early cases would be expected to have become “severe”. Oh for more data…  Also bearing in mind about 32,000 in Germany – are currently suffering from flu.

Let’s stress these rates of severe cases are very early and small caseloads and the numbers are highly variable. It’s still possible that Covid 19 is widely spread and with a low grade infection, and all the rates are therefore overestimates among the population as a whole. We hope.

About 14% of patients have recovered but it can take a month so there is a long lag there too.

First lock down outside China occurs

At this point, even to limit the load to a manageable level we ought be stopping more flights from at risk countries. Vietnam has only 15 cases but has locked down a small village  of 10,000 in the north.It’s only 40km from Hanoi.

The locking down of Son Loi, about 40 kilometres from Hanoi, is the first mass quarantine outside of China since the virus emerged from a central Chinese city late last year. “As of February 13, 2020, we will urgently implement the task of isolation and quarantine of the epidemic area in Son Loi commune,” said a health ministry statement. “The timeline… is for 20 days”. The health ministry previously said five people in Son Loi had been infected with the virus, and on Thursday reported a sixth case.

The hunt is on for the single case source in Singapore that has not yet been identified. This story is worth reading if you want to understand the burden of tracking cases to limit infections. That single case source may well be fine now, and not shedding, but what are the odds that they didn’t unknowingly infect just one other person who is now “at loose”?

Three weeks later, global health authorities are still scrambling to work out who carried the disease into the mundane meeting of a firm selling gas meters, which then spread to five countries from South Korea to Spain, infecting more than a dozen people.

The firm said it immediately adopted “extensive measures” to contain the virus and protect employees and the wider community. Those included self-isolation for all 109 attendees, of whom 94 were from overseas and had left Singapore.

But the virus kept spreading.

Two South Korean delegates fell sick after sharing a buffet meal with the Malaysian, who also passed the infection to his sister and mother-in-law. Three of the firm’s Singapore attendees also tested positive.

Then cases started appearing in Europe.

 While quarantine is very expensive, if these numbers are correct and the virus is easily spread with many low grade infections it is still probably cheaper to limit and contain now, rather than have to close schools and factories in a months time. With winter coming in three months in Australia it would be a huge advantage to stop the virus getting hold before the weather turns cooler.

Added up from the Worldometer page with an extra column from me to the right and below:

Keep reading  →

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Unprecedented panic: For the first time ever, half of life on Earth will be wiped out by tiny 0.5C rise

Life on Earth mostly made it through 500 million years of asteroids and supervolcanoes only to be wiped out by a half a degree temperature rise. This really will be unprecedented.

Climate change could destroy half of Earth’s animal and plant species in the next 50 years, disturbing study says

Despite animals surviving temperature rises of 20 degrees every day, a half a degree of warming in 50 years will kill off half the species on Earth.

A disturbing new study suggests that climate change could wipe out half of the planet’s animal and plant species by 2070.

The research notes that if temperatures rise 0.5 degrees Celsius around the globe, approximately half of the world’s species would become locally extinct. If temperatures were to rise 2.9 degrees Celsius, 95 percent of the species would become locally extinct.

Note the scale on the graph of the last 500 million years.  I marked half a degree in the red box.

Pleistoscene, holocene, Pleioscene, miocene, graph. Temps

 Image by Glen Fergus Wikimedia.

I’m not too concerned about life on Earth surviving the next 50 years. But at this rate of decay, science is cactus.

These researchers think Earth is a simulation:

“By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct,” study co-author Cristian Román-Palacios added.

No meaningless study is complete without overly detailed meaningless numbers. Let’s take that ten year trend and run with it:

Wiens and the other researchers looked at data from 538 species in 581 different parts of the globe. The focus was on “plant and animal species that were surveyed at the same sites over time, at least 10 years apart,” the statement said, adding that 44 percent of the 538 species had already gone extinct at one or more of the sites.

“Surprisingly, extinctions occurred at sites with smaller changes in mean annual temperatures but larger increases in hottest yearly temperatures,” the study’s authors wrote.

And here was me thinking the only mammal extinction due to climate change was a brown rat that accidentally lived on a sand dune in the coral sea.

One down, and 3,199 to go.


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ABC suddenly notices the ‘heat island’ effect in cities

Skeptics mention the Urban Heat Island and its crickets from the ABC.

A green group mentions the Urban Heat Island effect and the ABC is happy to advertise:

Australian cities are increasingly becoming concrete jungles as trees and canopy coverage disappear, according to experts who warn this is contributing to an urban “heat island” effect.

“We know a tried and tested strategy is the introduction of more trees and green roofs in urban spaces, reducing surface temperatures by up to 40 per cent,” Griffith University urban and environmental planner Tony Matthews said.

40% of what, we might wonder, but the ABC doesn’t.

Could this huge heat effect possibly affect temperature records creating a systematic century scale bias inflating and creating fake hottest ever records. Nothing to see here, nevermind.

What radiates like an oven but doesn’t heat thermometers?

A national initiative — called Greener Spaces Better Places — brings together academic, government and industry groups to promote further greenery in our cities. Its research says black bitumen and dark roofs compound the already-hot days by creating a so-called heat island effect, absorbing heat and radiating it back like an oven.

Radiating like an oven? You mean like the carpark under the official Streaky Bay thermometer for 30 years? Which incompetent, careless national agency did that I wonder. And which incompetent careless national agency helped them hide that?

Who killed the trees?

The primary reason there are less trees:

The reasons for greenery loss were varied and complex, said RMIT associate professor in international planning, Marco Amati.

In some areas, greenery might be lost because houses were getting bigger and land plots were smaller, so there was less space for plants, he said.

Which political party pushes for high density, overcrowded, concrete cities? Who wants more immigration yet smaller city footprints?  Who hates the suburban backyard?

“So street by street we need a kind of campaign to make people aware of why greenery is important right there in their backyard.”

And if they have no backyard because there aren’t enough houses, or enough land for sale?

 One day the Bureau of Met may stop adjusting the old readings down….

Save the trees, sell the ABC.

China is warming fastest where the cities are, not where the models predicted.

We can see Urban Heat Islands from space.



h.t Dave

LATE NOTE: The ABC did an earlier story on the different temperatures of two Sydney Suburbs. A hidden UHI story. h/t Rod

Last summer, Galloway Street in North Parramatta experienced five days of temperatures above 40 degrees.

People on Daking Street — which is a short walk north — sweated through 13 days above 40 degrees.

It’s the hottest street in the City of Parramatta’s municipality.

The reason? Trees.

New research from Western Sydney University has revealed the temperatures at ground level could vary wildly — in some areas the difference was more than 10 degrees.

Despite that, the science is settled and we know the temperature of the entire nation to a tenth of a degree …







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Thursday Open Thread

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CoronaVirus more infectious, but we *hope*, less deadly. Without closed borders Covid-19 uncontainable

So Coronavirus is now CoVID-19.

We’ve been walking the cusp of containable versus pandemic for two weeks but the growth of infections outside China is just a bit too fast, a bit too random and the news suggests its easier to spread. At least the number of severe cases outside China is still only 2% of the total. But there’s a lag of a week or two, so that’s likely to rise. If it is even possible to stop, I suspect only the mass closure of borders will do.

World (ex China)      Cases: 517         Deaths: 2         Recovered: 54         Severe: 12

Singapore Case list

Click to enlarge

While Australia and the US and even India have the illusion of stability, the rise in Singapore, and on that ship is hard to ignore. Singapore is doing advanced tracking, yet still it spreads (see the chart, right). The difference between Singapore and Australia may be part luck — one superspreader versus one man who didn’t infect anyone on a whole plane.What matters then, is just how many people are superspreaders? The one ray from Singapore is that 15 people on that list are already listed as recovered. When I say we hope it’s less deadly, “hope” is the key word. If 10% of people need an ICU unit, by the time Australia has 20,000 infections, the ICU beds will be full. That’s only a bit over 10 doublings from now (about 10 weeks, unless containment measures, like tracking and isolation and perhaps anti-virals help).

What happened to the precautionary principle? Wouldn’t it be prudent to temporarily close some more doors to South East Asia just until we know how hard this virus may hit us? Buy time…

The lack of cases in Indonesia is a bad sign -- suggesting they are not even finding the cases, let alone doing reliable quarantine measures. So far it has tested only 64 people. What we are seeing may be the tip of the iceberg. A few prisoners have turned up with suspected cases in the UK. One flew in from Thailand 16 days ago (theoretically longer than quarantine). Maybe it’s just the real flu? Wait and see.

The Cruise Ship has another 39 cases. It remains the most affected “nation” by far outside China. A sombre lesson that perhaps cruise ships are not good quarantine units for an virus that spreads via aerosol. Indeed, ships resemble floating apartment blocks, and in China, that may turn out to be part of the reason things are going so pear shaped so fast. (Aside from mass censorship, totalitarian rule, and “edgy eating habits”).  The original infection (perhaps) on the ship was an 80 year old who got off the ship in Hong Kong on Jan 25th. From one infection to 175 in just 17 days. That’s 7 doublings — unless there were other asymptomatic passengers — which there may have been.

Another cruise ship is wandering the ocean as nations turn it away in fear. Some 2,257 passengers on board are apparently healthy, but Japan, Taiwan, the Phillipines and Guam have said they can’t allow the boat to dock or the people to disembark. At the same time hundreds of planes land every day. For some reason that does not scare people. The Westerdam cruise ship looks like it may be accepted by Cambodia, of all places.

The mismatch between official numbers and the scenes in China on twitter continue. Suddenly there are nice stories of people dancing in hospitals, and food deliveries to quarantined homes, but we also know that in two provinces of China private property can now be legally requisitioned for the purposes of virus control. That’s homes, vehicles, everything. Teams are roaming through student dormitories tossing their belongings into the quadrangle, and turning their rooms into makeshift hospital facilities. This is desperate.

Hilton has 150 hotels in China and they are all closed. All 33,000 rooms. Will the CCP commandeer them?

There is talk the incubation period might be as long as 24 days in a preprint on MedRxIV “Clinical characteristics of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in China. It also suggests the median incubation is just 3 days. The long 24 day estimate was “only one patient”. Thankfully, seems to be an outlier. A shorter incubation makes it easier to track contacts.



Cases Outside China



For anyone wanting a not so scary documentary look at one community in Wuhan, see this video. At least there people are getting food deliveries. It all looks calm. Better than the videos of people falling from skyscrapers in the hope of getting rice or the truckloads of animals being dumped in pits. There seem to be less scary scenes today, but is that just thanks to the scary CCP filtering? At least one journalist has recently gone missing…

CoVID quarantine plants springing up everywhere. Hmm. Not like the flu.


Tip of the iceberg?

Keep reading  →

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IPCC moves goalposts from 2 to 1.5C — just a part of the PR plan to get more headlines

Pick a number, any number — the message is always the same. In 2018 the IPCC dropped the arbitrary 2C target to an arbitrary 1.5C target. The world hadn’t warmed fast enough, and worse, the new round of CMIP6 models were pushing their estimates of climate sensitivity up. But regardless, there are PR points to be made in every change. It’s an excuse for another round of “worse than we thought” press releases.

Commenter Joe teased:

Have the IPCC now become deniers? looks like we can only expect only .5 degrees C warming over the coming decades….

and Bobl sagely replied:


You’ve lost sight of the pea.

All the wild predictions are based on “Post Industrial” there has been about 0.95 deg since then, plus 0.5C brings us to the magic 1.5.

What you have to see is that all the $billions is about “preventing” an imperceptible and completely harmless 0.5 deg C change in temperature that might just come naturally anyway.

You are being duped. The aim frankly is to create an income stream via treaty that requires sovereign countries to levy taxes (Carbon credits) that are required to transit the UN so they can skim it like the charities do.

The whole thing is a UN shakedown.

Actual predictable consistency would be a disadvantage — they wouldn’t have the chance to reissue headlines that roll with cycles.

The numbers are irrelevant anyway in the quest for clickbait. To distracted, time-strung people every number bigger than 100 is “big”.

Watch the PR machine roll with the cycles

When Climate sensitivity goes up:

” It’s worse than we thought”

“Scientists have underestimated how bad CO2 will be”

“Seas will swallow your suburb”

When temperatures aren’t rising as fast as expected:

“Even a small amount of warming will be catastrophic”

“Even 1.5C will cause ( … insert disaster… more storms, more rain, less rain, more reckless fish).”

“We are closer to dangerous climate tipping point than we thought”.

“The margin of safety has just become smaller”

When climate sensitivity falls again (the cycle):

“new discovery means models have improved, are more accurate than ever”

“models find missing factor, are uncannily, reliable…”

“for the first time warming in the 1700s can be attributed to mankind”

When temperatures rise faster:

“scientists have underestimated the effect of CO2″

“climate change is accelerating”

“it’s the fastest rate since last week!”

In every situation above:

Apocalypse coming. Give us your money.

So silence those deniers, sack them, boycott companies that do business with them. Mock them, namecall, bully and coerce people to toe the line on the dogma, even if the line keeps changing, that’s part of the PR plan. As long as the media cycle is controlled by arrogant innumerate lefty-voting people the parasites win every round of the “cycle”.

It’s all about the framing, never the fact…



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Australian grid has major near miss: SA Islanded for two weeks

Here in Renewables-World downunder, most people don’t know the grid has barely scraped through the last two weeks. We almost lost an Aluminium smelter, came close to a statewide blackout  and South Australia is (possibly) still islanded from the rest of the National Grid.

The AEMO held a crisis meeting yesterday but this trouble started Friday week ago in what was described as a “white knuckle event” by energy analyst, Paul McArdle at WattClarity. A storm knocked down six large transmission towers on the high voltage interconnector line in Western Victoria which left South Australia suddenly islanded. This time SA had 1,000MW more energy than it could use, so frequency in SA suddenly rose to a near disastrous 50.96Hz and briefly perhaps even higher. (Wait for the official reports). The system teetered but managed to stay running. Prices rocketed up to the usual spike to $14,500/MWh in both Victoria and South Australia.

It would have been nerve-wracking in the control rooms. The Portland Aluminium Smelter in Victoria, which is the largest single user of electricity in Victoria, had a near death experience. Both pot lines shut down immediately. It appears emergency workers only managed to get 50% of the power back up 3 hours and ten minutes later.  The future of the plant hung in the balance — after a few hours without power pot lines can freeze permanently solid. It’s referred to as a “near fatal event”. If those 1,000°C pot lines cool to 700°C the molten aluminium sets solid and that’s the end of the plant.

The smelter is on the SA side of the broken transmission line, so it’s now a part of the extended South Australian network. Though it is largely powered by Mortlake Gas generator — which is also in Victoria, but on the western side of the break.

SA is effectively still islanded without the main interconnector. The only line in or out is the small 300MW direct current”MurrayLink” line, which has been constrained to zero (meaning, left unused, ready for an emergency.)

UPDATE: Remember a DC or direct current line is not able to help with frequency much — it can’t do “FCAS” except in an indirect way to help match generation and load a bit better. Obviously DC power doesn’t run at 50Hz or any Hz or it would be AC.

It presents itself with a situation almost unique in the world – a state grid that is normally powered more than 50 per cent by renewables operating without any major links to another grid. — Giles Parkinson, Reneweconomy

The AEMO has scrambled to keep the system running. Because it has no control over rooftop solar power, the agency is instead comandeering the three batteries, and telling 23 different wind, solar and gas generators  that they will be constrained to zero output if South Australia’s minimum demand falls below 800MW.

In this situation, it is causing a headache for the grid operator, and it underlines why AEMO has been pushing for new measures and mechanisms that allows it to have some sort of control over the output of rooftop solar, now totalling more than 10GW in Australia on more than 2.2 million rooftops.

LATE NOTE: Rooftop solar doesn’t help with FCAS either. Another reason the AEMO would be concerned about it dominating the lunchtime slot.

Markets go haywire

Prices in SA have been zero or slightly negative in SA — there are just too many generators there. But what there isn’t is much stability — there are few big turbines. So the gas generators have been reaping in the maximum FCAS (Frequency Control Ancilliary Service) fees.

The share of renewables in the state’s grid has averaged 50 per cent since it became an energy “island”, with rooftop solar providing much of daytime demand, and wind energy playing its role at night time. Prices have been volatile, it’s been negative more than positive.

That has created more problems, however. AEMO has had to intervene to prevent an “excess of negative pricing residues” flowing between South Australia and Victoria, and causing price settlement issues in both states. It has also had to impose a price limit on the frequency and ancillary services market, after the various FCAS markets pushed the price to the market cap for several days running.

This is the result of the few gas generators capable of delivering FCAS in South Australia having no competition from interstate, due to the failed Heywood interconnector, and the lack of competition from local batteries otherwise seconded by AEMO.

— Giles Parkinson, Reneweconomy

Commenters at Reneweconomy are cheering at the thought of lots of renewables and cheap electricity. But they don’t seem to realize that investors might not be as enthusiastic.

Bidding games?

For the next day or so the national system balanced on the brink. Paul McArdle described his bafflement at some of the sudden volatility.  Far away in NSW an LOR 2 situation (that’s a Lack of Reserve) suddenly appeared on Saturday at 5pm without warning, out of nowhere. The margins were extremely tight. The whole state of NSW had a bare 350MW of extra capacity ready to go in a system that was generating 12,000 MW. Apparently in toto with imports NSW was using 13,717MW at 16:55. This is close to an all time high.

McArdle goes on to point out that the sudden loss of capacity was coincident with some very tricky bidding by Colongra Gas Turbines (Snowy Hydro) which suddenly withdrew capacity and then offered it back 28 minutes later after the LOR2 was called. They essentially invited the AEMO to direct them on, he says. Too tricky by half. Were they gaming the system to ensure compensation?

McArdle says he “can imagine that others would use a few different adjectives in relating their own perceptions of this sort of process, and participant behaviour.”

There could be some unintended consequences in fake markets where customers don’t get to choose the cheapest energy unless the wind isn’t blowing.


h/t Dave B, Robber, Tonyfromoz, Robert Rosica

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Tuesday Open Thread

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400mm of water dropped from God’s Water Bomber and puts out Australian fires



Looks like the dams will still fill. Sydney’s main dam — the Waragamba was only 42% full a few days ago, now it’s 70% full, and most of the fires are out, or will be soon. 16 river systems have flooded, and 13,000 people are being evacuated. Where is that hotter-drier future when you need it?

Sydney rains: Record rainfall brings flooding but puts out mega-blaze

Sydney has been hit by its heaviest rain in 30 years, bringing widespread flooding but also putting out two massive bushfires in New South Wales. Australia’s weather agency said 391.6mm of rain had fallen in the past four days in Sydney, more than three times the average rainfall for February. About 100,000 homes are without power, and officials have warned flash floods could be life-threatening.



The Australian Bureau of Meteorology predicted average rain just five weeks ago

Jan 2nd 2020:  “February to April has roughly equal chances of being wetter or drier than average for most of Australia.

While outlooks for drier than average conditions have eased compared to those issued for late 2019, several months of above average rainfall are needed to see a recovery from current long-term rainfall deficiencies.”


Predictions five weeks away

Predictions for rain in Australia for Feb


Two days before summer started the phrase was “hot and dry”.

Summer outlook from Bureau of Meteorology suggests hot, dry times to continue”

Nov 28th 2019

Summer is looking hot for most of the country and dry for the east, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s summer outlook.

Andrew Watkins, head of long-range forecasts at the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), said the overall outlook for summer is generally warmer than normal conditions over much of the country, with particularly dry conditions for the east.

“The highest chances of it being drier than normal, unfortunately, are in those drought areas through central New South Wales, southern Queensland and eastern Victoria,” he said.

Imagine if we could actually predict rainfall?


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Corona Virus — darkness in China. The West waits while reports come that a mild illness may progress badly

One day ago, the statistics were looking good but there have been a few ominous shifts. Another 26 infections have been recorded, some in a French ski chalet, some in Singapore –at least three of which are hard to explain. These appear to be transmissions outside China, which is what we are hoping to avoid. It’s bad, but could have been a lot worse. Fortunately the Diamond Princess tally hasn’t risen much — standing at 64. Another plus — it’s almost two weeks since one passenger on a Tiger Air flight in Australia flew as he was coming down with symptoms yet the other 157 passengers appear to be OK. Promising.


Just 2% of cases so far are severe outside China (but that may grow)

The all important statistics outside of China are starting to accrue — So far there are 355 infections. Of those, 35 have recovered and only eight are marked as severe (see the table below). It’s good news that only 2% are severe, however it’s too soon to know — 90% are still unwell.

The illness appears to be less severe outside China, but a new study reports that this virus often looks benign to start with. It begins with a mix of mild symptoms that can look like the common cold, or resemble gastro. But some patients go on to develop breathing trouble five days later, and may need the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) by day 8. Sometimes people get released from medical care, but then have to return the next week. So not only must we wait 14 days for the incubation period, there may be another 8 days (or more) before we know how many will need emergency life support and we can begin to calculate the fatality rate. Unfortunately that means there may be a sting in this tail coming. We can’t take too much comfort in all the early reports of mild effects. Though we hope that the outcome in the West will be different due to a better resourced medical system that is not overwhelmed with an unmanageable case load, and other local factors.

New Report on 138 Coronavirus Cases Reveals Disturbing Details

New York Times

Reporting on Friday in JAMA, the authors said their data suggested that rapid person-to-person spread of the virus had occurred among their cases. That was in part because of patients like the one admitted to the surgical department, whose symptoms misled doctors into suspecting other illnesses and failing to take precautions to prevent spread of the virus until it was too late.

About 10 percent of the patients did not initially have the usual symptoms, cough and fever, but instead had diarrhea and nausea first. Other uncommon symptoms included headache, dizziness and abdominal pain.

Another cause for concern was that some patients who at first appeared mildly or moderately ill then took a turn for the worse several days or even a week into their illness. The median time from their first symptoms to when they became short of breath was five days; to hospitalization, seven days; and to severe breathing trouble, eight days.

For this series of patients, the death rate was 4.3 percent.

China’s National Health Commission has given the virus a temporary official name – novel coronavirus pneumonia, or NCP.South China Morning Post

In other news, it’s been confirmed CoronaVirus can spread via aerosol — like Influenza. That makes it easier to spread that just via contact, or respiratory droplet, though these are still described as the main routes. Protection from this means well fitted respiratory masks, 6 feet spacing between people, increasing ventilation and air flow, negative pressure rooms, and also goggles to protect eyes. It means cancelling large events in at risk populations for the moment. See the CDC recommendations.

Something truly awful is going on in China. Dip into #coronavirus

People are being chased down the road by “medical teams”, dragged forcibly into quarantine. A woman in an apartment tower yells for help, “my husband is dying. There is no way out”. Officials carry guns, and there are frightening videos of them welding doors shut and locking people inside their homes. But I can’t find footage of deliveries of food and medicine to trapped citizens. This is not what people do in “a flu season”, they’re acting like it’s the plague.

There are reports, allegedly from within Wuhan hospitals that hundreds of patients a day are being classified as  “pnumonic”, not as coronavirus. “Daily removes pnumonic patients to not return, whole sections of hospital, 200 rooms each and not recorded. They are filled immediately with new pnumonic. Please know we are trying but there is simply too much…. would post more photo but other workers here and typing this under table…”

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———— Sulphur dioxide emissions are highest from the two worst affected cities in China.





For a lighter moment, see one resident singing from a balcony doing his own concert for other people waving torches. He’s wearing the US flag. Is this China’s free speech revolution? See others wearing full-body inflatable cartoon characters as a way of protecting themselves against viruses. Comic but tragic.


Concert in virus locked China.

Concert from a balcony

If I were ruler of the world I’d be closing borders and sitting tight for a few weeks

We’ll know so much more then. The cost of quarantine is enormous, but the cost of getting this wrong will be counted in “millions” — and that’s not dollars. If we wait to find out how serious this is, it could be too late to stop it. The recent UK / France outbreak has come via Singapore, so we know there is a risk from even well managed nations which are taking precautions. After a few weeks, borders can be opened again on a case by case basis with “clean nations”. This means people can confidently organize tours, conferences, holidays and weddings without fear of them being cancelled at short notice.  A mandatory two week quarantine would be essential with nations that had outbreaks.


The Coronavirus and The Flu are not the same

Wired Magazine pushes back against the trite comparisons with the flu.

There are as many as 5 million severe cases of flu worldwide each year, and 650,000 deaths…

Call it “viral whataboutism.” … this mutant form of rhetoric has come into discussions of what could be a massive epidemiological threat. Is the new coronavirus something to worry about? Yeah, sure, but so’s the flu… and you don’t seem to care too much about that!

For goodness’ sake, stop. Yes, we know the flu is bad—no one likes the flu. But the gambit of positioning the influenza virus as the scarier of two foes is as dangerous as it is hackneyed.

…these whatabout statistics aren’t really meant to sharpen our vigilance around the flu, or even to encourage us toward higher rates of vaccination. They’re just supposed to calm us down…

Millions get the virus every year, and fewer than 0.1 percent of them perish from it. What’s the rate of death from the new coronavirus? No one can say for certain, but estimates have hovered at around 20 times the rate for influenza, or 2 percent.

The statistics Sunday — thanks to Worldometer.

The Diamond Princess tally is included in the Japanese numbers.

Keep reading  →

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Weekend Unthreaded

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