Science and Technology

Carbon capture and storage? Not a help yet

A debate has been smouldering on about what role, if any, “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS) technologies should play in ecological transition. CCS denotes chains of technology for capturing carbon from the chimneys of factories and power plants. The chimney is fitted with solvent filters, which much of the CO2 dissolves into — CCS’s coal industry proponents claim up to 90%. For storage, the solvent is then pumped to somewhere where it is heated up, forcing the CO2 out again, where it is stored, perhaps underground. A small amount may be used for fizzy drinks, in greenhouses for plants, and...

Why respect the new virus rules?

Readers report arguments with workmates and neighbours over the virus restrictions. How should we respond? “I’m young and fit, and my friends are all young and fit too. Why should we not socialise a little, when the chances of serious hurt from us getting the virus are so small?” The virus has mutated, and is up to 70% more contagious than it was. Hundreds of people are dying of Covid every day in the UK. There are chains of transmission. Most young people will not be seriously affected by Covid, but some will be. And even people who have the virus without symptoms can spread it. One young...

Why banned pesticide is being used

Twenty-twenty: an epidemic proliferated across Europe, wreaking devastation, hitting the South of England badly, and continuing into 2021. The government is legislating emergency measures. No, I’m not referring to CoV-SARS-2. I’m talking about Beet Yellows Virus. On 8 January, the government authorised use of thiamethoxam for tackling BYV. Thiamethoxam was banned in 2018 across the EU, with UK support, as part of wider restrictions on the neonicotinoid family of pesticides. There is no relevant change in the evidence for restricting those pesticides. The virus infects and kills sugar beet, the...

Speedy vaccines: money, political will and technologies

One of the few positives that emerged from the bin fire of 2020 was the speed at which not one, but three, effective and safe vaccines were developed, trialled and approved in the UK. They offer hope for a more optimistic 2022 and a route out of the pandemic. However, as with other projects involving big pharma and national governments, many people are skeptical about the speed at which vaccines have become available. In non-plague times, vaccine development is a long process. It is multi-staged and complex, involving scientific research, preclinical trials, three phases of clinical trials...

Asteroid mining, scarcity, science and socialism: responding to Aaron Bastani

The world we live in today wasn’t the result of any grand design. It was the result of struggle, revolution, and scientific and technological advances. Human society is locked in struggle: battles between social classes which shape our world, yet this is too often forgotten, and most sadly by left-wing writers advocating communism.

Diary of an engineer: Vaccines and "we don't know"

On my last shift at work before a break, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine breakthroughs had just been announced. J, a fitter, seems to be caught between his friends’ scepticism and his Mum’s anxious experience cleaning hospital wards. “They’re not forcing anyone to have it, but eventually you’ll have to have it in order to do certain things — like fly abroad, or work in certain cities. And it’ll get harder and harder to do things without it — that’s what worries me.” He talks about his Mum with some half-mocking, half-anxious laughter: “She’s hearing the news and tying herself in knots. I said we...

The digital, Covid and new ways of living

The 2021 edition of the Socialist Register is entitled “Beyond Digital Capitalism — New Ways of Living”. It’s about how an increasingly digitalised capitalism works and alternatives across a wide range of human activities. Whydigital capitalism? Firstly, because of the increasingly central role of the tech sector in the economy, seen through both a growing economic dominance of monopolies based on digital platforms and the increased use of digitised forms of production, distribution and exchange. The top four largest tech companies — Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook — now account for 20%...

Thoughts on the vaccine news

There’s a tiny spark of optimism in the gloom of this November lockdown. On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced, to everyone’s surprise, interim analysis showing their vaccine candidate for Covid-19 may have up to 90% efficacy in preventing symptomatic cases of Covid-19 in participants who received two doses three weeks apart. That was based on analysis of 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in a trial expected to enrol 44,000 people across the globe. Experts were cautioning that initial Covid-19 vaccine efficacy could be much lower. The US Food and Drug Association had set its bar for approval...

Pandemics and the drives of capital

With SARS-Cov-2 after H5N1 (or avian influenza), SARS, MERS, swine flu, Ebola, and Zika, we are living in an age of pandemics. A widening circuit of agricultural production, consumption and exchange is pushing deeper into forests and back out into cities. Host species that historically would have been confined to deep forests are now transported to peri-urban regions with high concentrations of human bodies. Traversing a globally integrated air traffic network, pathogens previously not on the global stage are being brought to it. The context of Ebola and other diseases emerging in and from...

Covid-19: what do we know?

George Davey Smith, professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Bristol University, spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity. Click here to view the video interview online: this is a tidied-up transcript. What do we know about how and where the virus is transmitted? All of this sort of knowledge is provisional and it's not incredibly well defined. But there are some things that are pretty clear. Indoor transmission on average is higher than outdoors. It is known that the virus survives longer at low temperatures, and also at very low humidity or very high humidity. Cold, dry places or cold, very wet...

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