Lend-Lease for Ukraine

The US has revived its historic Lend-Lease policy to help Ukraine. This was a World War II era policy in support of the enemies of Nazi Germany.

When the UK and France declared war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland, the US initially remained neutral. After the fall of France, Britain remained the only major power resisting Germany. This changed only when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. From 1939 to 1941, the Soviet Union had been an ally of Nazi Germany under the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty and had supplied Germany with oil for its invasion of Denmark, Norway, France and Benelux.

After the fall of Dunkirk, Britain had been almost on its own (it was still supported by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and British colonies). It could buy supplies from the US but it had to pay in cash (i.e. silver) and transport the goods to Britain on its own ships. With the passage of Lend-Lease in March 1941, the US could supply arms, ammunition and other goods to Britain without requiring payment and it sent them to Britain on American ships.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), the USSR was also supplied by the US with tanks, trucks, ammunition, food and many other materials for the war effort. These supplies were sent via Persia, Murmansk and the Far East. When Putins’s Russia today talks about the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, it consistently remains silent about the US contribution to the Soviet war effort, without which the country may have collapsed.

Lend-Lease was controversial in the US. Isolationists and nazi sympathisers argued it would put the US on a slippery slope towards entering the war in Europe. However, the US still officially remained neutral and not at war with Germany and its allies. This only changed in December 1941 when Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. A few days after Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the US in support of its ally in the Far East. Thus it was not Lend-Lease that got the US involved in World War II but the Japanese attack.

This holds a message for today. Countries do not automatically become parties in war if they support another country with supplies.

Wars of aggression are a violation of the UN Charter which guarantees the territorial integrity of all states and requires them to use peaceful means to settle any disputes. Every country has a right of self-defense. Under International law, countries worldwide have every right to support countries exercising their right of self-defence against aggressors and invaders. That is as true in 2022 as it was in 1939 or 1941.

Tokyo in a power crunch

On March 22, 2022 the Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (Tepco) warned electricity consumers in east Japan about the risk of rolling blackouts from a tight supply situation. The recent M7.3 quake near Sendai had knocked several of Tepco’s thermal power plants offline, which left the company in a difficult situation when a cold spell with snow flakes hit the region of the capital. Demand at times exceeded generation capacity and only the availability of pumped hydro storage saved the day before measures to curb demand such as turning down heating and switching off lights averted an outage.

No doubt this experience will increase pressure to restart more nuclear power stations that have been shuttered since the tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima in March 2011. Before the nuclear disaster about 30% of Japanese generating capacity were nuclear; now only about 10% comes from restarted nuclear reactors. The current high prices of natural gas will further enhance the attraction of nuclear, at least in the eyes of anyone whose financial interests are tied to the balance sheet of the utility companies, such as their individual and institutional shareholders.

However, that is not the whole story.

While eastern Japan was in a power crunch, western Japan has ample spare capacity, as did Hokkaido. Why could this power not be used in Tokyo? You would have thought Japan would have learnt its lesson from the 3/11 disaster in 2011 and addressed it in the decade since then, but you would be wrong: Japanese electricity markets are still split between a handful of regional near-monopolies with minimal interchange capacities between them. For example, the Hokkaido grid has a generating capacity of 7.5 GW but only 0.6 GW of interchange capacity with Honshu (8% of the total). Tepco supplies up to 47 GW to customers in its area but can only exchange up to 1.2 GW with major utilities in the west of Japan. This leaves little margin when earthquakes or weather events with a regional impact hit supplies.

By contrast, China has built huge high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines between the industrialized coastal cities on one side and hydroelectric power stations near the Tibetan plateau and solar and wind farms in the arid north on the other. Many of these lines are longer than the distance from Tokyo to Hokkaido, let alone Tokyo to Kansai. The Chinese government understands that if it wants to wean itself from the dependence of dirty coal or imported oil and gas then it will need to vastly increase power transfer capacity from the interior of the country where renewables are available to the densely populated urban areas near the coast lines.

Japan is actually in a similar situation. The elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is offshore wind. While European countries and the US are building up tens of Gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity, Japan has very little installed capacity, particularly offshore. The entire conversations seems to be about nuclear vs. solar vs. gas vs. coal, leaving out one of the most promising renewable energy sources available to Japan. So far the regulatory hurdles for erecting and connecting wind turbines in Japan have been high and that has left wind as an also ran compared to much more widely deployed solar. However, solar does not provide power at all hours. Wind would complement it.

Much of the European wind power capacity is installed offshore where wind speeds tend to be high and more consistent than onshore. This is where the largest and most economical turbine models tend to be used. By contrast, almost 99% of Japan’s wind power capacity is still onshore. A cumulative total of only 51.6 MW of offshore wind capacity was installed at the end of 2021 while total installed wind power capacity was 4.6 GW. Meanwhile the UK had 24.7 GW of wind power capacity, Spain 27.1 GW and Germany 62.2 GW. China is in a league of its own with 282 GW, more than all of Europe combined. Japan’s installed wind power base is less than that of small European countries such as Belgium (4.7 GW) that have relatively short coast lines and tiny EEZs: Japan’s EEZ of 4,479,388 km2 is over 1000 times larger than Belgium’s at 3,447 km2!

Japan is really only starting to build up offshore wind capacity, with projects off the coasts of Akita, Chiba and Nagasaki getting under way in the last two years. By 2030 its goal is for 10 GW of offshore capacity either installed or under construction which is still tiny compared to the already installed base of Germany, Spain or the UK.

Unlike fossil fuel or nuclear power stations, wind turbines are not location independent. They will be installed where wind conditions are favourable, where the sea is not too deep and connections to the coastal grid are cost-effective. To make the most of the wind conditions, the grid will need to be greatly expanded to allow large amounts of power to be transferred from regions with plenty of wind to regions with many consumers. This will be quite different from the current model where utility companies try to generate all the power they need within their own region, which is why there is only limited interchange capacity to help out if one company loses a large part of its generating capacity as happened in the recent quake or after 3/11.

Japan needs to start building high capacity long distance HVDC power lines like China has in order to enable a transition to zero carbon electricity. The fragmented power markets dominated by local utility companies are an obstacle to this transition as the interests of the regional companies seeking profits from existing investments in their area are not aligned with the interests of the consumers who want reliable green energy regardless of where it comes from.

Japan quickly needs to remove regulatory obstacles to expanding wind power and then invest to build a HVDC backbone to connect renewable power generation with consumers.

Reiwa Shinsengumi and Putin

On February 28, 2022 the Japanese left-wing populist opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi led by actor turned politician Yamamoto Taro refused to support a resolution by the Japanese Diet to condemn the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.

LDP politician Kono Taro wrote on twitter the next day:

Parliamentary Resolution to denounce the invasion of Ukraine by Russia was passed in the House of Representatives. Surprisingly, the three Reiwa Shinsengumi members voted against the Resolution.

I was curious why they would refuse to join an anti-war resolution and checked their party website.

What I found there was a statement that repeated a Putin talking point, blaming the war on NATO expansion into eastern Europe that supposedly violated a promise made to the Soviet Union not to admit now members from the former Soviet bloc:

今回の惨事を生み出したのはロシアの暴走、という一点張りではなく、
米欧主要国がソ連邦崩壊時の約束であるNATO東方拡大せず、を反故にしてきたことなどに目を向け、この戦争を終わらせるための真摯な外交的努力を行う
(“We don’t want to make the blanket statement that it was Russia’s outburst that created the current catastrophe.
Make a sincere diplomatic effort to end this war, focusing on the fact that the U.S. and major European countries have reneged on their promises made at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union not to expand NATO eastward.”)
(【声明】ロシアによるウクライナ侵略を非難する決議について(れいわ新選組 2022年2月28日), 2022-02-18)

This Putin talking point that has been repeated by Russian propagandists over and over seeks to repaint the violent assault on a neighbour country as an act of self-defense. It is revisionist history and has been widely discredited as a myth. No such promise was ever made and Russia has not provided any example for its claim.

According to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, there was no such agreement. What did happen was that western powers agreed not to deploy NATO troops other than troops from Germany itself into parts of the former GDR (East Germany). This is a promise that NATO countries have kept to this present day.

Admission of new NATO members was not even talked about in 1990. As sovereign nations, it is the right of former Warsaw pact states to apply for NATO membership just as it is the right of NATO members to accept or reject their applications to this mutual defense treaty. After the annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist war in eastern Ukraine by Russia it is now quite clear why eastern European countries have been seeking safety in numbers by wanting to join NATO.

Putin justifying his invasion of Ukraine by its desire to join NATO to keep him off is like a guy justifying the rape of a woman by her calling the police last time he beat her.

Frankly, I don’t expect anything better of Vladimir Putin who is more akin to a mobster than a regular politician but I am disappointed by Reiwa Shinsengumi whom somehow I had expected to be on the side of democracy and human rights and not a right-wing dictator.

Waiting for Vaccine Boosters in Japan

In the spring of 2021 Japan was running about 4 months behind the US and much of Europe vaccinating its population against Covid-19. Vaccinations for senior citizens did not start ramping up significantly until May when other countries had started in December 2020 or January 2021.

After Israel and then the US decided to go for 3rd shots to boost immunity after antibody levels dropped months after 2nd shots of Pfizer and Moderna, Japan also negotiated for booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna. The government went for an 8-month interval and planned for 3rd shots for healthcare workers from December 2021 and the general population from January 2022, with eligibility starting 8 months after the second shot.

Then came Omicron which significantly escapes immune system responses from antibodies. Without boosters protection against symptomatic infection drops significantly with this new variant, as it takes a much higher concentration of antibodies in the blood serum to achieve sterilizing immunity. Long term T-cell immunity, which still protects against hospitalization and death, is much less affected.

In the city of Setagaya, Tokyo where I live, those who have received their second dose at the end of June will receive tickets by the end of January that will allow them to make vaccination appointments some time in February. So far no date has been announced for the group I’m in but having received my shots in July, I probably won’t be getting those tickets before late February and no booster appointment before March. It’s going to be a very long three months when some European countries are expecting to be Omicron-dominated by Christmas, within 4 weeks of the WHO having awarded B.1.1.529 its new name!

Japan is talking to Pfizer about moving part of the 78 million booster doses due for delivery in Q1 2022 forwarded so they can be dispenses sooner. However, former vaccine czar Kono Taro recently pointed out on his personal blog that Japan has enough leftover vaccines still in stock to give 56 million booster shots without waiting for any supplies from Pfizer or Moderna.

In order to protect the public from the new coronavirus, efficiency and speed are more important than equality and fairness.

Some people say that if the vaccine is brought forward, the supply of the vaccine will not be sufficient in time.

At present, Pfizer and Moderna have about 10 million doses of vaccine in stock in the market.

There may be a few doses that have been discarded, but there is no way that 1 million doses were discarded.

In addition, 4 million doses of Pfizer have already been distributed to local governments.

Another 12 million doses of Pfizer will be distributed next week and the week after.

In addition, we have 15 million doses of Moderna in stock for this year, and since the third dose of Moderna is only half the amount of the first and second doses, we will need 30 million doses for the third dose. This will be 30 million doses.

This means that 56 million doses of vaccine could be distributed by the end of the year.

In the first quarter of next year, Pfizer will distribute 30 million doses and Moderna will distribute 24 million doses. In the first quarter of next year, Pfizer will receive 30 million doses, Moderna will receive 24 million doses, and the third dose will be 48 million doses, for a total of 7.8 million doses. In the first quarter of next year, Pfizer will receive 30 million doses, Moderna 24 million doses, and 48 million doses for the third dose, for a total of 78 million doses.
(3回目のワクチン接種, 2021-12-09 [translation by DeepL])

The Japanese government can not blame a slow booster vaccination campaign on a lack of supplies. It needs to act as quickly as possible. The day before yesterday, Germany gave about 1.3 million booster shots in one day.

While officially no community spread of Omicron has been detected in Japan yet, that may simply being because they are not looking for it hard enough.

On Wednesday, 2021-12-15 the Philippine government reported its first Omicron case, a Philippine resident of Japan who had arrived from there on December 1 and tested positive. He had symptoms of a cold at the time. After the positive test the sample was sequenced and determined to be Omicron. This suggests that most likely Omicron was already circulating within Japan two weeks ago. Regardless, it will officially be here very soon.

Once it hits the hospitals, many nurses and doctors are likely to get infected and may have to quarantine. As of today, only about 149,884 of about 5 million healthcare workers (about 3 percent) who had been fully vaccinated have received a third shot. That’s after two weeks of booster campaign. 97 percent are yet to receive their booster. Only 0.11 percent of the Japanese population have received a 3rd shot. In many European countries it’s 20 percent and more.

The vaccination of the elderly is not even due to start until another two weeks from now. There are 52 million people in Japan who have received two doses and are age 50 or above. We should use the doses that we have now as soon as we can.

We really have no time to lose.

Handling Vaccine Stocks like Toilet Paper

The sky is not falling and Japan is not about to run out of vaccine any time soon. There is enough vaccine already in the country (either in national government freezers or in municipal/local clinic freezers) or scheduled to be delivered at regular intervals over the next 3-4 months that Japan will be able to vaccinate all of its residents age 12 and above by the end of November. Pfizer/BioNTech shipments run until October, Moderna shipments until September. Japan can maintain a rate of about 1.4 million doses a day (i.e. higher than now) until the final month, when mostly only second doses will be needed and the pace could drop by half from the peak. All this while not even tapping into its supplies of 120m doses of AstraZeneca, of which it is giving away millions to Taiwan (2x), Malaysia, Indonesia (both July 1), the Philippines (July 8) and Thailand (July 9) so far and undoubtedly will give away a lot more.

Nevertheless the media report about local governments cancelling or postponing reservations due to vaccine shortages, while the government blames some municipalities for hoarding vaccine instead of using it. What’s behind all this?

The Japanese government wants municipalities to use all Pfizer doses as soon as possible. They allocate doses for every city and prefecture for every two week period. Pfizer vaccination takes two doses at least three weeks apart. According to Minister Kono, second doses should be taken from later shipments than first doses, as he made clear in a June 1 interview. Instead, municipalities treat first and second doses like Siamese twins, allocating them from the same source and keeping the second in a freezer for 3 extra weeks. That causes artificial shortages down the road, just like back when everybody tried to keep three months worth of toilet paper in stock at home.

By the end of June the government had distributed 78 million doses, more than enough doses for all people aged 65 and above to be completely vaccinated, priming the pipeline. After the allocations in May and June, extra doses were to continue being shipped in allocations every two weeks.

In many places the 65+ group won’t finish vaccinations until the end of July, so first doses will have finished for them around July 10 after which second doses will continue for another three weeks. Once the number of first doses for 65+ has reached a peak and then decreases, first doses for the next groups (people with medical conditions, 60-64, 50-59 etc.) can take over the next vaccination slots using the supplies in stock at that time. This phase would start no later than July 10.

Where the problem arises is that municipalities have this fixed idea that second shots for 65+ in July should still come from the original May/June shipments, kept waiting in a freezer until then, instead of from July shipments.

For example, 65 year old person A gets his first shot in the 4th week of June. The second shot will be due in the 3rd week of July. 60 year old person B wants to get her first shot in the first week of July, after the city has finished first shots for the 65+ group, and her second shot in the 4th week of July. The smart thing would be to let person B go ahead since enough vaccine is still in stock from June. More will arrive in allocations in the first and second half of July and both A and B will get their second doses in the 3rd and 4th week from that fresh supply. Instead what the cities are doing is to reserve the June stocks exclusively for the 65+ group, letting it sit in a freezer for a month while keeping person B waiting to make her reservation only after sufficient July shipments have come in to cover both of her first and second shots. That’s what the 40 million unused doses cited by the government and the cancellation of vaccinations due to “insufficient supplies” as per the mayors is about.

It doesn’t really make sense to let vaccines sit idle while keeping unvaccinated people waiting for their shots. Vaccine should go into arms as soon as possible to protect people against sickness and death.

Navalny tells the truth about Putin

If agents working for Vladimir Putin had succeeded last August when they tried to murder Alexei Navalny with a cold war era chemical agent, it would have made him only the last of many Putin critics who lost their lives since this crook took power in Russia. Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, Alexander Litvinenko and many others died without their killers or the people behind their deaths ever being brought to justice.

Navalny was lucky to survive because his plane made an emergency landing, he got emergency treatment quickly and was then transported to Germany where he recovered. His courage to return to Russia, despite facing certain arrest, is simply incredible. He is a true hero.

Now Putin, who doesn’t dare mention Navalny’s name in public, has a problem. Too many eyes are on Navalny’s fate now. If he gets killed, there will be retribution. But if he doesn’t get silenced, his courage will inspire others to no longer put up with the theft, lies and oppression.

I watched the powerful two hour documentary that Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation prepared and which was made public after his arrest. It is already on course for more than 100 million views on YouTube. I expect Putin’s Russia will never be the same again. He has finally been exposed for who he really is. I hope the courageous protests of countless brave Russians and pressure from abroad will deter Putin’s regime from murdering Navalny this time.

Putin’s Russia is a prototype for authoritarian regimes in a number of countries that use nationalism as a cover for crooks and their families and friends looting the country. When Putin finally loses power, it will be a game changer for the struggle for democracy, human rights and justice worldwide.

Parler is Back on New Web Host

Parler, the web forum popular with Trump supporters and far-right groups, is back online after losing its web hosting when AWS kicked them off for violating their terms of service. After the violent insurrection on January 6 in which 5 people died, AWS had confronted Parler with a a list of 98 examples of messages that “clearly encourage and incite violence.” Posters had threatened politicians with firing squads and encouraged protesters to bring weapons to the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021.

“We need to start systematically assassinating #liberal leaders,” read one post. In another now-deleted message posted the day after the attack, pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood called for Vice President Mike Pence’s execution, writing “Get the firing squads ready, Pence goes FIRST.”

“These are things that mainstream social networks have policies against,” said Kevin Roose, a tech columnist for The New York Times. “And so, if you got kicked off Twitter for saying them, a lot of the time your next step was to make a Parler account and just move your followers over there.”
(CBS, 2021-01-11)

When Parler did not remove all of the violent messages they had been notified about, AWS terminated the hosting. Since then Parler scrambled to find a replacement.

As has been reported, Parler had first moved to Epik as their new registrar, as can be seen in their WHOIS record:

Domain Name: PARLER.COM
Registry Domain ID: 1336588_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.epik.com
Registrar URL: http://www.epik.com
Updated Date: 2021-01-11T19:28:03Z
Creation Date: 1998-05-28T04:00:00Z
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2022-05-27T04:00:00Z
Registrar: Epik, Inc.
Registrar IANA ID: 617
Registrar Abuse Contact Email: abuse@epik.com
Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.4253668810
Reseller:
Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited https://icann.org/epp#clientTransferProhibited
Registry Registrant ID:
Registrant Name: Privacy Administrator
Registrant Organization: Anonymize, Inc.
Registrant Street: 704 228th Ave NE
Registrant City: Sammamish
Registrant State/Province: WA
Registrant Postal Code: 98074
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: +1.4252025160
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax:
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: 20373@anonymize.com

Now they’re back with a single page placeholder site while the forum itself is still unavailable. The website currently resolves to IP address 190.115.31.151, which is in the following network registered in Belize but with a Russian phone number:

inetnum: 190.115.16.0/20
status: allocated
aut-num: AS262254
owner: DDOS-GUARD CORP.
ownerid: BZ-DALT-LACNIC
responsible: Evgeniy Marchenko
address: 1/2Miles Northern Highway, –, —
address: — – Belize – BZ
country: BZ
phone: +7 928 2797045

According to that company’s LinkedIn profile they’re based in Rostov-on-Don. This Russian company is a major provider of protection against Denial-of-Service attacks. In other words, they filter web traffic for websites hosted behind the filter. Most likely the actual hosting is at a different company to which DDOS Guard Corp. forwards the filtered traffic.

Parler’s troubles go deeper than finding hosting. Without access to Google’s Play Store for Android or Apple’s App Store, even with new hosting mobile users will only be able to access the site from a browser. The company also lost access to its SMS provider and other services, all of which will make it an uphill struggle to make a comeback. Most likely, other sites and services will absorb some of the user base while the forum is gone.

As the domestic terrorists who invaded Congress on January 6 will get prosecuted, that will also cast a spotlight on what went on at Parler in the weeks and months before the violence took place. Freedom of speech does not extend to inciting people to murder.

See also:

U.S. Politicians infected with COVID-19

Covid-19 seems to have had a disproportionate impact both amongst politicians in some countries and amongst low income groups. Many workers have no choice of how to protect themselves if they want to make a living and pay the rent. Politicians however have much more power to actively change the conditions that put themselves and their compatriots at risk. So it seems strange if they don’t use it that way.

Particularly in the US, the wearing of masks and social distancing have been politicised instead of simply following the advice of health care experts and scientists. This has lead to peculiar outcomes.

From the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic a total of 18 US Senators have had to self-quarantine after they had been exposed to an infected person (usually a colleague or member of staff). Amazingly, all 18 of these Senators were Republicans. Five of them either tested positive for or were assumed have Covid-19. Republicans currently hold 53 of 100 senate seats. None of the 45 Democrats or 2 Independents have been affected so far.

From April 3, when the CDC started recommending non-medical face covers in public even for people not infected with Covid-19 until September 3, a total of 20 Representatives in the House had to self-quarantine. 13 of them were Republicans, only 7 were Democrats. 9 of them tested positive or were assumed to have Covid-19. 7 of them were Republicans and 2 were Democrats. The Democrats hold 235 seats in the House vs. 199 Republicans. That’s an odds ratio of more than 4 to 1 for Republicans.

Frankly, I am not surprised that Donald Trump was infected with SARS-Cov-2 given his reckless attitude to mask wearing and protecting others in general. I was just surprised that it happened as late as October. I do wish Melania and him a speedy recovery, followed by retirement from politics.

The virus doesn’t care about politics. It will take advantage of any opportunities for spreading, which the inaction and sabotage of Trump and his party have amply provided, killing 210,000 Americans so far. It saddens me to see the US in its present state and it could still get far worse — unless Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win a decisive victory on November 3.

See also:
How The Coronavirus Has Affected Individual Members Of Congress (NPR, 2020-10-04)

How Taiwan handled the COVID-19 epidemic

As one country whose economy is closely entwined with mainland China, Taiwan was expected to take a major hit from COVID-19, but it appears the Taiwanese authorities’ response has been exemplary, resulting in a small number of infections (45 as of March 6) and only a single death so far.

Almost a million Taiwanese live in mainland China and close to 3 million Chinese a year visit Taiwan. China accounts for 23.9% of trade with Taiwan.

This report makes for fascinating reading on how quickly and efficiently the government dealt with the emergency:
Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing

It helps to have competent people in charge:

In addition to daily press briefings by the minister of health and welfare the CECC, the vice president of Taiwan, a prominent epidemiologist, gave regular public service announcements broadcast from the office of the president and made available via the internet. These announcements included when and where to wear a mask, the importance of handwashing, and the danger of hoarding masks to prevent them from becoming unavailable to frontline health workers. The CECC also made plans to assist schools, businesses, and furloughed workers.

Many other countries could learn from Taiwan’s common-sense approach, yet the WHO does not even provide Taiwan with any information on the worldwide epidemic or allow its representatives to attend its conferences. That’s because the People’s Republic of China, a UN and WHO member, claims Taiwan as one of its provinces. The WHO expects Taiwan to receive all information from Beijing and report its findings that way too.

In the March 6, 2020 WHO Situation Report (PDF), the WHO lists Taiwan under “Taipei and environs” in a table on “Confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19 acute respiratory disease reported by provinces, regions and cities in China”. Interestingly, all but three of the provinces listed there have far higher number of infections and those three have but a fraction of the population of Taiwan (e.g. Macao SAR has only 3% of the population but 22% of the number of infections of Taiwan; Hongkong SAR has 231% of the infections of Taiwan but only 32% of the population). Though it probably helps that Taiwan doesn’t have a land border with mainland China, it also has fewer infections than far away countries such as Norway or Spain that are 8 time zones away from China.

On March 1, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) removed Taiwan from its list of countries with community spread of COVID-19.

What about COVID-19 in Turkey?

In stark contrast with the openness of the government in Taiwan, there has so far not been a single officially confirmed case in Turkey, which beggars belief considering that the WHO lists 15 countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region with COVID-19, including over 3500 confirmed cases and over 100 deaths in next-door Iran.

Turkey claims to have tested 940 individuals with symptoms by March 3 but that every one of them tested negative. The same day, a passenger on a Turkish Airlines flight to Singapore tested positive for COVID-19. It was a French Citizen transiting through Istanbul from Europe. By March 5, Turkey claims to have tested 1,363 persons, still all negative. Turkey claims to have developed its own corona virus test.

Closing the land borders to Iran and Iraq as happened on February 23 could be like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

Also, almost 300,000 Chinese tourists visited Turkey in the first eight months of 2019 alone. And therein may lie the rub: The Turkish economy is highly dependent on tourism. If Turkey were to share Italy’s fate with hundreds of counted cases, it would deal a heavy blow to an important source of foreign currency and employment, which would weaken President Erdoğan’s grip on power.

But if infections have been spreading in Turkey, which I suspect is highly likely, it will not be possible to hush it up forever. Viruses don’t tend to respect authoritarian politicians’ sensibilities.

It Takes a Child to Raise a Village

A few years ago I was visiting Venice. It was a fascinating experience to walk around this ancient city without cars, built on some islands in a lagoon that protected it from the chaos after the fall of the West Roman Empire. I was surprised how eastern some of the architecture looked, because I hadn’t known how tight the connections were between Venice and the Byzantine empire, the successor state to the East Roman Empire. More than a thousand years of history come alive when you walk those ancient cobble-stoned streets.

For a long time Venice has been slowly sinking into the sea. In many buildings I saw, the ground floor was more or less uninhabitable and ruined due to water damage or the risk from regular flooding during storm surges. Sadly, despite all efforts to save it, Venice will disappear in the ocean, gradually swallowed up by rising seas.

The same will happen to Amsterdam, once the capital of a trading nation from where ships sailed to every continent. And not just this city will disappear, but almost the entire country of the Netherlands. It’s not a question of if but when.

Its inhabitants will gradually migrate to other countries in Europe, such as Germany, France or Spain that will be less affected by a 20 m rise of global sea levels. The Netherlands will be virtually wiped out when that happens. So will be Bangladesh and many island nations, as well as Miami, Shanghai, Bangkok, Jakarta, much of Tokyo, London, New York City and many other coastal megacities around the world.

When I was a schoolkid, I learnt from science books that 0.3% or 300 ppm of the earth’s atmosphere was carbon dioxide (CO2). I wasn’t told that only 200 years earlier, before the Industrial Revolution it had only been 280 ppm. Later I learnt that CO2 is a so called “greenhouse gas”, as it traps heat from the surface of the earth and prevents it from escaping into space, thus raising the surface temperature of the planet. As our civilization burns coal, oil and gas and clears forests the CO2 level increases and the greenhouse effect intensifies. In the last couple of decades this has been happening at an increasing rate.

Last year the world consumed about 100 million barrels of crude oil a day. 99.6% of passenger cars on the roads worldwide in 2018 run exclusively on fossil fuels. Worldwide power generation from coal is growing rapidly and is expected to double from 2011 to 2023. Of all the fossil fuels, coal releases the highest amount of CO2 per kWh produced, yet many countries are still building new coal-fired power plant capacity, including here in Japan, where a TEPCO – Chubu Electric Power joint venture still wants to open a new coal-fired power station in Kurihama near Tokyo in 2023/2024.

In 2013, the 400 ppm level was already breached and it is still rising at an increasing rate. How significant is that number? Since humans walked on this planet it had never been as high as this: You have to go back millions of years to find an era when there was as much CO2 in the atmosphere: The last time the CO2 level was above 400 ppm was in the Pliocene (about 3-5 million years ago).

At that time the average global temperature was some 2-3 C higher than today, but temperatures in the arctic and in Antarctica were significantly higher than that. Trees were growing in the southern part of Greenland, which was not covered in thick glaciers as it is today. Trees were also growing in parts of Antarctica. Without billions of tons of water locked up in glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, sea levels were 20-25 m higher than today. Also these oceans were warmer than today and water expands when it warms up. The rising CO2 levels will melt these glaciers again, until a new equilibrium is established several hundreds years or more in the future. The coast lines will move, gobbling up cities and farm land alike. Ultimately they may well look like those in the Pliocene again, but how much ice will melt and how rapidly it will melt still depends on what we do from now.

To give you an idea of the long term impact of this kind of sea level rise, the former Chinese capital of Nanjing, 200 km from the Yellow Sea, lies only 20 m above sea level. With 25 m of sea level rise the ocean would penetrate about 180 km inland southwest of Beijing. Some of the most densely populated areas of China (national population: 1.3 billion) would be swallowed by the sea.

In Vietnam the two biggest cities, Hanoi and the Red River plain around it, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and all of the land southwest of it will drown. Many of Asia’s river plains that are now its biggest rice baskets will turn into continental ocean shelf. The same will happen in the Nile valley or along the Euphrates and Tigris in the Middle East.

Note that these are changes that will happen over the next centuries or more regardless of what we do from now. They are the least bad outcome of what is possible. If we do nothing, it will get far worse.

There are feedback cycles that amplify the negative effects. For example, once it gets warm enough in summer in arctic permafrost regions that the ground will melt in summer, then peat and other frozen organic matter in the wet soil will start to decay, releasing huge amounts of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. This in turn will raise temperatures even higher. Where white sea ice melts in the summer, darker ocean water is exposed below, leading to more sunlight being absorbed and higher air and ocean temperatures. This in turn leads to less sea ice coverage the next year. When snow on top of glaciers thaws and refreezes, it also changes its albedo. The ice absorbs more sunlight than the virgin snow. So every warm spell leads to more warming. Once the thick ice sheet in Greenland and East Antarctica starts melting, its elevation will drop. It’s colder at higher elevations. The reduction in thickness will speed up melting. We could end up with a run-away effect that is impossible to stop until there is no ice left (see this article in National Geographic for maps of what the world will look like then).

The young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who started campaigning against inaction against climate change as a 15-year old, used the image of a “house on fire”:

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. […] 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.

The changes brought about by man-made climate change will be dramatic, but political action so far has been underwhelming. The steps taken so far or even the steps discussed in public fall far short of what is necessary to avoid even worse outcomes.

There is considerable resistance to taking action against Climate Change. We are not used to thinking much about events beyond our own life time. Politicians will worry about the next elections, business leaders about their next annual business results. Politicians tend to take drastic action only in wars and other major disasters, but Climate Change is going to be bigger than any (non-nuclear) war or hurricane.

If we were honest and ethical, we would not put the stock market value of our power companies or car or airplane manufacturers or our airlines or tourism industry above the future of the planet. The resistance to change from both industry and consumers will be huge, but we owe people the unvarnished truth: That we can’t continue with business as usual.

Even if we switch to electric cars, the steel, copper and glass for those cars for now will be made using fossil fuels. Even the wind turbines, solar panels and battery storage that we have to build at a massive scale to supply renewable energy for our future civilization will largely be manufactured using fossil fuels for years to come. We have to spend our dwindling carbon budget wisely, for example on rebuilding infrastructure instead of on holidays in Bali or a shiny new BMW SUV.

There is as yet no clear technical solution for air travel or for international cargo ships without fossil fuel. The same is true for making cement or for steel production from iron ore. In the short term we could replace kerosene or heavy fuel oil with LNG to reduce CO2 output in transport, but that is not enough and we will need to go much further than that. The next steps will be much harder. We don’t have the solutions yet. Therefore we need a modern moonshot program for a post-fossil future, an all-out effort — not to put more humans on the moon again — but to decarbonise our economies.

Over the last year Greta Thunberg has become a household name worldwide. She has drawn attention to the urgency of change and to the drastic nature of the changes needed. Her youth and thus her expected life span versus those of the politicians and business leaders of today, who mostly won’t be around after the year 2050, gives her a different perspective which the rest of us can then also relate to. It’s not all about us, but about our children and all of humanity after us. Sometimes it takes a child to educate the world.