Our Planet

Lauantai 11.5.2019 klo 18:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Our Planet documentary series by David Attenborough in Netflix (www.ourplanet.com) is incredibly good, and will probably be the most popular pro-environment series that has recently been published. When watching it a couple of things must be remembered. Although climate change is of a huge concern, the short-term solutions alleviating it will not solve the basic problem, which is our overuse of the planet. Climate change is just one symptom stemming from the facts that there are too many people who are overusing Earth's resources. In November 2, 2018 I wrote a blog, where pictures of human population change and the increase of world's carbon dioxide were side by side. And they could be superimposed. Further, although it could be possible to severe the link between human population and carbon dioxide production in the short term, the vicious circle between population growth, resource overuse, pollution and climate change still exists in longer term because of the following.

Human population needs to be fed. The intensive agriculture with artificial fertilization and pesticide use has increased the agricultural production per hectare to 5-10 times the crops obtained before "industrial" agriculture. It has been estimated that without the use if artificial fertilization and pesticides the maximal size of human population would be 2-3 billion. However, Nature presently strikes back. Fertilization pollutes our waters, pesticides kill pollinators and the microalgae of the seas. The results arte that aquatic pollution is decreasing the ability of algae to photosynthetize. The aquatic algae have contributed to 50 of the carbon dioxide sinks of the world. Now it is estimated that carbon dioxide fixation by them has decreased by 20 %. Aquatic pollution thus drives climate change.

Pollinating insects die as a result of insecticide use. Since about 2/3 of all the food plants need pollination by insects, this as such reduces the possibilities of increasing agricuDSC00354.JPGltural production by increased insecticide use. As the productivity per hectare cannot be increased, more people means that forests must be cut to obtain agricultural land. At the same time old agricultural land is becoming infertile, and changes in precipitation aggravate the problem. Cutting the forests causes biodiversity loss and since forests are more effective carbon dioxide sinks than agricultural lands, aggravates climate change.

Apart from cutting rainforests, the most pronounced biodiversity losses are caused by overfishing. Most fisheries at the moment are unsustainable, and aquaculture does not help the situation, as most of the fish feed is made from fish. So, the only change that happens is that for human food less preferred species are caught. An additional problem with aquaculture is the use of antibiotics and pesticides, which affect marine life and be one component of generating antibiotic resistance in the environment.

Besides the decrease of marine biodiversity, especially the large amount of plastic waste in the oceans is an anthropogenic problem. Here an important step forward was taken a day or two ago, whem most countries in the world agreed that plastic waste may not be exported. This will generate national recycling of plastics. Notably, Trump's USA did not sign the agreement. The present government of the USA has been very consequent in the anti-environment actions, opposing any actions which could be seen as trying to improve the state of environment. The US government after Trump will have much to do to reverse the anti-environmental actions of the present government.

If it weren't for plastics, it is likely that there would be other tash all over the place. Different materials, which could be recycled are just thrown away. For example, much of the metals could be reused which would much reduce the need for mining and theeby overuse of world's resources. 

In conclusion, we would need to find ways both to decrease the human population and the amount of energy and resources used by a unit human. Changes in the first pertain especially to developing countries and in the second to inhabitants of traditional industrialized countries. One cannot think in terms "we will do nothing unless the others do their share", because that is a certain way to go to catastroph.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity, climate change, environmental pollution, economic growth, sustainability

We don't have a plan B

Sunnuntai 24.3.2019 klo 19:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

We need to live in this planet. There is no alternative universe, where we can jump to if we overuse the resources of Earth. Although climate change is the single topic that has caught general attention, it is no more than a symptom of the general sickness of Gaia. There are several other symptoms that will also unattended make life problematic.

In all of this, the major problem is that the decision makers were young in the world that didn't have any of the environmental problems, which the teenagers today are faced with. A week ago schoolchildren around the world demonstrated against climate change. Not surprisingly a lot of people in my generation said that they are just taking time off school. Their thinking is not idealistic or important. - People completely forget when saying this that when we were young, we demonstrated against Vietnam War, were worried about population growth and chained ourselves to dredging machines, which were spoiling lakes for economical land use. In fact, many of the problems associated with climate change would not be acute, if we had, in addition to demonstrating, used our working life to solve the environmental questions.

The major problems are the large world population, and the very uneven distribution of wealth in the world. Together these generate much of the refugee problem, which cannot be solved by closing our borders, building walls, and decreasing foreign aid. On the contrary, increasing foreign aid is the only possible solution. People would not move to rich countries, if life in their living place were tolarable. Also, schooling of women is by far the most effective way of decreasing population growth. Further, we in the rich North lived quite happily 50 years ago, when our standard of living was only a fraction of what it is today.

This partial solution requires that we, the generation in power, stop thinking in the old ways, and admit that one has to do things that cost. We cannot keep taking from our children's well-being to be able to go towards a crash in first class.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, resource utilization, biodiversity, population growth

Feeding people - Agricultural practises and land use

Lauantai 19.1.2019 klo 12:20 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Ohdake.jpgOut of the world's area, 71 % is sea and 29 % land (including inland water). Out of this 29 %, about 71 % is habitable. About 50 % of this habitable area is used for agriculture: the area is much larger than that occupied by real forests (36-37 %), scrubland (10 %, much of this is eroded farmland) or urban areas (2 %). Most of the agricultured land is pasture (77 %). Thus, all the crops for human food are cultivated in less than 25 % of the agricultural area.

The absolute amount of land that is used for agriculture is not increasing any more. New land is taken into use more or less in the same area as is lost as cultivated soil becomes infertile. The new cultivated land is mainly obtained through deforestration in the tropics. This means the loss of biodiversity and a decrease of the carbon dioxide sink of the forests. 

Although the human population has increased markedly in the past fifty years, the amount of feed per capita has also increased. This has happened via "green revolution", the increased yields per area partly as a result of the use of artificial fertilizers, irrigation, pesticides and high-yield strains of cultivated plants. There are, however, several downsides of the high-efficiency agriculture. First, it depletes the soils, which can become uncultivable. However, even if the fertility of the soil can be maintained with the use of artificial fertilizers, they leach in the inland waters, which are a limiting commodity anyway, and their eutrophication generates all sorts of problems for aquatic life. Irrigation improves the immediate water availability in cultivation, but it leads to overall decrease in ground- and lake water, as seen in Aral lake, Israel and California. Decreased groundwater levels can be one of the reasons for the Californian wildfires. Artificial fertilizers are, further, mined, and easily reached sites are more or less depleted. The use of pesticides is counterproductive, since non-target species are affected. Because of marked insecticide use it has already been suggested, and the results indicate clear correlation, that the decrease of beneficial pollinator populations is caused by the indiscriminate use of insecticides. The above examples indicate that the yield increases of "green revolution" may be temporary, and carry a heavy cost to the environment.

In view of this, it appears that there are three possibilities to decrease the need for inreased agricultural land use. All of these are also important ways to combat climate change. The first is to limit population growth. To do this, especially women's education should be improved. The second is to decrease the number of farm animals, especially ruminants whereby the proportion of agricultural land as pasture fields can be decreased and crop cultivation increased. This will decrease the amount of methane produced. Third, production ofedible plants close to their sites of consumption, e.g., aquaponics in cities, should be encouraged. This decreases transport distances for agricultural production.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, erosion, insecticides, biodiversity

Fishing quotas - strict ones are needed to protect fish

Torstai 20.7.2017 klo 13:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Fishermen always complain that they are allowed to fish too little and fish biologists have alerted people to the fact that politically decided fishing quotas are too big. If fishing cannot be reduced, several preferred species will become extinct in the next hundred years. The lobbying groups for fishing industry have hitherto been able to convince politicians that putting money in new and effective fishing vessels and having fishing quotas enabling overfishing are good ways of preserving employment - one need not care if preferred fish disappear from nearby areas. With new vessels obtained, e.g. with European Union support, one can have longer fishing journeys than earlier.

It appears that a significant problem with fishing is that the identification of fish by fishermen is poor. If one is approaching the maximum allowed quota for one species, the fish are just marked to be of species, where quotas are not near filling. Giving this type of misinformation varies a lot depending on which country the fisherman is from.

However, even in the interests of fishermen, the fishing quotas should be set on scientific, and not political grounds. Further, the quotas should be followed. And actually, increasing the use of aquacultured fish with land-based feed and effective removal of wastes, is the way forward. All these points are important in order to have fish diversity also for future generations.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: fisheries, biodiversity, marine protection

Eating fish - but wild-caught or cultivated?

Maanantai 3.4.2017 klo 13:06 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Fish is, in principle, health food, and also good in terms of climate change. As insect eating has recently been advocated as an environmentally friendly way of actually eating meat, one needs to point out that from energetic grounds fish eating is just as good. Both insects and fish are ectothermic animals, which convert feed to meat at much higher efficiency than cows or swine, because no energy needs to be wasted to maintaining body temperature.

So, it is good to eat fish, but should it be wild-caught or cultured? The world's seas are heavily overfished. The gloomiest predictions estimate that close to half of commercially fished species become extinct within the next century. Despite the overfishing, several nations and the European Union have given large funds to the development of fishing fleets, and more effective fishing gear. At the same time the same instances have pledged to maintain the biodiversity. So, the actions are in fact opposite to promises and only serve to speed up the decrease of biodiversity. In addition to fishing causing the exctinction of species, the problem with wild-caught fish is aquatic pollution. Most pollutants are taken up and remain in the bodies of fish, because they are hydrophobic, whereby their preferred site is the body and not water. Many of the pollutants further bioaccumulate along the food chain.

So, eating wild fish is, in principle, a worse alternative than eating cultured fish. However, there are several things that make the present aquaculture practises problematic for ecologically responsible fish-eater. First, most cultured fish are carnivorous, and their feed largely consists of fish flour. So, in such a case the big fishing fleets will continue to decrease the fish diversity, now not to get food for humans, but to get resources for feed factories. The only sustainable way is to replace some of the fish flour in feed with plant product. This is a direction to which several fish feed companies have recently gone to. Second, aquaculture causes local eutrophication because of the feed and faeces, which have high amounts of nutrients. The way of prevent this would be to have aquaculture facilities separated from general aquatic environment so that all the water used could be purified. One should here point out that the cultured fish do not produce more faeces than the natural populations - the difference is that they are concentrated in much smaller areas. Third, the use of antibiotics and other drugs in aquaculture facilities is high, because parasites and diseases are much more prevalent in the dense aquaculture  populations than in the natural populations. For improvement of situation with regard to this, it would also help, if the aquaculture facilities were separated from natural wateeeeer flow. Also, the use of antibiotics should be discouraged.

In conclusion, it is possible to make aquaculture environmentally friendly, but after that is done, cultured fish will not be the cheapest food that can be found. But we should be ready to use some money to use ecologically sustainable foodstuffs.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity, water pollution, fish feed