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 //www.iucnredlist.org/

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 (https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab079), 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

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 https://livingplanet.panda.org/). 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; https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30677-2). 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