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In August of last year, LPPFusion released the video “Pandemic, Economic Crises and the Energy Density Solution”. We described there the links between the present interconnected health and economic crises, the global dependence on fossil fuels, and the urgent need to move to fusion energy. I want to update all of you on the situation now through this letter—it is faster than doing an entirely new video, although we may do that in some form as well.
During the last five months, the pandemic has greatly intensified. If anyone still doubts this or doubts the threat of this pandemic, consider this: last year, the US death rate from all causes rose by 16% (data here). This is something that has not occurred at any other time in the 20th or 21st centuries, not even during the 1918 flu pandemic. Almost all the increase was due to 450,000 deaths from COVID-19. In a single year, the US has suffered more death from this pandemic than from the four years of WWII. The losses are much the same throughout the Americas, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. World-wide there are over 3 million more dead in 2020 than in 2019. Again, there is no similar increase in global mortality since World War II.
This pandemic has become a Third World War. Like the World Wars of the 20th century, it is a global struggle that is costing millions of lives per year. Like those World Wars, this one is likely to last several years. And unfortunately, like in those World Wars, there are hundreds of millions of people on both sides—both those fighting and those helping the virus, albeit not intentionally. If humanity were acting in unity against the virus, the pandemic would not have occurred. The coronavirus depends on human behavior for its spread. Millions of humans have provided that behavior, willingly and unwillingly, by actions and by omissions.
The far lower COVID death rates among so many of the countries of the Western Pacific demonstrates how people’s cooperative action can defeat the virus. In countries as different as Australia and China, Vietnam and Taiwan, the COVID mortality rate is between 40 and 4,000 times smaller than in the United States. Even in hard-hit Europe, Norway and Finland have a dozen times less mortality than the US. What these countries’ response to the virus have in common is universal mask-wearing (in some case starting back with the SARS epidemic of 2003); widespread testing; and quarantining of those testing positive—but not ill enough for hospitals– in isolated facilities, not in homes.
But in the US and much of the rest of the world, such cooperation has been lacking and the virus has spread. My own brother spent 7 weeks in a hospital battling with and recovering from the coronavirus. I know that he has been as careful as I with masking, social distancing and staying home. Yet with the high level of virus in circulation, no individual’s actions alone can provide secure protection. Only the cooperative action of hundreds of millions can. My brother was infected in mid-January because huge numbers of people had holiday parties where they spread the virus to friends and relatives. That provided the virus many more chances to leak past the masks of everyone else.
Having a holiday party in the midst of the pandemic is like picnicking in a London park during a WW II bombing raid–perhaps a bit worse, since such a mythical picnic-in-the-Blitz would have only endangered those picnicking, while the holiday parties spread the virus to many others. Such behavior led to hundreds of thousands of deaths—Ivy’s father among them.
The ideas responsible for the widespread pro-virus behavior are varied. At the worst, the idea that vulnerability to the virus connotes weakness, that masks undermine masculinity, converges on the ideology of the Strong dominating the Weak that was part of the core of the fascist ideology fought in the last World War. More broadly, the actions of many of those spreading the virus are symptoms of what can be called the epidemic of MeFirst-ism, the pernicious lie that “freedom” means putting the individual above and in conflict with the community. But probably the most widespread reason of all is simple denial– that very common, but very dangerous, human reaction to terror. It is the idea that the pandemic is just “too bad to be true”, that nothing that scary can really be happening. Plagues, after all, belong in the history books, not on the streets, right?
And, of course there are millions of people who spread the virus against their will—because they can’t get adequate masks, or their employer does not allow suitable safety measures, or they live in overcrowded housing that prevents them from self-quarantining. Here, the problem is that the political choices at a governmental level prevent people from effectively fighting the virus even when they fully want to. It was also earlier political choices that reduced the size and capability of the health systems in the US and elsewhere, removing the reserve capacity that would have made them able to cope with emergencies.
Right now, with the huge holiday peak passing, the virus is declining in most places, although not in all. Vaccinations are beginning, although slowly. So why is it still more likely than not that this War will last for years more? The problem is the high rate of evolution of the virus. Viruses can mutate rapidly by swapping whole chunks of genetic material with other viruses while they are infecting a single cell. This allows useful mutations to spread swiftly. The rate of evolution is just proportional to the number of people infected at any given time, –and thus to the number of viruses replicating.
In a matter of months, the coronavirus has developed more than four major mutations that help it to spread faster—the British, South African, Brazilian, and possibly Californian variants. This shows that it is evolving about 10,00 times faster than SARS did in 2003—which corresponds to the 10,000 more times infected people that there are now than there were 18 years ago. Against these new variants, the existing vaccines are less effective, although not wholly ineffective.
The real danger is that the slow and highly unequal roll-out of vaccinations will create ideal conditions for the virus to evolve a resistance to the vaccines. If everyone in the world were rapidly vaccinated, the virus population would drop rapidly, its ability to evolve would drop and it would enter a downwards spiral. But on the present course, vaccinations will be concentrated in the industrialized countries, while little will be done in the rest of the world. That means the virus will have a huge evolutionary pressure to evolve ways to evade the vaccines, but at the same time will have tens of millions of infected people in the non-industrialized countries to enable rapid evolution of new variants. In that situation, vaccines will likely become obsolete and the virus will return to vaccinated regions. As well, the new variants, in becoming more contagious, may also as a side effect become more deadly. It is this process that threatens to turn the pandemic into a long Virus War.
If the virus’ evolution is given time by human lack of cooperation, it may also evolve ways to evade the basic test-and-quarantine process that has kept the Western Pacific countries relatively safe. A faster spread from asymptomatic individuals could enable the virus to infect on average more than one other person even before an infected individual is quarantined.
In this situation, none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.
The virus feeds on human inequality of income and wealth. Those in overcrowded housing, who must work in-person jobs with inadequate protection, who have the least access to healthcare, are the most vulnerable to the disease. This coronavirus arose out of a global process of highly uneven development that has forced the poorest rural inhabitants to seek income from hunting wild animals to feed a luxury market. Urbanization globally has paved the way of virus spread by easing the mixing of rural and urban populations, but only because the slow pace of development and growing inequality have simultaneously forced rural populations into previously wild environments. The disruption of these environments, researchers have documented, have led to the exponential rise of new infections flowing from animals to humans.
The present pandemic threatens to greatly accelerate this trend. While the coronavirus arose from a limited population of bats in China, it now can retreat into multiple animal reservoirs scattered around the world to continue evolving even when the human pandemic ends. As WHO officials have warned, future outbreaks are likely to be even more contagious and more deadly, as the virus benefits from the evolutionary advances that occur during this pandemic.
Coronavirus of course lack a nervous system. They are so tiny and simple that a single human brain outweighs all the coronaviruses in the world put together. But the evolutionary process gives the viruses the ability to cooperate with one another by exchanging genetic material, “learning” from each other the best ways to attack human immune systems. Evolution thus makes the viruses act as if they possessed a collective intelligence, an ability to change their collective behavior in the face of changing circumstances.
The greater the scope of pandemics, the more this “intelligence” increases and the more danger that humanity will lose this Virus World War. Losing would mean slipping into a prolonged period of rising mortality rates, decreasing life expectancy, falling population and living standards—a new Dark Age.
Humanity, which has the potential to harness in myriad social, technological and governmental networks the collective intelligence of seven billion immensely complex brains, has so far managed to be collectively less intelligent than the viruses. To win this War, we must change this—we must cooperate with each other more effectively than the viruses do.
There is no real debate among public health and epidemiology experts of what needs to be done—what is lacking is the WWII-scale mobilization to do it. We still have a chance—no more than that—to end this pandemic in 2021, but we have to start cooperating on a massive scale to do it. We only have between now and the next resurgence by no later than October.
As soldiers in this global War, we can slow the virus down simply by avoiding all indoor parties of any kind, and observing masking and social distancing everywhere outside of home. Everything else will require coordination of a governmental, indeed on a global level. We can all let our government officials know that we support the most massive mobilization to accomplish the following immediate goals:
Universal testing of everyone on a frequent basis (probably twice weekly) to find infections in their earliest stages. New home-testing technologies should make this practical for all.
Quarantine of all infected people in comfortable isolated facilities and immediate treatment of all who are symptomatic.
Mobilization by the government of all industrial facilities, including defense facilities, to build in the next few months the new vaccine factories that are needed to produce billions of doses per month. If China can build a hospital in 6 days, the US can certainly build massive new factories in a few months.
Coordination among all major industrialized countries to provide free vaccinations to the entire world population, concentrating on those most endangered first, but covering everyone. Vaccine nationalism will benefit only the virus.
Massive government research projects to develop new vaccines, new treatments and new physical technologies, like far-UV lights, to combat the virus. We need massive research to treat the tens of millions suffering long-term after-effects. Research must be shared openly, not restricted competitively. Technology developed by public funding must be public property.
Unfortunately, even if such programs are implemented on the needed scale this year, the best realistic result is to force the viruses to retreat to their now-numerous animal hosts. There, evolution will make new and more fearsome outbreaks inevitable. As the World Health Organization emphasizes, only a global “One Health” program that transforms human interactions with both wild and domestic animals can curb the pandemic cycle.
The key to finally winning the war is rapid urbanization. The concentration of the human population in cities, the withdrawal from remaining wild areas, and the global modernization of animal husbandry that universal urbanization could make possible will lead to the elimination of pandemics. While pandemics can cut like a scythe though the crowded streets of New York or Paris, they can’t originate there. Lifting world urbanization from the present level of 55% to the 80% characteristic of the industrialized nations is what is required.
To greatly accelerate urbanization requires an expansion of housing, transportation, education, and health facilities on a global scale. This can’t be done with fossil fuels. In addition to their deadly air pollution, fossil fuels are draining the trillions of dollars needed for development from the world economy. The current rise in the price of oil above the pre-pandemic level, despite a large drop in demand, shows that this financial drain will only accelerate as long as there is no alternative to fossil.
This is where fusion energy is vital. Fusion can’t help in 2021 to win the immediate battle with COVID. But to win the longer war, fusion could provide by the end of this decade the rapid increase in cheap energy that rapid urbanization requires.
Again, an enormous mobilization of resources on the scale of the last World War is needed to accelerate the transition to fusion energy. Once fusion generators are successfully developed, such a global coordinated industrial push could produce the millions of MW of new capacity needed. If the United States in the 1940’s could produce hundreds of thousands of aircraft per year, why couldn’t the US in the 2020’s produce hundreds of thousands of Focus Fusion generators?
Indeed, as soon as working fusion generators are demonstrated, they will already make possible far faster urbanization—because they will inevitably cause the price of oil and gas to plummet, freeing up trillions of dollars per year for development. As soon as it is known for certain that a cheaper source of energy will be coming on line, rapidly decreasing demand for oil, the price of oil will sink rapidly and for good.
Even before generators are working, real progress in fusion, especially achieving the goal of net energy—more energy out of a device than goes in—would bring a burst of sorely needed hope to the world.
What can you do to help develop the fusion energy generators we need to definitively win the Virus World War? Of course, in the short run we at LPPFusion need your investments. Our campaign is continuing at Wefunder. Over the medium term, we need governments to fund a Crash Program for Fusion, to develop it as rapidly as possible and then to roll out the technology with mass production. Let your elected officials know you support such a Crash Program. A first step to that crash program is the Public-Private Partnerships authorized, but not yet funded by Congress.
To win the Virus World War for good, we need to do more than Build Back Better—we need to Build Forward to Fusion!
Yours for Fusion,