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