Another environmental tipping point reached: the number of pollinators affects crop yields

Keskiviikko 29.7.2020 klo 18:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Scientists have warned during the recent past that insect declines may soon start limiting crop production because of ineffective pollination. Thus, the very methods meant to increase crop production, i.e. insecticide use, may start to reduce agricultural production. This being the case, it is sad that the people losing most, i.e. farmers, are 

IMG_20170826_0075.jpgmost strongly behind the insecticide-producing companies. This shows the importance of lobbying: chemical companies have been lobbying ever since the Second World War how effective agricultural production is only possible with intensive pesticide use. The scientists warning of the possible consequences have been labelled as nature conservationists, who do not understand modern agriculture. As an example of this lobbying is that there is a journal Pest Management Science, which is thought of as authority on questions of pesticide use, is peer-reviewed and is published by Wiley. The group behind this journal is the Society of Chemical Industry (Great Britain).


Recent studies have indicated that a loss of insect diversity and number of insects occur in areas with intensive agriculture. Further, dying bees have made it to headline news. However, so far there has not been conclusive studies showing that the speculations of decreased crops because of reduced pollination have become reality.

Until now! In the article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Published:29 July 2020https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.0922, “Crop production in the USA is frequently limited by a lack of pollinators”, Reilly et al. clearly show that we have reached another environmental tipping point. For crops with large number of flowers like apples, cherries and blueberries, there simply aren’t enough pollinators to enable reaching maximal yields. With decreasing numbers of bees the situation becomes worse. So, in insecticide use, we have reached a vicious circle: to get maximal agricultural production, it is said that insecticide use must be heavy. However, it causes a decrease in pollinator numbers and reduces crop production. Not really a result one would hope for..

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: insecticide; crop production, agriculture

Mass extinctions - why they matter even to people who do not care about environment?

Sunnuntai 28.6.2020 klo 20:13 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA) Caballos et al. wrote an article “Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction” (PNAS 117(24): 13596-13602, 2020). It is a clear account about how many terrestrial vertebrates are on the brink of extension. While the message of human role in extinctions is very clear, the present extinction rate being about 1000 times greater than the background rate, it is very difficult to get people who do not care of the environment to realize that it also matters to them. One of the salient points of the article is that the disappearance of one species affects the well-being of other species.

People, who don’t care of the environment, usually care about themselves. Only few people have been against Covid-19 restrictions. What they often do not realize that the Covid-19 pandemic is associated with the extinction wave. One of the biggest reasons for extinctions is the fact that increasing proportion of land goes to human use because of our population growth. As a result, the remaining wild animals come in closer contact to humans and tame animals than earlier. This increases the likelihood of animal micro-organisms reaching humans and consequently zoonosis (i.e. diseases transmitted from animals to humans). It is no wonder that the number of diseases transmitted from animals to man has drastically increased in 2000’s: MERS, SARS, Ebola, Chicken flu, Swine flu and now Covid-19. Even if one does not care about environment, one should care about one’s health.

Also people, who do not care of the environment, must eat, and they IMG_20170807_0146.jpgmay like blueberry pie. About three quarters of all our food plants require insect pollination. Currently pollinating insect populations are decreasing drastically, and the worst scenarios suggest that we cannot eat blueberry pies within 50 years, because of lack of pollination. There are two reasons for the decreasing insect populations. The first is the heavy use of insecticides, and the second the reduced land area for insect refuges (i.e. land areas, which are not in heavy agricultural or other human use). Again, the increasing human populations exert the most important pressures, and to enable sustainable agriculture, one should be able to stop population growth.

While Caballos et al. article did not consider aquatic animals, they are also suffering from extinctions. The worst scenarios suggest that overfishing causes extinction of most important commercial fish species before 2100. In addition to overfishing, aquatic pollution causes the extinctions. Thus, the problem affecting the diets of people not caring of the environment, is caused by mass extinctions.

The mass extinctions themselves are the result of growth ideology. To be able to have reasonably good life for everyone, we should be able to abolish inequality.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: land use, insecticide, agriculture, population growth

Freshwater biodiversity loss - why and steps to combat it

Maanantai 6.4.2020 klo 16:15 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Only less than 2 % of the earth’s water is fresh water. The overall percentage that humans use is over 30, but it also includes northern latitudes, where human use is only a couple of percent of the total availability. Even in those areas waters have often become polluted to such an extent that they are not suitable habitats to many organisms. Fresh water is also bountiful in tropical rainforests. However, in many arid areas, humans use more than 3/4 of all available freshwater. Recently, one has emphasized a lot that clean water for cooking and washing is close to impossible to find in many densely populated arid areas. Because of this, it has been pointed out by health experts that the advice of avoiding Covid-19 by washing your hands frequently is not plausible in many places: they have pointed out that this option is only available in rich temperate areas (and for the very rich).

Fresh water is not a limiting factor only for human health. At presIMG-20191230-WA0003.jpgent, the total biomass of humans is more than ten times greater than that of all the wild mammals, so humans are using most of the water needed also by the animals. Further, the biomass of production animals is approximately twice as large as that of humans, and much of the crop cultivation depends on irrigation. Because of this, the water flow from many rivers is diverted virtually completely to irrigation to enable plant cultivation. Another problem has been, and still is that industrial and household effluents are discharged to inland rivers with varying degrees of purifications; in several cases the effluents are not purified at all. When rivers are used for generating hydroelectric power, dams are built whereby lakes are created, and they are often a good breeding place for disease-causing organisms. Altogether, human effects on freshwater are so large that freshwater biodiversity has decreased much more than terrestrial one – already approximately a third of the freshwater species have disappeared. If no decisive actions are done against freshwater biodiversity loss, it is possible that within the present century four-fifths of it is lost.

What needs to be done? In their article “Scientists’ warning to humanity on the freshwater biodiversity crisis” in Ambio (https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-020-01318-8), Albert et al state the following: “We currently have technologies to manage and ameliorate many aspects of the freshwater biodiversity crisis—what we lack is political will.” One can hope that after the Coronavirus pandemic, one is ready to go to new directions, which address global problems. In fact, the biggest political problem is that the present nationalistic thinking makes it very difficult to address anything that crosses national boundaries – one has seen this with combatting Coronavirus. To be able to work effectively towards maintaining freshwater biodiversity, we would need to think solutions from global perspective as “United World”. The second problem is human population growth, which must be stopped, if we are to halt freshwater biodiversity loss, because if that cannot be done, food production will need any available water even if the water is used in expense of freshwater biodiversity. Compared to these major questions, other are simple. For example, the choice of cultivated plants should be done in order to get water use to sustainable level: avocados and cotton should not use up all the water. Water should not be used in order to obtain natural gas, building dams for hydroelectric power should net destroy habitats and prevent te migration of migratory species.

If we want to have sustainable development, these actions should be taken. Tey do not really carry financial burden, but require new direction in thinking.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, irrigation, hydroelectric power

Increased temperature is associated with reduced efficiency of insecticides

Sunnuntai 8.3.2020 klo 14:05 - Mikko Nikinmaa

 

When discussing Climate Change, it is often said by people in northern latitudes that an increase in temperature is only beneficial, as plant growth will increase, whereby agricultural production will increase. Even if the temperature increase will cause some parts of the world to become completely unsuitable for agricultural production, the people, who say the above, do not care, as they maintain that it doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of the world, if the situation in their neighbourhood gets better. There are, however, two reasons why a temperature increase may not increase plant production without a marked increase in the use of insecticides. Since their use already affects, in addition to harmful insects, necessary pollinators, the use of insecticides should be decreased instead of being increased. Besides, the agricultural products from northern latitudes are always marketed as containing little pesticides and other exogenous substances. If temperature increases, this is not true any more.

There are two major reasons for the need of more insecticides. First,IMG_20170803_0038.jpg and this is virtually always mentioned, when the upsides and downsides of temperature increase to agricultural production in northern latitudes are discussed, the number of pest species increases and their populations become stronger. To be able to kill the harmful insects, more spraying of poisons is needed. In fact, one can think of severe winters as effective insecticides, they limit the growth of most pests. Second, and this is seldom considered, the insecticide concentration needed to kill the animal usually increases with increasing temperature. There are a couple of possible reasons for these. The most likely one is that the insecticide is detoxified more rapidly at high than at low temperature: the activity of all the detoxification enzymes increases with temperature. Also the excretion of insecticides is speeded up.  It appears that the neurobiological toxic actions are affected less than detoxification and excretion, because it is probable that also the toxic effects will be increased wit temperature. However, if the toxic action is increased less than detoxification and excretion, the overall effect is that more insecticide is needed for the same effect.

Notably, although the available results suggest that the insecticide concentration needed for a given toxic effect increases with temperature, interactions between abiotic environmental changes like Climate Change and environmental pollutants have been inadequately studied. For this reason our understanding of what causes the reduced effect of insecticides at higher temperature is deficient.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, pesticide, agriculture

Overuse of the Earth is the Problem: Climate Change is just a Symptom

Perjantai 1.11.2019 klo 18:38 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change is a question that has filled the media because of its potential effects on all aspects of life on the Earth. In the coverage of climate change, it has become THE PROBLEM. If we can solve it, life can continue with small disturbances. In view of this, different technological solutions to combat carbon dioxide increase have been offered. Mainly they concentrate on stopping the use of fossil fuels, changing the food preferences, removing carbon dioxide from the air and stopping overconsumption. The good neIMG_20170801_0087.jpgws is that there are technological and societal solutions for stopping climate change without a need for drastic changes in everyday life – it only needs some adjustments. The worrisome problem is that there appears no sign of change in attitudes of economic leaders. In the recent report of World Economic Forum environmental questions were not even mentioned as factors to be taken into account, when considering economic development.

The bad news is that even if the presently gravest symptom of Earth’s overuse, the climate change, can be stopped as a result of technological advancements, that does not stop the real problem: the overuse of Earth. There are two major components of this, population growth and consumption growth. Population growth demands more food production, and the increasing population in the presently poor areas will want to improve their living standards closer to, e.g., Europe. However, the food production with present agricultural methods has decreased the fertile soil by 50-70 %. Also, the present type of food production requires insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. Already with the present population the pesticide use causes decrease of beneficial insect populations, which are required for the growth of berries, fruits and many oil-producing plants. So one would need to revert to environmentally friendly agricultural production. The problem is that consequently the production will decrease and will be unable to feed the presently increasing population. Because the fertility of land decreases, also new areas need to be taken to agriculture. This is difficult, since most of arable land is already in use. The increasing population also needs more space, and consequently habitation takes agricultural land and forest. As a result biodiversity decreases.

With regard to consumption, it is difficult to decrease environmental pollution even if recycling and water treatment technologies are effective. There are always people, who do not follow good practises, and developing areas do not see the treatment of wastes and water purification as priorities. Consequently, environmental pollution continues to increase throughout the world. Both aquatic and terrestrial organisms will be affected.

Thus, one can say that even if there were no climate change, other drastic symptoms of Earth’s overuse would be in the news. The basic problem is that limitless growth is the basis of economy in a planet which clearly has limits.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity, environmental pollution, population growth, agriculture

Agricultural land use: unvegetated fields result in both erosion and carbon dioxide liberation

Sunnuntai 20.10.2019 klo 19:34 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The usual way of producing agricultural products: crops, potatoes, vegetables etc., is to plough and harrow the land and use artificial fertilizers. This leaves the land uncovered by plants for a long period of time, which leaves the soil vulnerable: rain and wind can remove organic material, and the fertility of soil decreases. The major reason for soil fertility is the organic material of soil, which recovers after cultivation, if the land remains covered with plants for a long period of time. However, the present agricultural practises do not allow adequate time for soil recovery, even though in principle the land fertility is a renewable resource. The land erosion results in decreased food production to increasing human population, and the need to clear forest to food production.

The decreased land fertility is not the only problem. The plant/grass-covered soil contains  huge amount of organic carbon, which is liberated as carbon dioxide when the soil is ploughed and harrowed, and the soil is without vegetation. The most pronounced carbo dioxide liberation occurs, when bog/marsh soil is dried. This increases respiration, i.e. carbon dioxide production, of soil (micro)organisms. This is particularly worrisome in Finland, as marshes have been dried to farmland, and as peat is extracted for energy production. Both cause disproportionate liberation of greenhouse gases, in fact, energy production using peat is climatewise worse than using coal.

This actually brings about the fact that if cattle is reared so that the animals feed out on grassland, the climate effect of cattle-based  products is much smaller than if the animals do not feed out on grass.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, cattle, food production, peat

From cotton to more eco-friendly clothing

Keskiviikko 3.10.2018 klo 20:10 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Kuva, joka sisältää kohteen puu, ulko

Kuvaus luotu, erittäin korkea luotettavuusCotton is undoubtedly the least sustainable agricultural product. Yet, cotton clothing is used by everyone. The dark sides of cotton cultivation are many. Cotton fields cover large areas of arid landscape and virtually all the water and land are used for producing cotton instead of food in countries, where people are starving. It would not really matter, if the income from cotton sales came to the starving people enabling them to buy food. Unfortunately, this is not the case: typically the income from producing cotton goes to foreign companies or to rich land-owners. Cotton cultivation can be considered to be a reason for the African immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to come to rich Europe. Most cotton these days is from gene modified plants. And even people strongly resisting GMOs have GMO cotton clothing. Copious amounts of insecticides and other pesticides are used in cotton fields. Cotton cultivation with its high pesticide usage can be considered as being one reason in the possible decline of insect populations -there is yet no insecticide which would kill only the harmful ones but leave, e.g., the beneficial pollinators intact. In addition to insects, it has been supposed that the heavy insecticide use is the cause of death of millions of birs: birds eat insecticide-affected insects, and get enough poison to be affected, so that their likelihood of death directly because of poisoning or indirectly because of the insecticide-induced alterations in behaviour. There are also reports of much declining bird populations, and the insecticide use of cotton cultivation is a likely contributor to them.

So what kind of material should sustainably produced clothing be made of? After all, we need clothing. Artificial fibres are not an option, since they are normally oil-based, and can be said to contribute to the (micro)plastics problem. That leaves wood fibres. Earlier on their use has not been considered environmentally friendly, because of toxic chemicals, which were needed for making wood fibres suitable for cloth-making. However, the new methods for producing cloth using wood fibre does not require toxic chemicals, and the process can be considered almost fully closed, i.e. virtually no effluents are produced before the final product is in the hands of consumers. The first pilot factories producing cloth from wood with the new methodology are being taken to use. So, compared with cotton: agricultural land is returned to food production, no pesticides are used – thus, the eco-friendly solution, clothing from wood fibre. In the beginning the wood-cloth is probably more expensive than cotton, but regardless should be used by anybody preaching sustainable way of life.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: pesticide use, cloth production, sustainable agriculture

Water Use

Torstai 24.5.2018 klo 11:13

We have heard the news about water in Cape Town area being close to finis, about droughts and wildfires in California, Australia, Portugan etc. We have also heard predictions that climate change causes droughts in many new areas.

Because of these news about too little water in many parts of the world, people in Scandinavia, Germany, U.K. etc. are accused of using unnecessarily big amount of water per day. But hey, it rains a lot in all of those countries normally, and the water use by agriculture and people does not normally lead to shortage of water. I do not understand why people should feel guilty about using a commodity, which is not diminished by use. It is more or less the same as saying: "Since there are people, who are starving in the world, you shall also starve."

The situation is different in places, where water use is greater than water supply. It has been estimated that e.g. in California water use is 8-10 times greater than its yearly supply. Because of irrigation in agriculture, the Dead Sea is rapidly losing its water. The excessive water use presently generates problems in Australia, Texas, Mediterranean countries etc. The common problem in those places is that people are using the water as they would in places, where it is plentiful. In those areas one should, e.g., cultivate plants, which need little water. Israel is, for example, producing a lot of avocados, which is a very water-needing plant. That does not really fit together with drying Dead Sea. Also, innovations to replace WCs (even in urban areas) are urgently needed in dry places.

In conclusion, water-saving solutions should be made in areas having water shortage, but people in North-West Europe can use copious amounts of water in good conscience - the availability of water in South Sudan does not increase if a person saves water by not taking a shower in Turku.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: agriculture, groundwater, climate change

Unpredictable Weather - a Major Problem

Maanantai 2.4.2018 klo 19:29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

For the past 10000 years the world's climate has been quite stable. This has enabled the cultures to develop. The rains have normally come in time for growing crops, dry periods have enabled harvesting, predictabe winds made long-distance sailing possible. Cold spells and snow have been necessary for winter sports etc. Although we are now waiting and waiting for the spring to break out, the long cold spell in  Northern Europe  is just another indication of climate change. The polar cold doesn't come down to lower latitudes where it has always come. While Helsinki is shivering,  it has never been as warm in Greenland as this year. Also different storms have been more severe and unpredictable in the last years than earlier. The droughts and rain come and go at surprising times causing havoc: floods and wildfires occur with increasing frequency. The predictability of weather has been necessary for effective food production. If we are now losing that, can the large human population avoid starvation?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, food production