In nature, we sometimes see phenomena that can exist in multiple stable states, but can only temporarily pass through the intermediate states. As an example, consider this ball on a hill:
Imagine you’re about as large as the orange ball. Take a look at the orange ball laying on top of the hill to the right. It may be possible for you to push this ball in one of two directions. We can imagine that you could push it to the left, where the effort required for you to move it in said direction will first be very strong, but decline as gravity begins to take hold and the ball starts to roll on its own.
Then, once it has fallen to the bottom, the energy required for you to push it back up to its previous position may exceed the amount of energy you can deliver. You were able to influence the system, pushing the ball to one of two outcomes, but once the outcome has been reached, you don’t have sufficient power to reset the system to the original state in which you encountered it.
One of the tragedies of human nature is that we’re better at responding to problems than anticipating them. Everyday, people receive a diagnosis of cancer. Many of those people then make the sort of dietary changes that could have prevented the cancer from developing in the first place, but are insufficient to cure the cancer.
Climatologists often argue something similar goes on in regards to our climate. Take a look at this graph:
We pushed our Earth to the right, towards warmer temperatures. Now we find ourselves in a situation, where we still have some degree of control over the long-term trajectory: Do we wish to continue our push towards the right, until the Earth enters the influence of forces that will continue pushing it in this one direction without our efforts, or do we wish to suddenly reverse course and push it back to a stable state, while we still can?
The idea is that we live in a brief window of opportunity, in which we still have control over the system. As we burn our fossil fuels, feedback loops are triggered that will warm the Earth on its own, without our intervention.
Simultaneously, by consuming these fossil fuels, we lose the energy we need to intervene in the system: We won’t have the power we need to reforest the Earth, sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, block sunlight or do any of the other things we need to do to stabilize the Earth, when we find ourselves spending all our energy on trying to keep nine billion people well-fed in a planet with declining habitability.
Most people in the Western world won’t really acknowledge the existence of this problem and its severity, until the window of opportunity, during which we still had the power to move the Earth in either direction, has been lost. People will argue that it’s too expensive to stop using natural gas, or that the warming isn’t really that bad, or that it really doesn’t matter what we do, because China is doing something else.
Then by 2030 or 2040, once really nasty things start to happen, those people will grow very concerned and say “well it does look like we have a genuine problem after all, we should do something about it”, but by that time, it will be too late, because we pushed the ball off the slope and it began to roll on its own.
What does that look like?
-Forests releasing carbon dioxide, because the trees are dying in droughts.
-Coral reefs dying, thereby preventing them from producing clouds.
-Snow melting, revealing a darker surface that absorbs more heat.
-Melting permafrost releasing more methane and carbon dioxide.
-Declining agricultural yields from droughts and heatwaves forcing humans to chop down forests themselves to grow more food.
-Forest fires releasing dark soot, that settles on snow in the mountains.
-Humans using more energy, because we will now need air conditioning to keep our cities habitable and desalination for agriculture.
These are the sort of positive feedback loops that will unfold in the decades ahead.
As the ball begins to roll on its own, people will say “alright this is indeed getting bad, let’s see if we can do something about it”, but we won’t be able to do something about it anymore, as the force of gravity pulling on the ball will exceed the musclepower we can deliver to push it back up the hill.
Our musclepower, whether we like it or not, were the fossil fuels beneath our feet, that delivered cheap energy with few material inputs. As our industrial civilization grows older and depletes its best natural resources, we become like an old man whose muscles still allow him to performs his daily duties to sustain himself, but he won’t have the time and energy required to embark on great projects anymore: He won’t climb mountains any longer.
There are many different processes, that require some aid from humans to get going, but eventually become self-sustaining. Imagine a common example: You have a garden where you wish to have new plants. For many plants, simply sowing the seeds won’t be enough. The birds may eat the seeds, the weather may be too wet and the seeds will grow moldy, perhaps the plants simply die from drought, or other weeds show up that grow faster and starve your plants of sunlight and nutrients.
So what you tend to do is that you help a plant along during its initial stages of development. Perhaps you consistently remove all the weeds until your plant has grown large enough. Perhaps you initially water it during dry periods. Perhaps you use nets to keep away the birds, or sharp rocks to keep away the snails.
But in general, for any gardener, the intervention required to make a plant grow is most intense during the early stages. Some plants will require constant attention, especially if you grow them in a region where they are not native, but others eventually develop the strength to function on their own.
Beyond a certain point, a plant becomes stronger. It can spend more days without being watered, as its roots penetrate deeper into the soil, where moisture is lost less rapidly. It may eventually connect to mycorrhizal fungi, that help it filter the right nutrients from the soil. It may gradually begin to produce toxins that discourage insect predation. Eventually its branches may grow thick enough that it can survive through harsh winters that younger plants couldn’t survive through.
I’m going to ask you to imagine for a moment, to think of SARS-COV-2, the virus that has so far led to an estimated 18 million excess deaths around the world, as the kind of seed that a gardener has to help along during its early stages, before it can take on a life of its own.
Let’s start out by looking at the most fragile and difficult stage: The stage of jumping from animals into a human population. In a group of people at high risk of exposure to bat coronaviruses, 2.7% were found to have antibodies. In other words, if we think of the bat coronavirus as a seed, it is quite frequently deposited into the correct soil. And yet, until 2019, the seed never managed to germinate and grow into a big pandemic.
So what is different here? The main difference may be that this SARS-COV-2 virus, received some help in a lab, to prepare it for its trajectory in humans. One of the most puzzling aspects of this pandemic is how little this virus changed during its first year in the human population. In fact, it appears to have only started changing significantly, once it found itself faced with the reality of a population that has developed antibodies against it.
There are other aspects to consider too. A gardener who wants to make a new plant at home in his garden, will typically have to remove the weeds that currently grow there, for his new specimen to stand a good chance of success. As I have explained previously, RNA respiratory viruses compete with each other to infect human beings. A human upper respiratory tract that has recently been infected by one of these viruses, tend to be protected from an infection from other RNA respiratory viruses.
And so what we did in march 2020, was the same thing a gardener does who has cleared the ground and put his seed into the soil. He walks by a few days later and identifies any weeds that are using the opportunity. As you remove the competing respiratory viruses through the lockdowns, your own seed (SARS-COV-2), has more opportunity to grow.
A novel organism often makes the tragic mistake of exhausting the new niche it has found. As an example, consider the deer on St Matthew Island. These deer were released on an island without any natural predators. Their population grew from 29 individuals in 1944, to 6000 animals by 1963. The population was so large that they began to exhaust their niche: They ate plants faster than the plants could regrow. Two years later, when scientists visited again, there were just 42 animals left. Through a stroke of bad luck, 41 of these animals were female, the other one was a sterile male. The population had exhausted its niche and thereby rendered itself extinct.
For SARS-COV-2, a similar risk would have existed: What if you infect everyone, before previously infected people are susceptible to reinfection? You exhaust your niche before it can replenish itself and thereby force yourself into extinction. We helped prevent this from happening, by flattening the curve. Anytime a lot of people were infected simultaneously, we hit the panic button and slowed down the pace of infections.
This also helps to cultivate increased genetic diversity. If your region is suddenly overrun by SARS-COV-2 due to a new variant, you lock everyone up at home, slowing down the pace at which this new variant can spread to other places. You’re thus left with fewer selective sweeps, where other strains with reduced fitness find themselves forced into extinction.
We’re used to often thinking of immunity as a binary: Either you can get infected with a virus, or you can’t. But in reality of course, few things in nature are truly binary. If you have an immune disorder, viruses that are supposed to infect you only once in a lifetime can reinfect you. And similarly, with the vaccines we have succeeded at overcoming the immune binary altogether: People who were vaccinated against SARS-COV-2 were neither truly immune, nor naive. The virus simply met fiercer resistance than before in such people.
With sufficient repeated vaccination with the Wuhan version of the spike protein, we can undermine the ability to respond to new variants, not just in individuals, but in entire populations. And thus, rather than just helping the virus along like a careful gardener during the initial stages of the pandemic, we have now settled on taking entire nations and altogether transforming the entire ecosystem for the purpose of this virus. It is as if the gardener has decided to permanently alter the soil itself for his young plants.
You can see the result of this in the following graph, of the estimated infection prevalence in Scotland, which has managed to give 97% of its elderly a “booster vaccine”:
Governments now treat COVID as if it were over. And ironically, they are right: Their job is done. Like the gardener who plants a seed in the soil, watches it germinate and regularly waters it until it becomes a big tree that taps its roots into the groundwater down below the soil, the governments have done exactly what they could do, to transform an oddity of nature into a global self-sustaining phenomenon, a new species of human coronavirus that came from nowhere to become the most widespread respiratory virus in our species in a period of two years.
You could say this is the result of a conspiracy. Perhaps wealthy old men, with fragile immune systems, have encouraged the spread of a new virus against which they too have no genuine way to defend themselves. Personally, I highly doubt it. Rather, I look at it as an episode of history, comparable to the story of the pharaoh who prohibited the Israelites from leaving his country. Human beings in the Western world have done something, that leads us to take the worst possible decisions. It is as if we invited a curse upon ourselves.
And to illustrate once more that we have indeed inflicted this wound on ourselves, please take a look at places that did NOT do “everything right”.
This is 30% vaccinated 10% boosted Bulgaria:
This is 3.6% boosted, 30% fully vaccinated South Africa:
This is 1% boosted 14% fully vaccinated Algeria:
In the process of jumping from humans into animals, back into humans, SARS-COV-2 ended up changing itself in a way that allows it to overcome the protection from our vaccines. This is important to understand: Its immune evasion is an accident, a by-product of the attempt to adjust to the rodent ACE2 receptor.
However, evolution does encourage a virus like this to evolve into a form that does use our immune response against us. Omicron hasn’t had much time yet: It has had just about three months, to figure out how to thrive in the niche we created for it. There are hotspots, highly boosted regions of the world, where it rapidly gives rise to new variants with small tweaks that can thrive in our species. One of those hotspots is Scotland.
Let’s go back to a few months ago. In December almost everyone, from normies to antivaxxers, was convinced that Omicron was SARS-COV-2 becoming a mild flu, before fading into obsolescence. I was immediately critical of this suggestion. Back on december the 10th I wrote:
You see suggestions thrown around, that the virus must have evolved to become milder, or that it is now “unstable” due to the mutations. But if you look at it at a molecular level, there’s no obvious evidence for these assertions
To me, all the indicators suggest that we’re witnessing the worst case scenario: A variant of this virus, that has figured out how to use our vaccine induced immune response against it to its own advantage. I understand why the vaccine manufacturers are downplaying this variant, as it makes their product potentially deadly. I don’t understand however why other people fall for this. People are looking at South Africa and imagining this allows them to understand what’s going to happen here in Europe, not realizing they were hit in summer, in a young population where 80% of people have natural immunity.
I have been wrong too. However, it was immediately obvious to me that Omicron was not the blessing in disguise people were suggesting it would be. Rather, it was the start of the vaccination campaign truly beginning to backfire.
For future generations, it will be pretty obvious:
Governments should have listened to the fringe. To the conspiracy theorists, the NEETs, the paranoid schizophrenics, the flat-earthers, the antisemites, the religious fundamentalists, the far-right extremists, the incels, the autists, the angry white males, the Trump supporters, the QAnon crowd, andsoforth. Effectively, anyone who is in some form disenfranchised from this society, anyone who has a low social status in Western society, made the right call by not receiving these vaccines.
It’s now too late to squash this bug, what was once a fragile seed has now turned into a mighty oak tree. But if your government’s COVID policy had been run by a guy who believes the Earth is flat, fewer people would have died from this virus.
Just for shit and giggles, I’m going to amuse you with one last graph:
If you look very carefully, You can see a tiny light blue spot here in this map, surrounded by dark blue. What could it be? This place is called Urk. It is a small strongly Christian fishing village, where people were extremely “vaccine-hesitant”. In fact, it has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. But now, it has also had the lowest rate of people testing positive for a couple of days.
And all of this should leave you to ponder, what message we’re receiving from nature.