Have the vaccines helped or hindered the fight against Covid?

Before I start, I want to be clear that I’ve had two doses of AstraZeneca, so I’m not anti-vax. But when you look at everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, you have to wonder how much the vaccine has helped rather than hindered. Especially now we know the booster won’t get us back to full immunity, and we have yet another variant on the way. Do we want to be perpetually stuck in a cycle of booster jabs in a slowly collapsing capitalist hellscape? Or do we want to actually end covid once and for all?

When we had the first lockdown, we had over a thousand deaths a day for quite a while, but when the lockdown really started taking effect, the numbers of cases crashed, as did the deaths a couple of weeks later. Probably the best case for the vaccine was in the winter of last year and early 2021. In the Autumn, we had a rise in cases which eventually lead to the circuit breaker, which was too late, and didn’t get the cases down that far. The government ended it despite that, and cases quickly rebounded to go far higher still into winter, where the vaccine started to play a role in bringing down cases and deaths. But by that point, the government, and the public at large were treating the vaccines as the magic bullet that would solve everything; and that has continued ever since. Culminating in the disastrous and reckless “Freedom Day” in June where the Tories ended all restrictions. If you look at the data now, you see that the UK has had continually high cases since when compared to other similar countries; but the UK has gotten away with its gross mismanagement because the cases and deaths have been consistently in the 40,000s and 200s respectively. It is obviously crazy that we’ve come to accept this as ok and “the vaccine doing its job”, but that’s where we are.

So, if we didn’t have the vaccines, how would this have all played out? Presumably we would have still had the Autumn surge, followed by a circuit breaker. People were growing wearing of the rules and looking after each other by that point (the clap for carers charade had ended). You’d have to assume that there would have been a stronger lockdown long before Christmas if there wasn’t a vaccine rollout. And I think it’s virtually certain that the cases and deaths would have been lower this year had the vaccine not existed. BoJo would never have been able to call Freedom Day and we would have never left the basic restrictions of mask wearing, social distancing and so on.

You only really have to look to a country like Japan for an example of how to do it mostly right. They did have small surges from time to time, but they were always able to bring it under control relatively quickly and it never got to the ludicrous levels seen in other countries. The only time it got quite scary was when cases hit about 30,000 a day during the Olympic period. At that point, the vaccine rollout wasn’t where it should have been, but they avoided cases getting up into the 40, 50, 60k range. And remember, this is a far more populous country than the UK, with massive cities where everyone is crammed in together on public transport. There was no reason it needed to get as bad as it did here.

The idea that 40,000 (now 50k) people can get the virus every day and 150-200 can die, and that be considered a success is truly obscene; and yes, perhaps very few of those people dying are vaccinated. But it’s the fact that we’ve allowed the virus to keep spreading in the community, especially among young people in particular for so long that is most obscene. You have to adapt to the situation you’re in, but they didn’t act to offset the 15% of adults who haven’t been vaccinated. The virus kept circulating widely, presumably causing an increase in asymptomatic transmission among vaccinated people. And we’re seeing the result of the continued spread around the world yet again now with the Omicron variant.

It’s clear that the only time most neoliberal governments act quickly is when there’s a threat to capitalism. In this case blocking travel from South Africa, not that it’s going to make any real difference now that it’s inevitably already spread all over the world. They couldn’t care less about public health, but they’re incredibly concerned about the health of capitalism. Nothing is ever said about how returning to global travel meant this was inevitable. This is really the crux of what this whole thing has been about. I’ve written before about how covid will never end until capitalism ends, and we just get further confirmation of that fact every day. And that brings us to the other problem with covid vaccines, which is that they prevent most people from realising that capitalism must end. The longer the period of time where people can stop and think, the less likely they are to want to return to how things were before. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it how most people wanted to jump back into “normality” considering how great it was to slow down and enjoy nature, clean air, peace and quiet for a while. But I do think that the capitalist establishment were lucky. If capitalism, covid, consumerism and the climate crisis had been able to marinate in people’s minds for much longer, we could quite easily have seen the massive change we need to see. The massive change that Graeme Maxton and his wife Bernice Maxton-Lee wrote about in their book “A Chicken Can’t Lay a Duck Egg”. It’s such a huge travesty that we’ve missed the most golden of golden opportunities for change, but I think it’s still possible. Every new variant, every new record breaking extreme weather event, every day people think more about unrelenting consumption that goes by, the better the chances that we’ll finally snap out of this.

So far, the government have been able to maintain the false notion that the vaccine alone will end the covid crisis without really being challenged in the mainstream. But even if everyone in the world was vaccinated, would it end? I can’t see how it would. What about adding universal masks and distancing? If we did that, and presumably it was the original intention of the epidemiologists, then yes, that seems plausible. But I don’t personally see that happening in reality unless capitalism ends and we pay people to stay at home. Mandating citizens to take the vaccine I don’t really agree with, but paying them to stay home and follow other rules I think is fine in the circumstances. It’s not as if people won’t be able to enjoy outdoor activities.

But one thing is for sure; whatever it is that we’re doing now clearly isn’t working. Booster shots for some, a dizzying mix of 1, 2 or no vaccine doses for others; plus a different set of restrictions and guidelines in every country when we live in a global world. It’s no wonder we’re still stuck in a loop after almost 2 years of this nonsense.

We have to all realise that we have to do something different. If you’re going to do boosters, combine them with lockdowns or at least heavy restrictions, so we can make this the last dose. But then, is it worth wasting a third dose when it doesn’t boost protection by that much? Maybe focus on vaccinating people for the first time, end capitalism and pay people to stay at home. The data shows it will be far more effective than any vaccine.

It’s time to stop asking for Bike Infrastructure

At COP26, all I’ve heard from cycling people are calls for world leaders and governments to not forget that cycling is essential for any kind of sustainable future plan; whether that be the fantasy one they mean (green growth capitalism), or one that actually works (degrowth, equal society).

But what they almost always forget is that there’s a reason why the countries that have bad (or no) bike infrastructure are in that predicament. It’s because of the corrupt right wing governments we have, and the society that has been moulded by them and the media over decades. These governments are not going to fundamentally change now, and what change that does come from the system we’re under will be far too slow to make any difference in the grand scheme of the climate crisis.

Everything society does now has to take into consideration how little time we have to act. For example, no nuclear power, new airports or airport expansion. No new roads, and no new high speed rail in small countries. Anything we can’t do in less than a handful of years should be off the table, with a few exemptions where necessary. This of course includes cycling. We have potentially just a few years left to drastically cut emissions to as close to zero as possible and stop the planet breaching all of the climate tipping points. The only way that is possible is to immediately ban cars and use the roads predominantly as bike lanes. We will need to install some Dutch style infrastructure on certain roads where vans, trucks and buses will remain, but that can be done within a year or two, so it meets the criteria. Swapping every petrol car that exists now for an EV, while also building Dutch style bicycle infrastructure networks covering every busy road in every town and city around the world would do almost nothing to slow down the climate crisis; and it would take far too long anyway. The fact that this is presented as a legitimate solution to reduce emissions at COP26 by the cycling lobby is frankly ridiculous.

The Glasgow conference is a joke, as I’ve mentioned previously, and anyone who knows anything about the climate crisis will tell you the same. Every day that we refuse to accept the reality that capitalism, economic growth, fossil fuels, and the reign of cars dominating our lives must end, the harder we make it for ourselves. The harsher the cuts have to be. And they’re already incredibly steep as I type this.

Seeing as I’m watching the T20 World Cup Cricket right now; an analogy would be that we’re batting second and chasing 300 to win. The highest ever first innings score was 278, and the highest ever successful run chase was 245. That kind of puts our challenge in perspective. Everything we do, we have to hit for 6, and we have to do it fast because the runs keep adding on. Imagine if every day another run was added to the target. Technically the maximum score you could achieve if you hit every ball for 6 would be an absurd 720. But considering how unlikely that is, you quickly approach a tipping point after which the chase is mathematically impossible, no matter how many sixes you hit from 120 balls. I’m not going to get into extras like wides. That would be a bit much.

But just look at what we’re doing at COP26. We’re playing test cricket in a T20 when we’re chasing that record total. We’ve not scored yet and we’re in the 4th over. We’ve almost wasted a quarter of the innings and haven’t even got going. The coach will be losing his mind in the dugout. “Smash it you idiots! Stop blocking and dinking it around!” he’ll yell like a madman. You might say I should shut up about cricket and get back to the point. And that would be fair, but I honestly feel like this could be a good way to explain our crisis to a lot of normal people out there. Use analogies that they can relate to rather than just throwing a bunch of technical climate terminology at them.

Literally anything is worth a try at this point. Nothing we’ve attempted so far seems to get people to actually understand and care enough to hold the governments and corporations to account.

To get back to the subject of bike infrastructure, it’s going to be tough for cycling people to hear the counterintuitive message that infrastructure no longer helps us. I mean, many of these people have been saying this for decades now. But if we’re to move forward and get the best outcome for cycling, and humanity as a whole; we have to throw away everything we thought we knew about how societies operate. Once we all do that, we can create a new system from scratch that actually works; and finally bin this terrible one that’s been ruining everything for the last half century or so.

Why sports stars are not friends of Sustainability

I really love watching sports. I love it primarily because of my fascination with what the human body is physically capable of. Athletes producing incredible performances inspire me to be more active myself. But unfortunately, beyond the human performance element and the spirit of sportsmanship (which is often absent today); most of the rest of the elements that make up professional sport don’t match up with my values. Huge amounts of money from corporate (fossil fuelled) sponsorship, sports washing from brutal regimes, rampant cheating etc. Even competition itself as it exists now is to me an unsustainable and deeply right wing concept. The idea that the elite of a sport take all the money, plaudits and fame while the vast majority get crumbs is just wrong. Professional sport can’t work in future unless numerous issues are addressed.

More sports in parks and less in stadiums

Whenever I see star athletes being interviewed, I always imagine them saying something like “yes, we lost this game, but there are more important things, like having a liveable future on this planet”; but it never happens. Why not?

The reason is simple. Professional sports are inextricably linked with capitalism, fossil fuels and excess consumption. So while you might occasionally see an athlete talk about climate change, they never achieve anything. They rely on corporate sponsors for their income in some form; and they wouldn’t appreciate it if their athletes throw capitalism under the bus. Chloe Kim recently posted on Instagram about declining natural snow; of course as part of a paid promotion with Nike. Her next post was a collaboration with Toyota showing a fossil SUV.

One aspect that’s particularly interesting is the fact that you almost never see big money sponsors from the green economy. Advertising and sponsorship is almost exclusively the domain of polluting industries. When was the last time you saw an advert for a cycling company in the mainstream media for example? I can think of one instance, and that was Vanmoof, who aren’t your typical bike brand. And even that was only a one-off. The only long term sponsorship I can think of is the deal Mercedes Formula E team has with Vestas (wind turbine manufacturer). Aside from Tesla, who choose not to advertise for other reasons; Vestas are among the only sustainability focused companies that are big enough to have the money to spare. This is at least admirable in the current economic system, but in order to have a sustainable future, we have no choice but to get big money out of sport.

Watch any sport and you’ll see advertising for every fossil fuel company, car manufacturer, drinks company (and their plastic bottles), and representation from pretty much every industry that’s doing harm to our planet and exacerbating inequalities around the world. Not only that, but specifically in minority sports, individual sponsorship of athletes is what keeps them going, which goes back to the situation Chloe Kim and many others are in. Don’t get me wrong though; there is no shortage of athletes who will take the fossil fuelled money and happily buy themselves a big house and several sports cars without a second thought (swimmer Adam Peaty comes to mind). Selfishness and inequality has become so accepted in society that no one gets held to account, and the people who do bring it up are the ones who face pushback. “How dare you criticise their 3 car garage? They earned it”, they’ll say.

But even for those people who do deeply care, they are forced to take the money in many cases, as they can’t continue to compete without it. If you’re living as a low level professional athlete, do you really want to go back to that meaningless, miserable desk job you hate that doesn’t contribute anything to society? Of course you don’t. So take the fossil fuel money and shut up.

This is why the only people you hear from about climate change are those who are either sponsored by companies who are greenwashing at master level, successful (and therefore rich) athletes later in their careers, or athletes from wealthy backgrounds who don’t require sponsorship. There was a Team GB sailor at Tokyo 2020 who was talking about the climate crisis in a TV interview, which I found surprising. But in general, people who get into sailing are often from well-off backgrounds, so that would make sense; although I don’t know for sure.

Another issue is that athletes are often very single-minded individuals. To be the best in the world requires them to not be well-rounded people. They live their sport all day, every day in many cases. Ask them about politics or climate change and they’ll most likely either draw a blank or say something incoherent and stupid.

Professional sport needs to be pared back to the bare essentials if it is to survive beyond the next few years. It has to be primarily about fun and friendly competition, and not at all about money. It has to reduce the number of events, travel on the ground wherever possible, slash consumption and athletes have to act like real role models. People often talk about athletes being role models today, which I find ridiculous in most cases. There are definitely the odd one or two true role model athletes out there; but they’re completely overshadowed by the vast majority who inspire the public to get rich and consume like there’s no tomorrow more than anything else.

Fitness and fun over competition and money

Many sports will cease to exist when the transition to a sustainable world takes place. Sports that are polluting, that aren’t accessible to everyone (elitist) or don’t offer any health benefit to society will need to go. Motorsport will be chief amongst them. The rest will focus more on the grassroots and less on the big stage. There will be a huge shift of focus towards health and leisure over competition and being the best. This would effectively flip our current status quo where the unfit, sedentary, obese general public watch elite athletes compete and set records for human performance.

It is truly absurd that at the same time, we are the unhealthiest we’ve ever been as a global population; while our athletes are the best and healthiest they’ve ever been. Even if you ignore pro sport’s sustainability problem and almost total reliance on capitalism; this change is desperately needed anyway. I can’t wait to see it happen.

The Earthshot Prize shoots for the Moon and misses

I don’t want to be too critical of the Earthshot Prize; it did do some things right. But at the end of the day, the focus was almost entirely placed on innovation and green growth as our way out of this disastrous situation, rather than the real solution of slashing consumption and shrinking the economy. The parts about restoring nature were generally great; in particular the project to restore coral reefs by engineering corals that can cope with the increasing ocean temperatures. But then you had a project about reversing deforestation in Costa Rica, and it was predicated on the idea that it would attract tourists and lead to economic growth. So they fix one problem in order to exacerbate another one. There was another project in the Masai Mara doing a similar thing; protecting animals by getting wealthy tourists to fly around the world and spend their money on useless knick-knacks.

I think the undeniably best thing about the series was the name. Earthshot is a great name for the scenario we’re in. It makes perfect sense to compare it to the Moonshot decade, because it’s exactly the scale of ambition we need. The parts of the documentary series talking about the problems are also good, but they got the solutions part almost totally wrong. Yes, we need some technological solutions, but fundamentally, it comes down almost entirely to living smaller and more local with less stuff and with better diets. Neither consumption nor population were mentioned a single time throughout the 5 part series or award ceremony. The fact that not a single youth activist was involved tells you all you need to know. The more I think about it, the more it feels like it was made for sceptical boomers. Perhaps the moon landing nod was even more intentional than I realised.

Then there’s the prize money itself. Rewarding innovations with a million pounds each over 10 years seems like the wrong approach. Obviously, I believe governments should be in charge of the money and saving our world shouldn’t come down to the generosity of private finance. But, if you’re going to go down this path, at least do it better than this. Firstly, a million pounds is not that much money; and if you really believe in green growth as the solution to the climate crisis, and that these innovations can be key to our survival, then I would imagine you’d throw a lot more money at it than they are. I’m pretty sure there are enough rich people in the world who “care” about the planet to the point where you could raise billions for the prize pot relatively easily. Giving away only a million each goes against the urgent message about rapidly scaling up these businesses to save humanity.

Ideas like a solar powered ironing trike are nice, but do we really need to iron our clothes at all? It is a nice story that the young girl in question was entrepreneurial but it’s too small to make a difference on a global scale at this late stage. Having said that, it should definitely be put into production. As long as people keep ironing clothes at least. The project that allows farmers to cleanly burn their crops in a machine rather than setting their fields on fire gave me a similar feeling. Why do we need to burn crops at all? I’m pretty sure it’s not necessary.

There were so many moments I took issue with. They showed the ski slope power station in Copenhagen. But didn’t talk about getting rid of waste in the first place rather than burning it to make energy. They talked about global dimming in terms of reducing rainfall in some areas; but nothing about how dimming has limited warming and getting rid of pollution would actually increase warming. They talked about electric cars and an overall growth of vehicles. No mention of cycling whatsoever other than the ironing trike. There was a segment about tyre and brake pollution from cars and buses. Again, no mention of the key role cycling could play in reducing it. They show Singapore’s touristy green areas but ignore the huge roads and growth based economy. There was no mention of Bhutan’s model of economic stability and protection of nature over profit and GDP. At least they mentioned indoor and vertical farming. That’s something we definitely need to scale up urgently.

The city of Milan winning the waste free world prize was by far the most bizarre award of the evening. All they’re doing is redistributing food to prevent waste. This is being done in various locations all over the world already. There’s nothing unique there that deserves money. Sanergy (creating fertiliser from human waste with insects) and Wota Box (fountain with filter which allows water to be reused many times) were clearly the better ideas. It’s hard to understand why they were snubbed.

At the end, Prince William talked about how Earthshot is for young people. Well, it isn’t because young people want an end to capitalism and an end to economic growth. This does neither of those two things and you’ve just ended up patronising them yet again. Just like with climate anxiety, the establishment have proven that they don’t get it. They just can’t get past this failed model of treating the symptoms rather than the cause of our problems. Whether it be anxiety or our climate crisis, the root causes are capitalism and economic growth. Until they accept that, the young will see all of this as insult after insult.

And the final insult is to give Earthshot 2022 to the kingdom of unrestrained corporate greed, the United States. The country that is going to drop all climate funding from Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. The only thing remaining is to see how far over 1.5c we are in 12 months time (by the 1750 baseline). Hopefully it doesn’t go ahead because they realise by then that green growth doesn’t work. Probably wishful thinking.

It will unfortunately happen again next year, but it really is debatable how long it will keep going. Prince William says it will award prizes every year for 10 years; but given how little time we have left to act drastically, what use will a prize be in 2030? Maybe they’ll need to take a page out of Bangladesh’s book and host the ceremony on a ship. Maybe one of the prize winners will be some kind of affordable houseboat. That would make sense by then. There will probably be huge demand.

As a final aside; as we were watching the episode of Earthshot Prize about clean air, near the end, I heard the neighbour’s petrol lawnmower so I had to rush around closing all the windows. You couldn’t have timed it better. But with any luck, he watched the award show and decided to buy a battery mower to boost our economy.