Review of Hannah Ritchie's book "Not the End of the World"

Keskiviikko 31.1.2024 klo 14.14 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Environmental headlines have recently almost invariably been doomsday prophecies. Billions of people living on the coasts will die in climate change-induced floods. Deforestation accelerates temperature increase. Insect pollinators disappear with devastating effects on vegetable food production. Fishes are soon becoming extinct in many parts of the world. Often people reading such headlines start thinking that since catastrophe is coming anyway, it doesn’t pay to try to fight environmental destruction. Instead, they think that they can live as comfortably as possible today since the end of the world is coming tomorrow anyway.

Instead of only doomsday prophecies, true environmentalists should bring forward possible solutions to environmental problems. Based on her strong knowledge of environmental data, this is what Hannah Ritchie does in her book. Or, actually she presents data indicating that many things are not changing towards ultimate doomsday. She argues that we can make choices which make sustainable life for humankind possible. Often the things to be done, based on their environmental impact, differ from what the preconceived ideas of important environmental actions are. Further, focussing on only a couple of the most important changes can make the goal of sustainability feasible.

The two things that will change virtually everything are drastically decreasing the use of fossil fuels and minimizing the use of beef. One thing I noted when reading the book was that Hannah Ritchie virtually never said that one should stop doing something completely. Instead, she advocates marked reductions in the most harmful practices. With regard to energy (heating and electricity) production, fossil-free alternatives have already become cheaper than coal and oil. Thus, global efforts can be directed towards making energy production fossil-free. If burning can be stopped, also air pollution, presently killing millions of people especially in developing countries, will diminish markedly. While electrifying car transport appears to be quite good, the use of biofuels is not advocated by Hannah Ritchie, mainly because then agricultural land is used for cars instead of food production.

Cattle ranching is using up a large part of land and most of the agricultural crops go to animal feed. Thus, if the overall beef eating decreased by three quarters, so much agricultural land would be freed up that deforestation could be stopped completely, and consequently biodiversity loss would largely disappear. This is just one example of how environmental problems and their solutions are intertwined.

It is clearly possible to get us through the population peak, probably occurring in the latter part of this century. However, personally I think that we should aim to a total human population of 3-4 billion at equilibrium. This will probably be the end result after advances in (especially women’s) education. Such lowered human population is needed, as many of the natural resources are overused, and may become limiting in 100-200 years. (Overuse of mineral resources was not included in the book.) Also, I cannot share Hannah Ritchie’s optimistic view about pesticides – they and other pollutants will pose a problem, if we cannot get the equilibrium population down. However, a transition period of 100-200 years with higher population will most likely be feasible, whereafter we can truly reach sustainable state. And as Hannah Ritchie points out, many of the solutions require governmental actions. We, as individuals, must pressurize governments and companies to carry out such actions in order for them to remain successful.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, fossil fuels, cattle, agriculture, energy production

Better times ahead - hopefully

Tiistai 2.1.2024 klo 12.55 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Another year has gone, and 2024 has just begun. There have been worrying news about the state of environment and climate throughout last year: the biodiversity loss and the highest global temperatures ever, droughts, floods and storms. With doomsday predictions about the state of our planet, many people are suffering from eco-anxiety, others deny that anything at all is happening.

Eco-anxiety is a big problem, since it stems from having no hope. When one feels that there is no hope, one easily stops from trying to make future better. In view of this, it is important that people are given visions of possibilities that may bring about a better future. Although both climate change and biodiversity loss have become more serious every year, data indicate that especially during the past ten years improvements have been achieved. They are the topic of the book by Hannah Ritchie, published on January 11, titled Not the End of the World. Since she is a data scientist at the University of Oxford, handling environmental data, she is in a good position to evaluate what is happening.

The simplified conclusion is that although the present problems are alarming, we have technical capabilities to prevent further environmental deterioration, if people work for prevention with all their capabilities. Thus, one should step from eco-anxiety to true eco-activity. Further, in deciding which activities to do, we all should think in conflicting situations, which of our activities will have the most environmental impact. As Hannah Ritchie said in an interview: “Everyone focuses on the plastic bag, when what they should be focusing on is what they are putting in the bag. Most of your environmental impacts come from the food you eat not the plastic bag that you take to the shop.”

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, eco-anxiety

Aquaculture can be a sustainable food source

Maanantai 23.10.2023 klo 14.02 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Overfishing is a threat to aquatic biodiversity. The worst sceneries predict that a massive flood of fish extinctions occurs in this century, if commercial fishing is continued at its present level. This is a major problem, as it occurs at the same time that the need for animal protein in our food should change from the traditional mammals (cattle, swine and sheep) towards poikilotherms. A production of flesh kilogram requires only about 1/10 of energy in poikilotherms as compared to mammals. Because of this, they are a much preferred food source compared to traditional farm animals, when we are faced with problems with land use, climate change and biodiversity loss. Of poikilotherms fish are by far the most acceptable food – virtually everyone has eaten them, whereas the alternatives, insects, snakes, crocodiles etc. all are disliked by several people or are difficult to culture.

So, aquaculture could be a way forward to provide the world with animal protein in a sustainable fashion. However, that would not be the present way of aquaculture. There are presently many reasons why aquaculture is not sustainable. First, most cultivated fish are predators, such as salmonids. Their feed is usually fish flour-based. So, it does not decrease overfishing, the only change is that one can fish species, which would not be preferred human food.  Second, fish are cultured especially in marine net cages at high densities. Feeding therefore causes local eutrophication and the fish are not subjected to normal activity. Third, to prevent parasites and diseases in the high-density environments, a lot of medications are used. These affect the ecosystems in the vicinity of the cages. For example, one of the major parasites of salmon is salmon louse, a copepod. Its treatment affects all crustaceans in the vicinity of the net cage. Thus, lobster stocks may suffer. It should be noted that all fish diseases are favoured by the high fish densities in the net cages. finally, the fish in the net cages do not get the same amount of exercise as wild fish. Because of this, if fish are reared for stocking, their survival is likely to be reduced.

The reason why aquaculture has mainly been in sea bins is naturally the cost – the profit is maximized at the cost of the environment. However, shouldn’t we start putting environment first in order to keep the world in reasonable condition. Sustainable aquaculture is presently possible. Instead of cultivating fish in sea cages, they could be kept in tanks in dry land. In such tanks water flow can be kept directional and all the waste collected before it enters the sea, rivers or lakes. If need be, water purification similar to normal municipal wastes could be applied. Instead of the fish flour, flour made of insect maggots could be used. Maggots can be grown in bulk quantities already today.

By these means the salmonid aquaculture would be made sustainable. Increasing the number of fish species cultivated in large amounts one could also combine, e.g., rice production and aquaculture or vegetable production and aquaculture.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity, fish feed

Solar power plants could be made to support pollinators

Maanantai 2.10.2023 klo 14.50 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Solar power plant parks are often in the news in the negative sense, as solar panels require a lot of land area; another case of human land use increasing. However, the negative case need not be true. We are, or at least should be, all aware that pollinator insect populations have markedly decreased. In constructing solar panel fields, it would be possible to combine energy production and pollinator protection.

All that is required is to elevate the panels about a meter from the ground and sow flowers underneath. Beehives could be also placed in the vicinity. With these means one would produce energy, protect pollinators, and even get honey. A small amount of energy produced could be used to irrigate the flower beds so that they certainly thrive. To get water, one could construct deep wells. One of the site requirements for solar parks could be that water can be found in acceptable depth. Since the flowers would mainly grow in the shade provided by the solar panels, their likelihood of surviving would be increased.

I wonder why the electric power companies have not commonly advertised their power plants as striving to the above. It would be good both for green energy production and combat biodiversity loss.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: green energy, land use, biodiversity loss, honey production

Environmental crisis is not over even if climate change is successfully combatted

Tiistai 5.9.2023 klo 19.06 - Mikko Nikinmaa

News have recently given several technological solutions for catching and storing carbon dioxide. Further, several uses for caught carbon dioxide have been demonstrated. This has generated quite a lot of optimism that technological advancements can solve the climate change problem. So, many people in rich industrialized countries think that once the climate change problem is solved, life can go on as before, and economic growth can continue to be the goal.

Unfortunately, environmental crisis does not disappear anywhere. I have also earlier pointed out that climate change is just one symptom of environmental crisis. Thinking that successfully combatting climate change would solve the underlying environmental crisis is more or less the same as thinking that a drug that alleviates head aches caused by brain tumour would also cure the tumour. Environmental crisis is caused by our overuse of the planet’s resources. There are two components to the overuse: the rich countries are still thinking that economic growth is something to strive for, and human population has exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth. As the result of the two, land use is excessive – deforestation is needed to achieve adequate food production, water use exceeds all the limits, the mineral resources are overused, and biodiversity is decreasing.

Inequality is an important component of the environmental crisis. Actually Africa should be rich, because a lot of the resources that have made us in the Industrialized North rich were stolen during the colonial period (and continues to be stolen now). Much of the agriculture in the poor countries is not their needed food, but water-consuming cotton, coffee and cocoa, which is then sold to us. The majority of people in rich countries are against immigration from poor countries, and are willing to use a lot of resources to preventing that. The populist parties also say that money should be spent in the countries of origin of the poor immigrants, and by these means reduce the need to leave their birthplace. I actually agree with this notion. However, the right wing populists want to decrease foreign aid, whereas we should increase it to 10-100-fold to pay back some of the stolen resources of the colonial time.

It is good that technological solutions for combatting climate change are forthcoming. It shows that remedies can be found to environmental crisis. However, environmental crisis goes nowhere, and if climate change is successfully combatted, we must start fighting against other aspects of environmental crisis. The fight can be successful only after all of us agree that we are all citizens of One World.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity loss, water cycle, overpopulation, land use, foreign aid, resource overuse

Fish kill in Oder river - it is what I have feared

Sunnuntai 14.8.2022 klo 15.23

As a background, I have studied temperature responses of fish since 1980 and have written the book “Introduction to Aquatic Toxicology”, which was published by Elsevier in 2014, so both temperature- and pollution-related problems are within my expertise.

This summer has been intolerably warm in Central and Southern Europe. Fish kills are frequent in small, shallow lakes during heat waves in Finland, because of both reduced oxygen levels and increased temperatures. Fish kills don’t usually occur in rivers, because they have higher oxygen levels and remain cooler than small lakes. The species composition of fishes in the rivers also differs from that in the small lakes: rivers have more species, which require cooler water and higher oxygen levels. Thus, in the case of the Oder fish kill, one would need to evaluate, if all species have died equally or if species with lowest thermal maxima are overrepresented among the dead fish. If the latter is the case, then it is likely that we are experiencing the first climate change-related mass mortality of fish in Central Europe.

As the reason for the Oder fish kill, one has almost unequivocally concentrated on chemical pollution, although there have not so far been definitive measurements showing that this would have been the case. This is by all means possible, as dredging has been done in the river, which usually liberates contaminants which have been hidden in the sediment. However, even in this case an equally worrisome problem is that drought has caused the flow of the river to decrease markedly: any liberated pollutants have much higher concentrations than would be the case without drought. Also, virtually all pollutants are more toxic to fish at high than at low temperature. This being the case, even if pollutants are the cause of fish deaths, their level need not have increased. Because of the temperature increase, the toxicant level is lethal, even though it would not have been that at a lower temperature. This could be the case even if contaminant concentrations have increased.

In conclusion, the Oder fish kill is either directly caused by climate change, or temperature increase has contributed to the pollutant-induced fish kill. If serious climate actions are not done soon, I am afraid that similar events are observed regularly throughout the globe.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, aquatic pollution

Intensive agriculture is a crisis to nature

Keskiviikko 4.5.2022 klo 17.18 - Mikko Nikinmaa

For a long time intensive agriculture was considered to be just a blessing to the humankind. The farm yields increased everywhere in the world thanks to the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers. The fear-mongering about population bomb seemed completely unfounded. Intensive agriculture could easily feed ten billion people.

This rosy dream was true as long as there were refuges for pollinating insects in areas not treated by pesticides, as long as the agricultural land remained uneroded and as long as new agricultural land had the same quality as the earlier soils. Unfortunately, none of these premises hold true any more. A recent report in Nature (Outwhaite et al. shows how climate change and intensive agriculture reduce insect populations throughout the world. It is actually quite natural that the heavy use of insecticides causes insect populations to be reduced markedly, since the poisons cannot differentiate between beneficial and harmful insects. Now that there are not enough refuges, where the beneficial insects could breed to restore the populations in agricultural areas, they are decreasing quite rapidly.

Up to three quarters of plant material we eat needs insect pollination. Because of this, it is very funny that especially agriculture lobby groups have been strongly against banning of some insecticides. The short-term gains markedly outweigh the yield losses which will happen in longer term. I bet that the agricultural sector which has been against banning insecticides then screams for subsidies as pollination fails.

Another problem in addition to pollination problems is that the methods used in agriculture slowly decrease the fertility of the soil. To avoid fertility losses the fields should always be plant-covered. It would also make the fields carbon dioxide sinks throughout the year. Now they are probable carbon dioxide sources.

All in all, human race is using an increasing percentage of land area, and a large part is used for habitation and roads. This use is the worst possible for sustainability and therefore should serve as a strong reason to have population control as an important component of climate actions.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: pesticide, insecticide, climate change, biodiversity

Why fusion energy production does not solve environmental problems if our habits and attitudes do not change?

Maanantai 14.2.2022 klo 19.20 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Solar energy is, in fact, fusion energy. Thus, if one were able to harness fusion for energy production, all our problems with fossil fuels and consecutive climate change would be just a bad dream. Throughout my life, it has been promised that harnessing nuclear fusion for energy production is 30 years away – hitherto it has been the longest 30 years ever recorded, as 55 years have gone, and the possibility of commercial application of fusion power is still 30 years away. Last week widely spread news item (based on successful experiment) suggests that this time the 30 years away may actually be 30 years away. If, and hopefully as, this is true, the energy production can become carbon neutral and the climate change combatted effectively with almost infinite source of energy.

It is possible that many people have already taken this news to mean that environmental actions are no longer necessary. This is largely because climate change has been the one and only environmental problem in the news. However, the fact is that even if the energy problem and its consequences to the environment become solved, we are still living in a planet with limits, and there is no planet B, where we could continue to spread. The real problem is the concept of growth. That is what we must continue to fight against even if the energy problems get solved.

Infinite growth is possible only if there are no limits. And already in 1970’s it became obvious to scientists that the earth has limits. At present man is using much more resources than there are available. Also, human land use is leaving less and less area to wild animals and plants with the consequence that the biodiversity of earth is diminishing. This leads, e.g., to increased likelihood of animal-to-human spread of diseases such as Covid 19. The pesticide and fertilizer use, which has the aim to increase agricultural production, is now starting to cause the opposite, as the pollinators and the beneficial soil microbes start to suffer. Further, the use of chemicals inevitably causes pollution.

So, even if fusion energy becomes available, we need to limit population growth, resource and land use, and stop pollution. One of the most important things for mankind is to realize that we should all think of ourselves as brothers and sisters regardless of if we live in Finland or Malawi, Russia or Ukraine, China or USA. Another thing to realize is that we should all be equal, the Putins, Musks, Trumps and Xis of the world should realize this.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, economic growth, biodiversity, zoonoses

Sharks are terrible - but also endangered

Keskiviikko 8.9.2021 klo 14.35 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The IUCN red list was again published. Although it is not able to give a full account of what the status of animal and plant species is, it gives an estimate of how nearly 140 000 species are doing in today’s world. There are some species, which are doing better today than in earlier year, but others, which are doing worse. Here I focus on fish, because they are of special interest to me. The red list information in full can be found at //

The tuna species have long been among the endangered ones. However, it now seems that their stocks are recovering. This shows that if enough attention is placed on the status of a species, recovery is possible. The recovery of tuna populations is certainly due to the following: 1. The DNA of tuna catches has long been checked, so that catches including meat of the most vulnerable species could not be sold. This has directed tuna fishing towards the species not at risk. 2. The aquaculture of tuna has begun to be successful. This being the case, the need to fish natural tuna populations has decreased.

However, whereas tunas have started to recover, the same cannot be said of sharks and rays. Around forty percent of these cartilaginous fish are endangered. Virtually always, when sharks are in the news, they have killed or maimed a swimmer. Also, movies like the Jaws portray a negative picture of sharks. Consequently, they are considered to be evil, whereby very few people are against their disappearance. Yet, they are important components of healthy marine ecosystems, and the extinction of sharks leads to their deterioration. One of the main reasons for shark fishing is their use in shark fin soup. It has been considered a delicacy in Chinese cooking. In the quest for shark fins, only the fins were saved of the catch, and the rest of the shark thrown back to the water. Recently, there has been strong campaign against the use of shark fins, but at least as yet it has not helped the diminished stocks. The reason for this may be twofold: first, sharks reach sexual maturity late (often they are more than 10 years old), and reproduction is viviparous in many species with only a couple of pups born.

So, we should be worried about the disappearance of sharks. They are needed for keeping marine ecosystems healthy. The other animal group with a large proportion of species endangered is amphibians. They are suffering from the destruction of wetlands. Wetland destruction should be discontinued even if the purpose is not protecting amphibians, as it makes coastlands increasingly vulnerable to storms and flooding.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity loss, extinctions, marine ecosystems, wetlands, amphibians, tuna

Scientists' warning is not heard - or at least not acted upon

Maanantai 2.8.2021 klo 18.22 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Scientists have been trying to alert the public about how the present way of life is not sustainable ever since 1970’s. A very strong message with more than 10000 scientists endorsing the publication of data was written in 2019 indicating that unless strong measures are taken, many tipping points leading to drastic environmental deterioration are reached in the near future. After 2019 the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world, and the lead authors of the 2019 paper thought that it is good time to see, if any measures have been taken to heed the warning. In BioScience this July 28 (, Ripple et al. estimated what has happened during the pandemic time. For the most part the findings are bleak: the temperature, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide levels continue to increase, Antarctic, Greenland and overall glacier ice mass continue to decrease at a similar rate as before. What is almost worse is that although many climate-friendly changes took place as a result of the pandemic, almost all have started to revert to pre-pandemic levels. For example, the number of livestock has continued to increase, and all the media are just saying how we need to get the economic growth back to pre-pandemic track.

In the overall gloomy picture there are, however, a couple of bright spots. The first is that the number of births per woman continues to decrease. For ending up with sustainable human population, this is probably the most important trend and should be supported by improving the education of women. The second is the marked decrease in subsidies to fossil fuels. It has been quite funny that the same groups, who have been very vocally against any subsidies to green energy production, have wanted and accepted billions of dollars/euros in subsidies to oil and coal industries.

Stabilizing and reducing the human population by voluntary actions is the key behind making the life sustainable for all citizens of the world. Only with decreasing population can enough environment be kept in natural state to maintain biodiversity and to reduce the risks of new pandemics. Life in the globe with limits requires social justice, not that some superrich burn a lot of money to a few hours space travel.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth, sustainability, tipping points

Carbontech - technologies for future, but not enough alone

Maanantai 28.6.2021 klo 12.02 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Carbontech means technologies that use more carbon dioxide than is released to the environment, thereby acting as carbon dioxide sinks. There are already many such applications, one being producing carbon-neutral concrete. This application is very significant as presently building using concrete causes 5-10 % of all carbon dioxide production. In the carbontech concrete production carbon dioxide is bubbled in the material. Virtually all the applications depend on being able to utilize the carbon dioxide produced in energy production thus cleaning the chimney fumes. Although this can be done, at present the carbon dioxide capture is relatively expensive and thereby the products made are not pricewise very competitive in the market. This will naturally change with increasing use of the technologies.

However, although carbontech solutions may become important with regard to sequestering carbon dioxide, other problems with our overuse of the earth remain. Biodiversity loss, increasing land use and degradation, environmental pollution etc. are all questions that require increased attention. The present way of life in developed world requires too much resources and generates too much waste. The population growth, although it is decreasing and may completely stop during this century, leads to need of increased land use and, unfortunately, decreased land productivity. While we are presently 7.8 billion, it is estimated that sustainable population on earth is 2-3 billion provided that people in rich countries allow their standard of living decrease somewhat in favour of poor people in developing countries, who then should stop population growth more rapidly than the present estimations suggest. 

Population must actually be decreased, and to do this we require a change in thinking everywhere. It is invariably shown that when women's schooling and position in society is improved, population growth decreases markedly. Thus, one needs to change patriarchal societies to gender-equal ones. Also, in rich countries one needs to change the notion that they need population growth. In addition to carbontech we need controlled population decrease to enable sustainable life

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, population control

It is not Environment against Economy: Environment needs to be part of economic decisions.

Tiistai 26.1.2021 klo 18.04 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the age of Coronavirus Pandemic, the news has virtually nothing else now that Trump is not in the White House any more. In the news it is completely forgotten that environmental scientists warned about pandemics becoming ever increasing threat because of population growth and increased land use already 25 years ago (Daily, G. C., and Ehrlich, P. R. 1996. Global change and human susceptibility to disease. Ann. Rev. Energ. Environ. 21, 125–144). However, the link between environmental distraction and human diseases is rarely brought forward in media, although presently three quarters of new human diseases result from microbes being transferred from animals to humans.

Bradshaw et al. (Bradshaw et al. 2021. Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future. Front. Conserv. Sci. 1:615419. doi: 10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419) have recently written a perspective article about the environmental problems we currently have. The major point is that, although the scientific evidence clearly shows that the present environmental actions are not adequate to enable sustainable development, the political and economic circles still think that environmentalists are overblowing the problems. In fact, the populists everywhere have gained ground everywhere by saying that nothing needs to be done. As they say: “The predominant paradigm is still one of pegging “environment” against “economy”; yet in reality, the choice is between exiting overshoot by design or disaster—because exiting overshoot is inevitable one way or another.” Overshoot means that at present the planet’s resources are overused, human population is too big, and land use causes biodiversity decrease.

The economic and political circles are very worried about leaving monetary debt to future generations, although that is just numbers on databases, and can be cancelled if one so wishes. In contrast, environmental destruction can make life of future generations very difficult, yet policy makers do not think that the life of future generations needs to be thought about by carrying out environmental actions.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth

Fossil Fuels and Extinctions - Any Interactions?

Maanantai 30.11.2020 klo 15.07 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate Change has an anthropogenic component: the use of fossil fuels increases the carbon dioxide level, which has an increasing effect on the temperature of the Earth’s surface. It should always be kept in mind that this is an overall effect. In a specific location temperature can even decrease, because the flow of air becomes unpredictable, i.e. cold air from the poles can flow to completely new directions. Also the present extinction wave is largely human-induced, and is caused largely by increased human land use, pesticide use, overfishing etc. In both the large human population and the strive for economic growth are decisive. Greed is the main fuel for destroying the world. “I want more, and others may not share what I have got.” This attitude keeps pushing us towards a catastrophe.

People denying human role in climate change always point out that there have been temperature variations already earlier without any human influence. This is true, but in most cases they have been much slower than the present

IMG_20170808_0007.jpgone: what happened in 10000 years millions of years ago takes place in a 100 years now. The people denying human influence on climate change often deny also the existence of extinction wave, there have been five extinction waves before, and they have all been caused by natural catastrophes: meteors colliding to Earth or volcanic activity.
In Geology, Kaiho et al. recently wrote an article “Pulsed volcanic combustion events coincident with the end-Permian terrestrial disturbance and the following global crisis” (, which tries to put together the events which were associated with one of the mass extinctions in Permian period. It appears that during that time the temperature was elevated. The extinction wave started, when an intense volcanic activity started. However, it would possibly remained much more reduced than it came to be, if there had not been large fossil fuel deposits close enough to land surface to start burning as a result of volcanic eruptions. The fossil fuel fires have much higher temperature than normal wood fires with the result that a specific molecule accumulates much more. The authors made their conclusion about volcanic eruptions causing significant fossil fuel fires on this. So fossil fuels may have played a role in extinctions already before.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, Permian period, biodiversity

Living planet requires population decrease

Torstai 10.9.2020 klo 14.10 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Living Planet Report 2020 was just published (can be downloaded from It is sad reading: the vertebrate populations have decreased globally by 68 % from 1970.The most marked decreases have occurred in areas with high population growth and least in areas with low population growth. In South America the decrease of animal populations is 94 % as compared to 1970 and in Africa 65 %. It is no surprise that the animal populations decrease most in areas with high population growth, since there the changes in land use are greatest, and changes in land use account for more than half of the changes in animal populations. Notably, about 75 % of ice-free land area is nowadays impacted by humans, and the percentage of wilderness decreases with population increase: wilderness remains in Arctic areas and deserts, which are uninhabitable.

Although it is clear from the Living Planet Report that population growth cannot continue, if we are to have sustainable future, the economic circles say that future of economies depends on population growth. This thinking is like increasing the speed of the car, when you know that a collision to a brick wall is imminent. Shouldn’t we instead start modifying our economic theories towards a regulated population decrease? If we did that, both biodiversity could be maintained and climate change could be stopped. Not a bad heritage to future generations. I bet they would accept this even if it was done with loans: it is much better to have healthy environment and high debt than to have no debt but unhospitable Earth.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth

A Change is needed

Maanantai 10.8.2020 klo 18.01 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change, Covid-19 pandemic, racial discrimination, populistic movements, inequality, biodiversity loss – the list could continue almost 

IMG_20170826_0083.jpgforever. The humankind has problems, and the problems are caused by greed and selfishness. That is best seen in the increasing nationalistic populism. We should only take care of our own group. However, why should we broaden our thinking as far as the nation state. There are usually millions of people in nation states – why should we care of people living in different areas, they are certainly taking advantage of us even if they are living in the same nation as we. Shouldn’t we restrict caring about others to our immediate family. Anyone who looks at all different is not worth caring. That is the basis of any discrimination, we can always find a reason to divide people: according to skin colour, language, religion, gender, disability etc. When the people are labelled to different from us, we do not need to think about how their conditions could or should be improved, but can label them rapists, thieves, murderers, terrorists, whose sole aim is to disturb our life.
Thinking of other people that way, the further they are from us, the less we need to care, makes it possible to be greedy – we do not have to care about their conditions as long as suppressing them gives us more riches. Or if we utilize them, they are not our equals but slaves: why would we care as long as we get cheap t-shirt, can dispose of our toxic wastes cheaply to developing countries or can eat cheaply in ethnic restaurants, or get sexual satisfaction. We in the rich world have been able not to care until recently: the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution have now made many of us to realize that the earth has limits and that we have reached them. Further, it is obvious that inequality across the world cannot continue. To enable sustainable development, we rich need to decrease our consumption, and population increase needs to stop.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of greedy rich people (and less rich ones), who refuse to see that anything needs to be done. Invariably they are reverting to the past, more or less saying that the coal and oil consumption is 1960s didn’t cause anything, so why would it now. The difference to today is that the energy consumption today is manyfold per person as compared to 1960s and we are four times as many. If we could go back to the past, I would gladly do it. None of the present-day problems would have taken place with the population and resource use of that time.

Thus, the change that is needed is the way of thinking. Instead of greed and selfishness, caring and compassion should be the leading qualities. Environmental problems cannot be solved, if the getting rich-me first-attitude persists.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth, populism

Population growth of humans may be stopping?

Maanantai 20.7.2020 klo 20.08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The most important reasons for all the environmental problems, climate change, biodiversity loss, loss of arable land, overfishing and pollution are the increase of human population combined with the strive for every human to be able to consume more. Thus, to be able to have sustainable development, the primary goal must be to stop population growth. Hitherto it has been estimated that the growth of human population continues to at least 2100, although the growth rate is decreasing. By 2100 there would be more than 10 billion people on the earth, if no catastrophes occur before that. In view of the gloomy predictions, it was refreshing to read the article by Vollset et al. in Lancet (July 14, 2020; They estimate that the population reaches a maximum of 9.73 billion by 2064 and thereafter decreases so that by 2100 the population is 8.79 billion. The population decreases everywhere except in Africa especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population increase seems to continue there up to 2100 with the consequence that Nigeria will be 2nd most populous country in the world by 2100. Also, out of the world’s population, about 3.8 billion will live in Africa.   

The economic systems virtually everywhere are based on population growth. Thus, one sees in European newspapers big headlines about how terrible the decrease of birth rate is. However, to enable sustainable development, that is what needs to take place. Since the population growth occurs in area from which emigration to Europe is feasible, European countries should, for their own sake, start thinking about immigration as an asset, not as a burden. This requires a change of many people’s attitude.

However, even the 8.8 billion population is too large for sustainableSyntyvyys.jpg living. Even if climate change with new technologies could be stopped, the need for food, biodiversity loss and pollution continue. The population can be further decreased, if the education, especially women’s education is improved. It is clear from the enclosed figure that lifetime fertility (y-axis) decreases with the number of years of education. With education improved and birth control applied, the human population would decrease to about 6 billion by 2100, i.e. be about a quarter less than today. That would certainly be sustainable, so there is a ray of hope, which is achievable.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth

What is our heritage to future generations?

Maanantai 13.7.2020 klo 16.28 - Mikko Nikinmaa

As a child, one of my favourite books was a book of wild animals – I read all the stories of antelopes in Africa and looking at the photographs hoped that one day I would be able to go there. Almost every day I went birdwatching: curlews, whinchats, ruffs and ortolan buntings were common. As a scientist I was able to see sea otters, elephant seals, 


echidnas, and finally was able to fulfil my childhood dream, see antelopes in Africa. The incredible variety of animal life in different parts of the world is something that I hope our grandchildren and their descendants are able to see. The hopes of a nature lover for a heritage to future generations may be somewhat different from those of economic circles.

As the major reason for nations not taking loans, politicians usually state that we don’t want to leave future generations debt. This has also been stated as a reason why the European Union should not give grants to the hardest hit nations. If the big relief package of the European Union is not accepted, the Union can break up. For the environment this would be a catastrophe, because EU is the only major economic player, which has environmental questions reasonably high in its agenda. The European nations as relatively small individual nations would be forced to accept the conditions that USA and China, and to some extent Russia, Brazil and India, demand. For the environment, this would be terrible news.

We have now come to a situation, where environmental conditions and national debt are choices of our heritage to future generations. If loans are taken in order to invest on actions that improve the future state of environment, I am quite sure that future generations would say: “Please, take loan. It is only money, whereas sustainable environment is much more.” I am also quite sure that they would say: “Please, accept the European Recovery Plan, it is the only way to maintain a responsible environmental player as a major economic factor.”

It is not leaving debt to future generations any more, it is choosing if we give them a liveable environment or no debt. I think debt is better than spoiled Earth.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: Biodiversity, national debt, sustainability, environmental investments

Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change are Different Facets of the Same Problem: the Overuse of the Earth

Perjantai 17.4.2020 klo 19.29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change are both different aspects of the same problem: our overuse of the Earth. Further, neither problem can be solved thinking nationally: both viruses and pollutants cross national borders with no problems. Even if hermetic closure helps to limit the spread of the current Coronavirus, without solving the problem with the overuse of the Earth there will be a next virus attacking man in the future. It is not by accident that there have been several worries about pandemics in 21st century, Ebola, SARS, swine flu, at the same time that clear Climate Change signs have been seen. Hitherto international cooperation has enabled us to avoid the worst possible outcome of the diseases, but this time it appears that the ongoing surge of nationalism has meant that instead of thinking what would be the best way to combat Coronavirus globally, one has resorted to national solutions.

The overuse of the Earth can be divided into three components, which all must be addressed in order to avoid future pandemics and combat climate change. The three components are population growth, excessive consumption by the rich and inequal wealth distribution. Quite often when one discusses with some climate activists, they claim that including population growth is virtually racism, as it “blames” the world’s poorest, who have caused little of the climate problem. On the other hand, some people from rich areas maintain that the climate problem is solely caused by population growth, as the use of fossil fuels in for example Europe has decreased for the past 30 years. Both are wrong, because they come together as a result of wealth inequality.

The reason why population growth is an ultimate problem for both Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change is manyfold. There are now about eight billion people living on the earth. The sheer number of people inevitably leads to increasing portion of the Earth to be used for human habitation and food production. Agricultural practices have led to land deterioration – loss of fertility and erosion, which increasing amount of land is needed to feed people, and this need is compounded by the population growth. As a result, natural habitats are changed to human use, which means both that the carbon dioxide sinks of forests decrease and that animal biodiversity gets smaller. Also, wild animals have less space and must increasingly be in close proximity to humans and domestic animals. At present, the total biomass of humans exceeds that of wild animals and the biomass of farm animals is far greater. Further, humans everywhere like to eat meat, and in most places the only way to get meat unspoiled to the customers is to have animals alive until someone buys their meat. The animals, which are sold are often wild homeothermic animals, birds and mammals. Zoonosis – a disease transmitted from animals to man – is a bacterium or virus of birds or mammals, which mutates enough to enable transmission to humans. The vegetarians naturally point out that if eating meat were stopped, both the possibility of zoonoses would disappear and climate change be reduced. Zoonosis risk would decrease markedly, but not disappear, since wild animals would still be in close contact with humans because of the diminishing area of natural environment. IMG_20170807_0153.jpgClimate Change would be combatted, as the carbon footprint of meat production is much larger than if vegetarian diet is used. One must remember, though, that eating fish or shellfish or terrestrial poikilotherms has only slightly higher carbon footprint than vegetarian diet. Also, there are currently no known transmission of microbial pathogens from poikilothermic animals to humans.

Although rich countries at present are decreasing their carbon dioxide emissions, the present use of Earth’s resources is severalfold compared to poor areas. Further, to reduce costs, a lot of the cultivation of plants in poor areas are done to produce goods for rich nations. The cotton and avocado cultivation uses most of the water in arid areas and is almost exclusively done for export to rich nations, and the sales do not benefit the local population. Also, the rich nations export much of their wastes like plastics and metals to poor countries, where they somehow disappear (and are found in, e.g. plastic waste gyres of the oceans); the companies from rich countries make profits on products (e.g. clothes) manufactured in poor countries with virtually no pollution control. In conclusion, we in rich nations owe a lot of our wealth to the poor areas. Consequently, we cannot say that they would not be allowed to want to have similar standard of living as we do.

This leads to the final part of the problem, wealth inequality. Correcting that is needed both to reduce the risk of future pandemics and to combat climate change. We in rich nations could easily decrease our resource use and consumption, as the present Coronavirus lockdowns indicate. The decrease could be transferred as wealth to poor areas, and the technological progress used to help everyone. If we continue with our greedy economic globalism or resort to nationalistic policies the humankind, even we rich, goes under either because of another pandemic or climate change.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, wealth inequality, biodiversity, zoonosis

World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency

Tiistai 26.11.2019 klo 12.40 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Among the 11000 other scientists, I was among the signatories in the article authored by William Ripple et al. It was published in BioScience in early November, and attracted pronounced media coverage. Since the article is open access, here is a link to the published paper. Please, read it (and if you know anybody who doubts anthroponic effects on climate, get them to read it):

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate chhange, population growth, fossil fuels, biodiversity

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

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