News roundup for Tue, May 24, 2022

In short:
  • Why we think that the US does not need to worry too much right now about a nuclear strike from Russia
  • The monkeypox outbreak is being investigated. The risk to the global population is supposed to be low for now but could rise in the summer
  • Tonnes of baby formula have arrived in the US
Ukraine & the risk of Russian nukes

Even though the initial public fear has calmed down, I’m still getting lots of questions about whether the risk of nuclear war is real, how much to worry about it, etc.

Based on what I keep seeing from experts, there just isn’t much to justify worrying. Yes, the risks are higher than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine. But the risk is still relatively low. And it’s mostly focused on smaller “battlefield” nukes that will cause local harm — not the kind of world-ending Cold-War-style exchange you might be imagining.

Some reasons and research:

  • Russia has a proven history of making nuclear threats but never following up with them.
  • The Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security recently said that the US sees no signs so far that Russia has taken concrete steps toward deploying nuclear weapons.
  • The CIA director agrees, stressing that the intelligence community has seen “no practical evidence” of Russia taking steps towards nukes. But, of course, they still advise caution.
  • This sentiment is shared by Pyotr Topychkanov, (Associate Sr Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Sr Researcher at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences), who recently wrote “speculation that Russia could commit a nuclear strike is not based on real-world data.” and that “Russia continues to refer to the fighting in Ukraine as a special military operation. This status does not imply a general mobilization and it signals that, from Russia’s perspective, there is no legal basis for the use of nuclear weapons. As long as it remains a special operation, for Russia it is a local conflict with limited objectives and moderate risks.”
  • The Center for European Policy Analysis believes that even if Putin feels backed into a corner / as if he’s failing to achieve his Ukraine objectives, he won’t respond by nuking, but will instead seek success elsewhere (Moldova? The Baltics?) and keep employing political warfare, assuming he’s not deposed by that point.
  • Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, chair of strategic studies at CEPA, said that “we have exaggerated the threat of the Kremlin using nuclear weapons and have made some policy decisions based on that exaggerated fear.”
  • Retired U.S. Army Col. Sam Gardiner, a war games expert at the Naval War College and leading authority on military simulation, explains that even if nuclear weapons are deployed, they will likely be smaller “tactical” nukes that cause localized destruction. Certainly bad for the people of Ukraine and neighboring down-wind countries (where fallout could still be a problem), but not the immediate start of WW3 some fear.
  • The “smaller nukes” idea reconciles with Putin’s past behavior. For example, he’s the one who rewrote Kremlin policy about a decade ago to state “yes, it’s possible to win a nuclear war if you use small nukes on specific targets.”
  • If NATO were to respond, it probably won’t be with nukes of any size — after all, NATO wants to deescalate and avoid a MAD scenario. Obviously the response will be more proportional and serious if Russia were to nuke NATO land.
  • Decent FAQs and factsheets from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

For sake of counterargument: Senator Mitt Romney penned a recent New York Times op-ed about why we should fear Russia’s ‘worst weapons.’

Unusual monkeypox outbreak

A monkeypox outbreak is worrying people and health officials in Europe, Canada, the US, and Australia. But the messaging out there is conflicting: some call for a high alert status, while others say there’s no reason to panic. Monkeypox is not considered a highly-transmissible disease, but this outbreak is unusual because the virus is spreading in countries where monkeypox is not endemic, such extensive person-to-person spread is not normal, and there is worry about undetected community spread. No deaths have been reported so far.

Monkeypox is usually transmitted by: heavy droplets, close contact, and fomites (infected objects, including clothing, bedding, and towels, as an example), but the CDC warns that airborne transmission is possible, too. It is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be passed during sex via skin-to-skin contact. It incubates for about one to two weeks and people without symptoms are not considered infectious. Symptoms are fever, achy muscles, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, and a rash. The rash begins as flat spots that turn into a bump, which then fills with fluid. The bumps crust and fall off as they heal.

The death rate of this strain seems to be 1%, but people usually recover within two to four weeks without the need for hospitalization although children are more at risk of severe disease and death. Whoever got a smallpox vaccine in the past is considered immune (although that immunity could be waning by now), but no one in the US has been vaccinated against it since ’72 (which could also explain why it would spread much more easily now). WHO worries the spread could accelerate during the summer months at festivals, concerts, or large gatherings. The US has a stockpile of vaccines available for those at risk, and there are effective smallpox antivirals that can be used against monkeypox.

How can you prepare for this:

  • Don’t panic, but be cautious.
  • Avoid contact with bedding and other materials contaminated with the virus.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after coming into contact with an infected animal, person, or object.
  • Avoid contact with people who may be infected with the virus.
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) when caring for people infected with the virus.
  • And if the virus is also airborne, masking and social distancing should work. Considering that Covid is on the rise again, it’s not a bad idea to mask up again anyway. Just remember that if you are the only person wearing a mask, you’d rather wear a respirator instead.

We’ll keep an eye on this and when more details emerge, we’ll update our recommendations. Below’s a monkeypox tracker regularly updated:

Food security

About 500,000 bottles worth of baby formula has arrived from Europe. More shipments should follow soon:

In the meantime, NYC’s mayor declared a state of emergency to prevent price gouging. Here are more tips about what to do if you’re short of formula.

Demand for food bank help in the US and Canada is at a pandemic high.

Indonesia will lift its palm oil export ban.


NERC warns of unexpected tripping of solar, cybersecurity threats, supply chain issues, and the potential for disruptive wildfires this summer.

Energy industry execs are indeed expecting an increase in cyberattacks over the next two years. 84% of energy executives expect that cyberattacks will lead to physical damage to energy assets.

Scientists just broke the record for the highest efficiency solar cell.

Earth’s radiant infrared heat can be used to generate electricity at night.


Four of the seven major climate indicators set “alarming” new records in 2021, the UN says. Greenhouse gas concentrations, sea-level rise, ocean heat levels, and acidification, all set new records in 2021.

Speaking of climate indicators (not as destructive as what the UN report found): Kyoto’s cherry blossoms are blooming earlier because of climate change. Last year, Kyoto’s cherry blossoms bloomed by 26 March, the earliest seen in more than 1,000 years of recorded history.

What progress has been made since Cop26?

The rest

Where’s the best place for me to retire? An interactive tool to decide where to retire which includes climate risks.

Starlink is war-proof:

Speaking of Starlink, Musk is striking a deal with Brazil to connect 19,000 remote schools in the Amazon and help monitor illegal logging.

Back in January, a girl on an island east of Siberia survived a blizzard by hugging a stray dog for 18 hours. The storm caught her while she was playing outside. Fortunately, she was already dressed for the weather and temperatures were actually a “reasonably moderate” minus 5 C (23 F).

Here’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Online Anonymity.


    • Bill Masen

      Interesting article on the risks of trying to go 100% organic and chemical / pesticide free on a large scale.   Sri Lanka banned chemicals and fertilisers in an effort to cut down on water pollution. The results have been disastrous.

      How the world’s first all-organic farming nation has led to hunger, riots and economic ruin in Sri Lanka… The consequences have been nothing short of catastrophic, writes TOM LEONARD

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    • Bill Masen

      Hah, Russia has been threatening nuclear strikes on the UK since the late 1960s, They keep forgetting that the UK alone never mind the rest of NATOs response would be equally devastating to Russia. ESPECIALLY today as our modern weapons are not only stealthy, but also 50 times more accurate. Still prudent to prep though because I do think Putin is nutty enough to use Battlefield nukes in Ukraine.

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    • Bill Masen

      Could be problems up around your great Lakes this summer. Just something else to worry about

      Renewable energy dependence could lead to rolling blackouts in Michigan this summer.

      Electrical-grid operators are warning Michigan residents that blackouts could be needed during the hot summer months, with a hurried changeover to renewable energy sources at the forefront of the issue.

      “Our leaders need to be real cognizant of the day-to-day impact,” Joe Trotter, the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, said of switching to renewable energy when reached by Fox News. “It’s great to look at the future, but the present has a huge impact on their constituencies.”

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    • Karl Winterling

      To my knowledge, people including Putin and Lavrov have:

      • Made nuclear threats or speculated about WWIII before the war in Ukraine.
      • Specifically claimed that kicking Russian banks off SWIFT would trigger WWIII. Well, Russian banks got kicked off of SWIFT.
      • Said that the End Of The World (EOTW) is unacceptable to Russia.

      Romney is extremely smart and has a lot of experience in business and government but he isn’t an expert in arms control or brinkmanship (brinkpersonship?) in general.

      A lot of scenarios still more or less reduce to MAD. Go pet a cat or talk to people at the farmer’s market (since we’re taking more social interaction outdoors).

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      • Eric Karl Winterling

        Brinkmanship in this situation must come primarily from the president, and that is definitely happening. The best thing Romney can do in this situation is express solidarity, courage, and confidence in the face of Putin’s threats. In this article he does all of these admirably. The policy proposals are not the focus – they are just a way of making those feelings more concrete.

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      • Karl Winterling Eric

        I agree that Romney expresses confidence and outlines what the US could do to help increase the probability that MAD will still apply in the current situation.

        The op-ed makes more sense if you view it through that lens rather than Romney necessarily making predictions about the future.

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    • brekke

      @Carlotta – Can Friday’s report contain information on active shooter preparedness for both adults and school children? My heart is breaking right now and I feel so powerless to keep my children safe from this f**ked world. 😥

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      • Carlotta SusannaStaff brekke

        Today’s news is horrible. I’ll mention it in the next roundup with tips and links on what to do in these situations.

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      • Bill Masen brekke

        My deepest sympathies to y’all in the US over this latest tragedy, I can offer nothing else, over here we have to many kids being stabbed to death, but nothing in comparison to the infanticide in parts of the US.

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    • Karl Winterling

      I decided to move my post about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to the forum because it’s about a fairly special-interest issue that’s tangential to what’s usually discussed in the news blog.

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    • Amy S.

      Regarding food security:

      Screen Shot 2022-05-25 at 9.30.16 PM

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      • Karl Winterling Amy S.

        She mentions elsewhere on her Twitter that yesterday (May 25) was the last day for farmers in North Dakota to buy crop insurance for the current planting season. It’s going to be an interesting year. Good to have some insulation from higher prices.

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