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Kevin Killough

Kevin Killough: Following The Science Means Acknowledging Lockdowns Were Ineffective

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Guest column by Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune

It’s been said that we should “believe the science.”

It’s a misguided statement that says science is a set of beliefs that we have a moral obligation to accept. That’s not science. It’s religion. Everyone has a right to worship as they please, but it’s good practice to separate church and state. 

Science is a tool by which we understand the facts of reality, which are true. It is perhaps one of the best tools we developed for that job, but to say “believe the science” is like saying “believe the crescent wrench.” 

When science becomes dogma and that dogma informs policy, its value as a tool to assess the facts of reality vanishes, and there’s no better example of that than how we managed the pandemic. 

“Two weeks to flatten the curve,” was the chant early in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was fresh and the future uncertain. For those first few weeks, people were compliant with the directives to hunker down and stay safe, even here in Wyoming. 

By the end of the year, Wyoming had few statewide or local restrictions remaining, leaving people to decide what steps to take for their own safety. Other states, such as Florida and Texas, also abandoned heavy handed government restrictions earlier than other states and those governors were accused of murdering people. 

Now two years after “two weeks to flatten the curve,” people across the globe have become far less willing to surrender their economic and social wellbeing in the name of public health. A nationwide trucker convoy in Canada protesting vaccine mandates and other government restrictions descended on the nation’s capital of Ottawa, and there have been many protests throughout Europe, where lockdowns have been prescribed in response to the Omicron variant. 

While lockdown proponents often label lockdown protesters as anti-science, there never was much science supporting the claim that lockdowns are an effective pandemic measure. Two years later, the science is showing they were a huge waste. 

Aside from conservative leaning publications like Fox News, the national media have largely ignored a recent study by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. The study found lockdowns “only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average” and that there’s “no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality.” 

Published in January in the Studies in Applied Economics, the metaanalysis of 24 studies defined lockdowns as “the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI). NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict [sic] peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel.”

Extreme efforts such as “shelter in place” orders, which restrict people entirely to their homes except for the most basic necessities, reduced COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average, the study found. The study did find “some evidence” that closing bars reduced deaths. 

A significant body of research shows that such approaches are also likely ineffective at stemming the spread of the disease. On its website, the American Institute of Economic Research keeps a list of 35 peer-reviewed studies that have concluded these policies don’t work or were not effective enough to justify the economic and social costs, which are astoundingly high. 

It’s important to note these studies don’t explore the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing mortality, which is well documented.

Despite the moral certainty some invest in mask mandates, the evidence of their effectiveness at reducing transmission is pretty murky. However, many of these mandates remain in place. So, for example, flying is much more unpleasant than it needs to be and kids in some states are just now getting to enjoy mask-free childhoods. 

Many of us would be happy to not see another pandemic in our lifetimes, but it would not be surprising if that did happen, people who love the theater of crisis will practically beg to be locked down again and insist anyone who objects are heretics who need to “follow the science.” 

One of the key lessons from the pandemic is that politicized science is glaringly unreliable, and when that happens, questioning experts is not inherently anti-science. 

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Kevin Killough: Renewable Energy Can’t Suspend The Laws Of Physics

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By Kevin Killough, guest column

During the heat waves this summer, Californians found themselves roasting in the dark when rolling blackouts left hundreds of thousands of residents without power. 

While the causes continue to be debated, some energy experts believe the state’s decade-long efforts to replace coal, nuclear and gas-powered plants with solar and wind was the main culprit.

As air conditioners sucked up power, there wasn’t enough wind or sunshine to power California’s wind and solar plants, nor was there enough energy from fossil fuel and nuclear plants to fill the void. 

While California’s renewable energy program has been especially ambitious, there’s a nationwide push toward wind and solar.

Hoping to tap into this demand and diversify Wyoming’s economy, wind and solar projects have been springing up here in the state. Park County recently approved special use permits for two proposed 20-megawatt solar facilities southwest of Frannie.

Renewable energy proponents are quick to point out how the price of wind and solar has become so low that it can now compete on the market with coal and natural gas.

Yet, 84% of the world’s energy still comes from fossil fuels — down from 87% two decades ago — and 2% comes from wind and solar. If energy from renewables is so cheap, why isn’t it dominating the market?  

Here’s the argument against renewables.  When the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, these technologies produce exactly zero megawatts. Typically, wind and solar plants, averaged over a year, produce energy less than 30% of the time. For comparison, a nuclear plant produces power over 90% of the time. 

Intermittent electricity from wind and solar requires reliable backup to provide power when demand exceeds supply, a situation faced on a regular basis with renewables.

Most often that means tapping into coal, nuclear, and natural gas plants. Renewable energy proponents argue that we can close those down and rely on massive battery storage to store up energy during times when there’s too much wind and sun, so that it can be used when there’s not enough. This is where the positive economics of wind and solar collapse. 

Tesla’s Gigafactory, which is the world’s largest battery factory, stores up enough energy to supply the U.S. with enough power for about three minutes. Compare that to the nation’s oil reserves, which would meet demand for about two months. 

The total cost to store a barrel of oil or equivalent of natural gas for two months is less than $1. Storing the barrel-equivalent in coal is even cheaper. To store the same amount with batteries is roughly $200. This is why barges crossing the ocean are transporting barrels of oil rather than batteries full of stored solar energy from the Sahara Desert. Battery storage just isn’t economical. 

Renewable energy proponents argue that the industry is constantly innovating — “If we can put a man on the moon …,” they say. But here’s reasons to be skeptical. Those 10-fold increases in efficiency that wind and solar have seen in the past couple decades are running up against the limits of physics, which means future increases are projected to be much smaller.

Expecting more is a lot like insisting we can visit other galaxies with rocket-powered ships. Rockets will never achieve the faster than light speeds necessary for intergalactic travel, and no amount of government subsidies will ever change that.   

In a 2019 report, Mark P. Mills, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, outlined what it would take to replace the U.S. grid with non-hydrocarbon electricity by 2050, as many targets aspire to do.

The U.S. grid construction program would have to be 14 times larger than the grid build-out rate that has taken place over the past 50 years, and that wouldn’t include non-electric sectors — such as the combines that harvest crops. 

“Transforming the energy economy is not like putting a few people on the moon a few times. It is like putting all of humanity on the moon — permanently,” Mills wrote in the report. 

This is not to dismiss wind and solar altogether. No one can predict future technologies.

If we develop a superconductor that works at room temperature, for example, we would indeed have batteries more efficient than barrels of oil. At that point, wind and solar as replacements for fossil fuels and nuclear would become entirely possible.

Until a super efficient storage system becomes a reality, Wyoming might not want to expect wind and solar to provide long-term economic diversification. 

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