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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A cloud of Covid variants circles the globe

Mutations of SARS2 are roaming. Currently there are 19 million active (known) cases of Covid. Due to copying errors, mistakes are accumulating in the genes of the virus. It’s a relentless process of trial and selection. A trillion monkeys on keyboards blindly working its way around vaccines, and immune systems. To beat this, we need to understand it.

Below is a map of known variants created from the samples which have had full sequences done. This is the remarkable “Nextstrain — an opensource tool. I have labelled a few clusters by their “country names”, (though we’re not supposed to do that. Let’s all say “WuFlu”.)

The family tree of SARS-Cov-2 starts at the bottom left corner with two samples from Wuhan around Christmas 2019. This is called the 19A clade, which appears to have almost died out now, though there are still remnants left of this original virus in corners like Iran and PNG. Otherwise, the Wuhan 19A virus has been superseded by its children.

The branches and time marches to the right.

The code for one full virus is 29,000 bases long and as best as I can tell, all the dots on the branches have been sequenced in full. At the Nextstrain page you can mouseover and click on every point to find out which lab and town the sample came from, and which mutations it has.

Be aware the “tree” above is heavily shaped by the nations doing the most testing and sequencing. Australian labs pop up often, sampling the cases flying into airport quarantine. But India has done very little sequencing and Mexico even less. Some African nations have virtually none. So there will be thousands of invisible branches and strains that we can’t see above, because no one has tested them.

The only reasons the Indian and Brazillian variants are not branching as much as the UK variant is because those variants haven’t yet dominated countries which do a lot of sequencing. That not-so-fortunately is about to change as smart wealthy countries have, daftly, let these variants in.

The UK variant has spread far

These graphs below on the Nextstrain Covariants by country page show the predominance of each variant. The UK variant is marked as an orangish brown. It was first noticed in October last year, but within a few months was responsible for nearly every infection in the UK. Similarly, throughout the European lands the takeover is almost complete.

The US is a different cauldron. There, the pink zone is successfully competing with it in the USA graph is the Californian “484K” variant. But starting to spread are both the #P1 Brazillian variant and the Indian ones.

But the strains that will dominate in just a few months time may be invisible now.

It’s an arms race

The graphs below show that the newer faster-spreading variants usually wipe out the older slower ones. Partly this is because a new strain brings a new wave, and as infections rise (not shown in these graphs) the proportion of older strains is squeezed out. But in the end the faster-spreading arrivals breach the previous norms for quarantine, restrictions, and hospital care. After new cases rise rapidly and set off alarms, governments and citizens inevitably raise their own level of response. The new stricter restrictions, by default, then wipe out the old slower variants. Obviously, some combination of restrictions, masks,  isolation and lockdowns work — starving the old variants out of existence by depriving them of new bodies, but at great expense. The cheapest restrictions, of course, start at the border. (Just stop the flights!) A hard border means almost no need to lockdown. It also means no new mutants arise within that country.

Coronavirus strains spreading through nations. Graphed. Nextstrain.

The UK variant has taken over nearly everywhere in Europe. The grey background were the unknown variants.


It’s barely visible above — but seeping into the latest UK data (top left graph above) is a tiny barely visible, green wedge. This is the ominous strain from India. In India, the new double mutants are growing rapidly, but despite the catastrophe unfolding, they’re still only half of all the samples.

Most of the variants in India are “grey”. Not known.

India. Nextstrain. Covid variants. Graphed.

Indian new variants of covid (green).

The Indian variant has arrived in South Korea. See how fast it is growing.

South Korean covid strains

To appreciate how much data is held in this system, here’s the information for one “dot” in the orange section growing from the “UK Variant” branch. A 41 year old man was diagnosed in Raipur India, 3 to 7 days ago. His sample was sequenced with a full list of mutations. (To see this, mouseover a dot, then click inside the black small data box to see the larger more detailed one. Or not. It’s a nerdy thing. But you will be able to appreciate just how far and fast these versions are travelling.) You can, if the urge takes you, trace the branches and see how often the strains are leaping borders. Even if you are a data nerd, and not a Covid one, the Nextstrain system is impressive. The data can also be sliced by country, by region, by strain and by mutation. Scroll down — agog. Click particular strains in the legend to clear the clutter out.

Nextstrain sample information

Things we know

The virus exists. PCR is useful. The virus has been sequenced in full many times. Symptoms and transmissibility are linked to different variants. Never before has the world had live data like this. Yet we still need more. There is almost no data from so many countries that matter.

The variants are coming — as long as people are getting infected somewhere, this virus is adapting. New variants may well throw a spanner in the works of vaccine programs, and natural immunity. Herd immunity to a virus that no longer exists may not be useful, and in some cases can be a disadvantage. Eliminating the virus stops the mutations arising. Vaccination will slow the development of new mutations locally, but once they arise it will select for viruses that escape the vaccination.

PCR looks, smells and acts like a useful test. The PCR test is used to sequence viruses (and to do legal, forensic, medical and paleo-fossil studies). Like any tool, it can be overdone, abused, or faked. But the tree at the top of the page was made with a continuous branching structure and with data from hundreds of independent labs on five continents. That suggests, Occams razor style, that despite the masses of money and vested interests doing their best to skew results, that the bulk of these PCR tests and mapping would be hard to fake.

Restrictions are eliminating strains: That less infectious strains are universally wiped out shows that restrictions (as expensive, ugly, and unpopular as they are) do work. If the higher restrictions were used, without the presence of the newer strains, obviously that would eliminate all versions of Covid. (See Australia, NZ etc). As the virus gets more infective and transmissible, restrictions would need to be harder and faster.

Eventually a nicer strain of Covid will probably arise, one which doesn’t overwhelm hospitals. It may however become a nastier strain on the path to being kinder. Spanish flu did that and took three years.

We need antivirals: The arms race means there will be an ongoing competition between our immune systems, vaccines, anti-virals and new strains. “Herd immunity” is likely only a temporary illusion. Antivirals that act on our enzymes or entry portals are more likely to work against multiple strains because our biochemical machinery isn’t changing like the virus is, and it’s much harder for the virus to find a new port of entry into our cells, or a new path to hijack. If we used antivirals as well as vaccines, we’d prevent more mutations and eliminate clusters faster.

This is why it is still a rank scandal of the highest order that our public medical research dollars have not focused first on antivirals and our public health responses failed to do the most useful, cheapest restriction of all — just closing borders. Anthony Fauci should have been fired a year ago.

The UN WHO is responsible for every case outside China which could have been stopped. It was obvious to anyone with microbiological training on Twitter by February 2020 that the borders should have been sealed.

The WHO should be defunded immediately. It serves the CCP but fails the world.

The Indian strain looks bad, it’s hard to tell how bad, the data is awful (as in, poor testing, inadequate sequencing, high positivity. What’s the actual mortality rate? Who-the-heck knows. ). The governments dilemma is the competing duty of care to people at home versus abroad.  One case getting into the community could cost millions to resolve. But we owe it to citizens to find a way to get them home. I’d like to see us offer them tents near military air bases (or something!) and give them at least one path to return? It’s not five star, but it might still be better than a small apartment in Delhi. Those with better options will just wait. The desperate will be grateful to get home anyway they can.

See: Nextstrain  and    Nextstrain Covariants by country


8.7 out of 10 based on 73 ratings

China is the Fastest growing Nuclear Power in the world

The CCP say that China has to stay with coal, but The West ought pay attention more to the rapid growth of nuclear power. Last September I noted that China was poised to be the largest global nuclear power by 2030, overtaking the USA in the next nine years. In the last twenty years, China has increased its fleet of nuclear power reactors from three to 49, with 17 more plants under construction. That means it will soon surpass France which has 57 reactors. At the rate the USA is closing plants, China may hit the No 1 spot faster than expected.

China has also opened an experimental fusion reactor called the Artificial Sun, while the ITER international consortium keeps delaying the opening of the French fusion experimental reactor.

Rise of Nuclear Power in China. Graph.

Rise of Nuclear Power in China.

It is sobering to know that despite the rapid growth of nuclear, it is still only 5% of the total energy supply in China.*

Electricity generation in 2019 increased by 5% compared with the previous year, to 7.3 PWh, according to figures published by the China Electricity Council. That from fossil fuels was 5045 TWh (69%), from hydro 1302 TWh (18%), nuclear 349 TWh (5%), wind 406 TWh (6%) and solar 224 TWh (3%).

World Nuclear Association

In 2012, China became the worlds largest power generator (from all forms of generation). Since then it’s nearly doubled.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that since 2012, China has been the country with the largest installed power capacity, and it has increased this by 85% since then to reach 2011 GWe in 2019, about a quarter of global capacity.

World Nuclear Association

The balance of power is shifting fast:

China has half the capacity of the USA in nuclear power, but it doubled capacity in the last five years while the USA closed 39 reactors:

China Will Lead The World In Nuclear Energy, Along With All Other Energy Sources, Sooner Than You Think

James Conca. Forbes, April 23, 2021

China now leads the world in total energy production and also produces almost twice the amount of electricity that the United States does, 4.4 trillion kWh versus 7.5 trillion kWh per year, respectively. As of this month, China has 49 nuclear reactors in operation with a capacity of 47.5 GW, third only to the United States and France. And 17 under construction with a capacity of 18.5 GW.

This is just about half of the nuclear capacity of the United States which has 94 nuclear reactors in operation with a capacity of 96.5 GW and 2 under construction with a capacity of 2.2 GW. But 39 reactors have been shutdown, many for no particularly good reason.

China lion statues, Taiwan.

The Chinese Lion advances.  | Image by AngMoKio

China is now largely self sufficient in building and operating nuclear plants.

China has most nuclear power plants in progress: industry report

by Gong Zhe, CGTN

China completed research and development on third-generation nuclear power technology called CAP1400 (Guohe One) in September 2020, according to an announcement by State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC). CAP1400 has broken overseas technology monopolies in many areas and owns independent intellectual property and export rights, said Lu Hongzao, assistant general manager of SPIC.

It will be a powerful provider of electricity. “For example, it can provide 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to the grid. So basically it can provide nearly 13 billion kilowatts per hour annually.”

With a design life of 60 years, the CAP1400 nuclear reactor improves safety performance against natural disasters including earthquakes and floods by 100 times, compared with the second-generation version.

In December 2020, China turned on the Artificial Sun in Sichuan province

The group plan to collaborate with the  International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project — which is the worlds largest research project in fusion reactors, sited in France. The total cost of ITER was around $22b, half paid for by the EU and the rest by a consortium of Japan, China, South Korea, the USA and Russia. It was started in 2007 but after many delays and cost overruns, the French fusion reactor is not expected to start operating until 2027, 11 years late. Ain’t that the way?

The HL-2M Tokamak reactor i

The HL-2M Tokamak reactor

China turns on nuclear-powered ‘artificial sun’

China successfully powered up its “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities.

The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source. It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People’s Daily—approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun.

The future is surely fusion — one day, though there are many obstacles to overcome.

Australia could use that 300 year supply of coal now, while it’s still worth digging up.

China has a nuclear Belt and Road project too, Argentina, Iran, Pakistan:

Future projects are also being developed in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and South America

Why China is eager to promote Nuclear Energy

Japan Times, 6 Dec 2020

Keep reading  →

9.7 out of 10 based on 54 ratings

Tuesday Open Thread

Late today. (oops)

10 out of 10 based on 7 ratings

Zuckerberg uses “climate change” as a shield to cover for his obscene wealth

KAuia “Climate change” is just the handy branding for the uber rich to hide behind

Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief who deletes people to save The Earth, is also apparently working on owning a Hawaiian island by suing the hapless natives who were in the way. His holiday house on Kauai Island is apparently worth $80 million, is 57,000 square feet, and has 8 bedrooms and nine baths.

Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan pick up 600 more acres in Hawaii

Conor Skelding, New York Post

The Big Tech billionaire and wife Priscilla Chan snatched up 600 additional acres on the island of Kauai — and an existing online petition demanding that Zuckerberg stop “colonizing” the Aloha State is now well over 1 million signatures as of Saturday.

The pair purchased the land for $53 million from the local nonprofit Waioli Corp., according to Pacific Business News.

The couple now owns more than 1,300 acres on Kauai, known as the “Garden Island” for its extensive tropical rainforests.

The online petition, with 1,014,219 signatures, says, “Mark Zuckerberg is the sixth richest man in the world … and he is suing Native Hawaiians in Kauai for their land so he can build a mansion. He’s building a mansion to do what? Live in Kauai for two months out of the year? This is inhuman.”

Any normal billionaire, doing things like that, might find a HLM protest on his doorstep — burning down the guardhouse and butlers quarters and shouting “privileged”. Instead, the nastier Zuckerberg is to skeptics of climate change, the more the progressive left need him, no matter what Woke crimes he is guilty of.

It doesn’t matter how many private jet trips he takes, if he’s useful to the other parasitic power climbers, who cares?

In 2015, he was generously joining “The Breakthrough Energy Coalition”, and was committed to using his wealth to “invest in clean energy companies”. So the worlds sixth richest man who holds a vested interest in renewable energy is also man in charge of what people are allowed to say in the public square. What could possibly go wrong?

Facebook is investing in giant solar farms in Texas. 

I’m sure he won’t mind if critics on Facebook want to bag out solar power and campaign to get rid of subsidies for it.

We’d never let a Government Minister have that much power.

h/t Marc Morano, Climate Depot.

10 out of 10 based on 66 ratings

Chinese official says solar and wind are too intermittent and unstable. They must use coal.

China seems to operate in its own bubble of rules 

China, emeishan lion statue.

Image by Chris Feser

Imagine the apoplexy if our ecology minister said we’d fund coal power in the third world? Why is it only China that gets to build coal at home and abroad? What kind of developing nation can’t afford to run on “solar and wind” but is rich enough to be helping build coal plants in other nations too?

China has ‘no other choice’ but to rely on coal power for now, official says

Evelyn Cheng. CNBC

“China’s energy structure is dominated by coal power. This is an objective reality,” said Su Wei, deputy secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission. CNBC translated his Mandarin-language comments, which he made late last week following Xi’s separate remarks at a U.S.-led global leaders climate summit.

“Because renewable energy (sources such as) wind and solar power are intermittent and unstable, we must rely on a stable power source,” Su said. “We have no other choice. For a period of time, we may need to use coal power as a point of flexible adjustment.”

He added that coal is readily available, while renewable energy needs to develop further in China.

In 2018 China cut solar subsidies because it was making electricity too expensive.

China also intends to keep financing coal power in other countries.

China’s ecology ministry indicated that China’s funding of coal power in the developing world will continue. “China has supported some developing countries in the construction of coal-fired plants overseas,” Li Gao, director general of the ministry’s department of climate change, told reporters in Mandarin that CNBC translated.

It suits China if no one else is competing with its Belt and Road Project

How many favours will China earn by being the only major power providing useful energy?

China Is the Odd Man Out on Overseas Coal Financing

Laura Edwards, National, April 26th

Despite its growing role in sustainable development financePresident Xi Jinping reiterated at the [recent Biden] summit that ecological cooperation is a key aspect of China’s Belt and Road InitiativeChina made no promises to end coal financing abroad, even as Japan and South Korea, the second and third largest financiers of overseas coal power plants, take ambitious steps to stop funding overseas coal plants as part of their new climate change agendas. China, the world’s largest financier of overseas coal, is now the odd man out. Reducing global emissions cannot be achieved without moving away from coal. A pledge from China to end its financing for overseas coal plants would be a major boon to international climate efforts.

Who wants to be a superpower?

h/t GWPF

9.6 out of 10 based on 73 ratings

Weekend Unthreaded


8.8 out of 10 based on 18 ratings

Court rules Germany needs *more carbon action*. Who cares what voters think? Young people have right to climate protection.

How to wreck a democracy: Let judges decide complex national policies based on who sues first. What could possibly go wrong?

German climate change law violates rights, court rules


Germany’s climate change laws are insufficient and violate fundamental freedoms by putting the burden of curbing CO2 emissions on the young, its highest court has ruled.

It says the law fails to give enough detail on cutting CO2 emissions after current targets end in 2030. “The provisions irreversibly offload major emission reduction burdens on to periods after 2030,” it found.

Like the EU legislation, Germany’s domestic climate change law provides for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030.

But the German Constitutional Court said on Thursday that current measures “violate the freedoms of the complainants, some of whom are still very young” because they delay too much of the action needed to reach the Paris targets until after 2030.

Since when did young people have right to be protected from climate change?

It’s time for other young people to sue the court, and the government.  Germany’s climate change laws are wildly expensive and pointless, and will have no measurable benefit.  Expensive electricity will create an unfair debt-burden on the young. It will slow or break the economy, destroy jobs and harm the environment. That’s a violation of their human rights.

Young people could sue governments for not doing due diligence on a UN committee report and for selling out their civilization.

Let it rip, commenters.

Photo German wind turbines, Emben. Emden, Germany by Gritte

Emden, Germany by Gritte

See also The Guardian: for more info.

9.9 out of 10 based on 77 ratings

Wednesday’s mass failure of $20 billion worth of Wind power in Australia

What grows on a wind “farm” ?  Debt-cows

On Wednesday nearly all the wind generators in the country failed. About 4,000 turbines across five states of Australia were hit by some kind of simultaneous fuel crisis. At one point all the wind power in our national grid was only making 3% of Australia’s electricity, and that was the best part of the day. At its worst, all those turbines produced about 1.2% of the power we needed. It was that bad.

Across the nation, something like $15 to $20 billion dollars of infrastructure ground to a halt.

Welcome to the clean green energy future:

Wind farm total production April 28th Australia.

The black line in this image is the total power generation across the day, and that equates equally to power consumption across the day. The green colour rolling along the bottom is wind generation, all of it, across the day.   Who pays for the battery back up for these dysfunctional non-farms?

As Rafe Champion would say — it was a “choke point” all day.

It would be nice to believe this incident was due to all the old failing wind towers that used to be reliable workhorses. If only. Then there would be hope we could fix things. But these were mostly new towers, and this is as good as it gets.

We could double the money and build Snowy 2.0 power storage, state interconnectors, and batteries. Otherwise we just have to pay off the Sun, the Moon and the Southern Oscillation.

Or, of course, we could back up 99% of the entire grid with fossil fuels (and some Hydro), which we do.  But then the wind farms are completely superfluous, except to make the Greens feel good, and the Renewables Industry rich.

Fossil fuels save the day. Graph.

TonyfromOz estimates we get a day like this once a year, but there are a lot of 6-hour-type squeezes when all 4,000 plus turbines make even less. A battery just isn’t going to cover that…

Who pays for the back up? We the People.

As TonyfromOz says: compare the productivity of a 50 year old coal plant

Let’s look at the ancient old clunker Liddell, now coughing its last, after 50 years of operation. Only two of its four Units are in operation, and both of them are operating at much reduced Capacity. Liddell delivered more power across the day than did EVERY wind plant in the Country, in fact nine percent more power across the whole 24 hour recording period.

So, on this day, every single wind plant in Australia cannot match the delivery from HALF of the oldest coal fired plant in the Country.

We’ve spent something in the order of $20 Billion dollars to get an 8GW generator that doesn’t work most of the time. Liddell, if they fixed it, and it could run in a free and fair market, would still be profitable.

BTW — The graphs come from, a site set up by one man — Andrew Miskelly — that provides an essential service our well funded AEMO and the entire Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure can’t manage to provide. Amazing what one determined bright guy can do.

For more information see TonyfromOz: Daily power for Tuesday 28th April: All day wind power was generating between 1 and 3% of the total Grid requirements.

References and estimates below

Keep reading  →

9.7 out of 10 based on 102 ratings

Thursday Open Thread

9.1 out of 10 based on 14 ratings

Summer deaths: How to ignore most variables and a great trend and still blame climate change

This might be one of the most incompetent studies of 2o21

Hanigan, Dear and Woodward have done a “unique”, first of, *groundbreaking study* that finally shows climate change is having a detrimental effect on our health (so they say). With great effort to ignore almost every variable that mattered, they found the seasonal ratio of deaths in Australia has changed:

More people die in winter than summer, but climate change may see this reverse

In our study published today, we show some of the first evidence climate change has had observable impacts on Australians’ health between 1968 and 2018.

We found long-term heating is associated with changed seasonal balance of deaths in Australia, with relatively more deaths in summer months and relatively fewer deaths in winter months over recent decades.

Our findings can be explained by the gradual global warming associated with climate change. Over the 51 years of our study, annual average temperatures increased by more than 1°C in Australia. The last decade (2011 to 2020) was the hottest in the country’s recorded history.

The other interpretation is that it got warmer and deaths in winter declined more than deaths in summer did.

Basically if climate change does anything, it’s saving us from even more deaths in cold weather. Three cheers for fossil fuels.

The climate trend is unequivocal: The hotter it got the longer we lived

Looks like climate change saves lives even in hot sunny Australia:

Life expectancy at birth, Australia.

Source: Macrotrends

But Hanigan et al miss the obvious and work pretty hard to find that the slope of the summer deaths (diamonds) below is rising slightly faster than the winter deaths (squares).  Panic now. That’s how bad climate change is (and that how overfunded our universities are.)

Seasonal mortality in Australia. Climate Change. Graph.

Here’s another awkward fact: Heatwave deaths in Australia peaked around World War I?

Heatwave, deaths per decade -- Australia

Australian heatwave deaths peaked around World War I. Source: PerilAUS

Even in the deadly decade of 2000 to 2009, heatwave deaths were less than 0.5% of total deaths. That scary last column is not the big killer you might think.

“Our research is unique

“Globally, our study is one of very few that directly shows the health impacts of climate change.

Instead their study directly shows what a waste of money higher education is:

In our study, we used Australian mortality records that have been collected with remarkable consistency of detail and quality over the last half century. And by focusing on the ratio of summer to winter deaths within each year, we avoid possible confounding associated with, say, improvements to health care.

So they avoided the confounding factor of “improvements in health care” but completely forgot that people predominantly died of different things in 1968 — like especially heart failure and influenza, both more common in winter. Lately, the increase in deaths due to Alzheimers and dementia spread those fatal events across the year. This one factor alone probably explains the minor trend they found.

They haven’t found a climate change effect at all, it’s just the effect of a changing pattern of diseases:

Winter Cardio vascular deaths

Many more people die of cardiovascular deaths in winter rather than summer.  Barnett et al 2008

Ischemic heart disease is surprisingly more of a winter disease. There’s less sun, less vitamin D, room temperatures are colder, blood pressure goes up, and inflammation is more likely and makes everything worse. Nothing kills as many people as moderate cold.

For a second, the researchers even have to admit that more climate change might save more lives  (and we can’t have that!):

In one study on the topic, the authors found Australia may initially experience a net reduction in temperature-related deaths. That is, increased deaths from heat during summer would be offset by fewer deaths in winter, as winters become more mild.

What do you know: models arrive to rescue the doomer narrative:

However, they predict this pattern would reverse by mid-century under the business-as-usual emissions scenario.

Just one more irrelevant discovery:

We found the speed of change in the ratio of summer to winter deaths was fastest in the hottest years within each decade.

So on long term rising trends for both temperatures and deaths, what’s the bet that the last years of each decade are more likely to be both hotter and more deadly? Shock me.

This paper is more evidence that it takes ineptitude to have a good career in science these days. Being sensible is a handicap.

Who gave them their grant money?


h/t Eric Worrall, WUWT. 


Barnett et al (2008) The seasonality in heart failure deaths and total cardiovascular deaths, Aust and NZ Journal of Public Health, vol 32, no 5.

Ivan C. Hanigan , Keith B.G. Dear, Alistair Woodward (2021)  Increased ratio of summer to winter deaths due to climate warming in Australia, 1968–2018, 26 April 2021  PDF 

ABS:[email protected]/0/b066d450abaaa4c7ca256dea000539dc

10 out of 10 based on 49 ratings