Nobel Prize for Oxygen Sensing and Hypoxia: the Environmental Relevance of Phenomena

Tiistai 8.10.2019 klo 9:37 - Mikko Nikinmaa

One of the most conspicuous changes that occur in the aquatic environment is the increasing occurrence of hypoxic areas. The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine is this year given to three scientists, Kaelin, Ratcliffe and Semenza, who have studied and discovered the mechanism of how oxygen deficiency controls gene expression in man. Compared to air-breathers, fish and other aquatic animals must get by with 1/30th of the oxygen concentration. They are further faced with marked variations in oxygen level both daily and seasonally (or unknown periods of time). Further, since fish are poikilothermic, temperature changes affect their oxygen requirements conspicuously.

The oxygen sensing and transport system of fish must therefore be more vHIF.bmpersatile than that of mammals. We have studied the oxygen sensing and hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) system, i.e. the phenomena now awarded Nobel Prize, since the late 1990’s. First, we observed that hypoxia-inducible factor was present in cells already in normal venous oxygen tension, although it increased in hypoxia (in humans and laboratory rodents it is only found in hypoxic conditions). Second, we observed that although the hypoxia-inducible factor level was controlled posttranscriptionally, also gene transcription could be modified. The HIF transcription depended on the number of hypoxic bouts experienced by the animal (in humans the control of HIF level occurs posttranscriptionally). Finally, we observed that HIF level was affected by temperature (something that is irrelevant for us homeotherms). These facts, together with the observations of interactions between HIF and circadian rhythms and environmental pollutants show that the system given the Nobel Prize for is more versatile in poikilothermic water breathers than humans.

Given that oxygen is a limiting factor in aquatic environment, it is no surprise that HIF system in fish has evolved differently in different fish groups depending on their oxygen requirements. In continuation, the possibilities of fish to adapt to climate change and environmental pollution are markedly affected by what their HIF system is. Thus, the Nobel Prize winning studies have a significant environmental angle. This has been reviewed to some extent in Nikinmaa, M. and Rees, B.B. (2005) Oxygen-dependent gene expression in fishes. Am. J. Physiol. - Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 288, 1079-1090 and in Prokkola, JM and Nikinmaa M (2018) Circadian rhythms and environmental disturbances - underexplored interactions. J. Exp. Biol. 221, jeb179267. The evolution of HIF system in animals was explored in Rytkönen KT et al (2011) Molecular Evolution of the Metazoan PHD–HIF Oxygen-Sensing System. Mol. Biol. Evol. 28: 1913-1926.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, temperature, hypoxia, evolution, environmental pollution

Heat and Carbon Dioxide Absorption of the Seas; How Long Can it Help Us?

Sunnuntai 6.10.2019 klo 17:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Reading the IPCC Special Report on “The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, a couple of things, which can have important effects, have got very little attention in the news. The news have mainly concentrated on melting ice and sea level rise, but the role of oceans hitherto taking up most of the carbon dioxide and heat can become a significant problem in the future, if it starts to reach the limit.

First, the oceans have absorbed much of the heat. This may lead to the following consequences. The temperature increase and temperature variations are a major contributor to the hurricanes and typhoons, and to the increase in their strength. Further, the aggravated temperature changes in the oceans will influence the rains, their strength and predictability. The second major effect of heat uptake by the oceans is that it increases the temperature of the surface water. This, together of the melt water from the glaciers, decreases the density of surface water and increases stratification. Since mixing of water is necessary for proper oxygenation, it is no surprise that oxygen-minimum zones in oceans have recently increased in area. The lack of oxygen decreases the habitats available for fish and other marine animals. Increased stratification and decrease Valimeri.jpgin temperature difference between tropical and polar areas will also reduce the generation of water currents, e.g. the Gulf stream, which partially maintains the favourable climate of Europe. Finally, if the heat capacity of oceans is exhausted, for the same amount of heat energy an increase of air temperature becomes   larger.

The absorption of carbon dioxide in the oceans acts like any other carbon dioxide sink by decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide free in atmosphere thereby decreasing temperature increase. However, an increase of temperature decreases the solubility of carbon dioxide in water. Thus, the heat absorption by the sea will decrease carbon dioxide absorption, and decrease the role of the ocean as carbon dioxide sink. In addition, carbon dioxide causes ocean acidification. Ocean acidification causes problems for all the animals with calcium carbonate shells. Calciferous shell production is made more difficult, and since the shells have carbonate, their reduced production and sinking of dead animals to sea bottom will further reduce carbon dioxide removal. In addition to effects on calcification, ocean acidification has effects on, e.g., sensory and other functions of fish  (Cattano et al 2018. Living in a high CO2 world: a global meta‐analysis shows multiple trait‐mediated fish responses to ocean acidification. Ecological Monographs 88, 320-335; Esbaugh 2018. Physiological implications of ocean acidification for marine fish: emerging patterns and new insights. J. Comp. Physiol 188B, 1-13; Tresguerres and Hamilton 2017. Acid–base physiology, neurobiology and behaviour in relation to CO2-induced ocean acidification. Journal of Experimental Biology 220, 2136-2148). We have written an overview of the effects of ocean acidification on animal function (Nikinmaa M and Anttila K. 2015. Responses of marine animals to ocean acidification. In: Climate Change and Marine and Freshwater Toxins, Botana, LM, Louzao, C and Vilarino, N (eds.) De Gruyter: Berlin, pp. 99-123).

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, ocean acidification

Good News - the Number of Children in the World Is Decreasing

Lauantai 5.10.2019 klo 16:18 - Mikko Nikinmaa

First, I need to point out that I like children, and the future of mankind depends on an adequate number of children. However, population growth is the root of all environmental and climate problems we have. It was quite shocking to see, for example, a picture where world population change and change of energy consumption were both included. The two figures could have been superimposed. This is because during recent years the energy consumption in areas with high energy use has decreased, but in developing countries every additional person increases the (per person small) energy consumption.

In view of this, the recent report that the number of children has decreased in every part of the world is really something positive. This opinion is opposite to the worry that the proponents of continuous growth preach. According to them the population needs to grow in order to guarantee future well-being. However, isn’t the outset behind limitless growth untenable? For continuing until eternity, it would require that there are no limits in the earth’s resources. The climate change, environmental pollution, erosion and decrease of suitable agricultural land, overfishing, and biodiversity loss all indicate that we have reached the limits of the earth. Since it is largely caused by increasing human population, any decrease and even stop of population growth is welcome.

It is even more welcome that population is starting to shrink in industriIMG_20170803_0028.jpgalized countries. This is because every person in, e.g., Europe uses a given amount of resources 5-10 times faster than a person in Asia or Africa. Thus, a modest population increase in Africa and a small population decrease in Europe will mean an overall decrease in resource use. However, the closer the gross national product in African countries gets to that of European and North American countries, the smaller the possible effect is.   

In view of the above considerations we need to start thinking in global (environmental) terms. Putting walls between nations and thinking nationalistically is the worst we can do – since none of the environmental problems and their consequences follow national boundaries. It is further important to note that even if population growth already decreases, without additional measures the world population increases another hundred years. Because of this, the two measures which are the most effective means of decreasing birth rate, improving education and women’s status, should be in the centre of any developmental aid. One cannot and must not accept patriarchal aspects of culture: people should be treated equal regardless of their gender, colour, ethnicity or disability.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, resource use, climate change

From Acid Rain to Ocean Acidification

Keskiviikko 11.9.2019 klo 18:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In 1980’s the environmental problem in the news in Europe was acid rain. The sulphur dioxide (and to smaller extent oxides of nitrogen) emitted in the smoke from coal burning, condensed in clouds, and was part of the rain entering Scandinavian poorly buffered lakes. The pH of the lakes could decrease from 7 to 4 and wipe out virtually all the fish, shellfish and crayfish of the lakes. The toxicity of acid rain was aggravated by aluminium (Al). Aluminium is insoluble at high pH values, but acid rain solubilized it. The free metal ion, predominant at pH-values below 5 is highly toxic, and kills fish and crustaceans by disturbing their ion regulation. At higher pH values the aluminium hydroxides precipitate on the gills of aquatic animals causing their death. As a result of acid rain, the lakes had clear water, but virtually no animal life. At that time aluminium was considered to be a very bad toxicant. Having studied the acid rain-aluminium toxicity, it is difficult for me to understand that presently aluminium sulphate is used to “restore” lakes. Toxic aluminium will kill fish and invertebrates also in this case. Naturally, if the purpose is to get clear water, that is the thing to do, but as the acid lakes justify, clear water does not mean water, where animals can live.

In comparison to freshwater acidification, where water pH could decrease up to 3 pH-units, the most likely pH-decrease in ocean acidification is 0.3-0.4 units by 2100. Asranta.jpg a pH change this would not be a problem for animals, if it were not the result of changes in the carbon dioxide-bicarbonate-carbonate equilibria. In 1970’s and 1980’s the acid-base regulation of animals was studied extensively, using, e.g., hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide level) as a disturbance. It was found that fish and other aquatic animals are quite poor in handling external carbon dioxide loads. While the degrees of hypercapnia used were much higher than the environmentally relevant ones during ocean acidification, it seems quite clear that any disturbances observed in animals are due to hypercapnia. The reasons for this are at least the following: (1) Aquatic animals have low total carbon dioxide levels. Consequently, any increase in external carbon dioxide tension, as happens during ocean acidification, will decrease the efficiency of carbon dioxide excretion. Since carbon dioxide is the major end product of aerobic energy metabolism, this causes disturbances of energy metabolism. (2) Increased carbon dioxide level can only be achieved at the expense of carbonate levels, which must decrease. All the shells of invertebrates are made of calcium carbonate. Thus, shell formation may be disturbed by ocean acidification. So, it is really the problems of handling carbon dioxide, i.e. hypercapnia, and not the pH-changes, that are the questions in ocean acidification.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon dioxide, pH, climate change, aluminium

The World Is Burning

Sunnuntai 25.8.2019 klo 11:36 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Massive forest fires rage in Amazonas, mainly Brazil, in Indonesia, in Siberia, in Alaska, in Canary Islands…Probably Portugal, Spain, California and Australia are next in line. In several of the Amazonian fires it is clear that they are intentionally started to clear the unproductive rainforest to economically productive agricultural land to produce especially soya beans (and to less extent cattle and different crops). The present President Bolsonaro has said that the international concern about Brazilian wildfires is to slow down the development of Brazilian economy. This is another example of how the nationalistic agenda surpasses what is needed to maintain a healthy earth. In this nationalistic rant it is forgotten that the Amazonian rainforest actually keeps the temperatures down and generates rain that is needed worldwide to maintain agricultural production. When the forest is cut, first the drier parts of the area turn into savanna and with time into desert. One has earlier had forest in a large part of Sahara. To maintain a healthy earth one thus needs a change from nationalistic thinking to globalism, but not the globalism that has earlier been mainly Savanni.jpgthought of as economic globalism. Instead we need environmental globalism.

The huge difference between the two has become apparent in the reaction of many European politicians to the negotiated trade deal with South American countries (as the most important partner Brazil) and European Union. As far as I have understood, the agreement has the provision that it may not be accepted by EU, if the Paris Climate Accord is not followed (mainly by South American countries). The intentional ignition of the forest fires is certainly an action against the Climate Accord. Despite this, so far only France and Ireland have indicated that ratifying the trade deal should be stopped.

Overall, the presently burning forest fires release so huge amount of carbon dioxide that they surpass the yearly emissions of at least all of Scandinavia but soon most of Europe. They contribute to the vicious circle – an increase of carbon dioxide level increases the temperature, which increases droughts and the likelihood of new, uncontrollable fires.

What we need is a change in attitudes, also in economic circles and among state leaders. Nationalism and nation states should be history just as economic globalism. Instead we need environmental globalism. If we approach the climate and other environmental problems this way, we can all live quite comfortably in the world. The technological solutions are there, if we can just stop being selfish and nationalistic, and stop the approach that economy and environmental thinking are opposites. There is no economy without livable environment.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, globalization, forest fires, nationalism

Temperature Increase and Melting Ice, What Are the Results

Keskiviikko 14.8.2019 klo 9:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change as a result of human actions does not come as a surprise. Already more than 40 years ago for example JH Mercer wrote on Nature (Nature 271, 321-325, 1978) that a large temperature increase may occur, with a threat that ice in Western Antarctica may start melting. It is of note that natural temperature cycles in 1940-80 were such that little anthropogenic temperature increase was observed even with an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide level. From 1980 onwards the temperature increase has been aggravated by the natural temperature cycle. We may soon be again going to the part of the cycle, when temperature would decrease without human influence, but human actions and what has already happened to the environment are likely to ensure that temperature increase continues, although, hopefully, it is slowed down. In the by climate sceptics widely cited non-refereed preprint by Kauppinen and Malmi in arxiv.com (2019) says that climate scientists don’t take clouds into account in their models, and consequently Kauppinen and Malmi claim that no anthropogenic temperature increase occurs, but all the changes can  be explained by cloud cover changes. This claim (among many other false or unsubstantiated statements in the paper) is not true: already in 1970’s any model not considering cloud effects were taken to be quite unrealistic, and the uncertainty caused by cloud cover has been taken into account.

One of the major effects of temperature increase is melting ice. This has several important effects. First, sea level rises. Up to a billion people live in coastal areas, which Jainen_meri.jpgmay become uninhabitable. As a result, mass migrations of people will take place. One must remember that only ice that is on the ground affects sea level. Sea ice does not do it. Thus, the sea ice of Arctic does not influence sea level. The major sea level rise in the Arctic will come from melting Greenland glaciers. In contrast, most of the ice on Antarctica is land-based and will consequently affect sea level much more.

In addition to affecting sea level, melting Greenland ice may influence ocean circulation affecting, e.g., the Gulf stream. The generation of streaming requires that the water of the stream sinks to the bottom of the sea when it becomes cold and heavy. The sinking generates the northward current on the surface and southward current on bottom. The fresh melting water of Greenland ice is lighter than the seawater generally, and thereby the sinking of the surface water is diminished and current generation consequently slowed down. As much of the North American and West European population gets the benefit of the warm Gulf Stream, its slowing can have surprising and unpredictable effects.

Although melting of sea ice does not affect sea level, it has significant effect on further climate change. The media have mainly concentrated on how melting of the Arctic sea ice is beneficial as in makes both North-Western and North-Eastern passages possible to be utilized as shipping routes thus markedly decreasing the shipping distance between, e.g. China and Europe. However, the effect is mainly negative, because instead of the radiation being reflected back by the light ice with little effect on temperature, the heat will be absorbed by the dark open sea aggravating temperature increase.

Melting of smaller glaciers on mountains affects the river systems radically. Many of the world’s largest rivers start from mountain glaciers. With the glaciers becoming smaller, the river flow will be diminished, and the agriculture depending on the river flow will suffer. Increasing drought periods and decreased agricultural production will be consequences. Also, good quality drinking water will be reduced.

Finally, skiing, especially downhill skiing is major livelihood in many areas. We have already seen how Central European tourism is suffering from mild winters, and the situation is likely to get worse.

I have taken all these different points, as it is often forgotten how many different effects melting ice has. Because of the negative effects, which have all been predicted for almost half a century, we need a radical change in economic thinking: economy and environmental thinking are not opposite. Rather, there is no economy without healthy and habitable environment.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, sea ice, sea level

World Scientists' Warning on Climate Emergency

Torstai 1.8.2019 klo 10:38 - William J. Ripple et al.

This is not written by me, but the real writers wanted it to be shared as widely as possible

Mikko Nikinmaa

World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency (Condensed Version) 

William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, xxxx scientist signatories from xxx countries 

We scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any great existential threat. In this paper, we present a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years. Results show greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects. With few exceptions, we are largely failing to address this predicament. The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity. We suggest six critical and interrelated steps that governments and the rest of humanity can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change, covering 1) Energy, 2) Short-lived pollutants, 3) Nature, 4) Food, 5) Economy, and 6) Population. Mitigating and adapting to climate change entails transformations in the ways we govern, manage, feed, and fulfill material and energy requirements. We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. The Pope issued an encyclical on climate change. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change. As scientists, we urge widespread use of our vital signs and anticipate that graphical indicators will better allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities to alleviate climate change. The good news is that such transformative change, with social and ecological justice, promises greater human wellbeing in the long-run than business as usual. We believe that prospects will be greatest if policy makers and the rest of humanity promptly respond to our warning and declaration of a climate emergency, and act to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.

 

William J. Ripple email: scientistswarning@oregonstate.edu

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, environmental economics, population growth

Sweating in the Heat Wave - the New Normal

Perjantai 26.7.2019 klo 12:37 - Mikko Nikinmaa

All time temperature records have been broken is Europe. When the high temperatures should be around 20 Celcius in Alaska, they have been about 30. High temperature records have been broken in East Coast and Midwest of USA. India has suffered from the worst heat waves ever. July of 2019 will probably become the warmest July in the world during measured history. And among the ten highest average temperatures of the year, nine are from the years 2010-2018. Yet there are people denying that climate change is occurring. Another group is saying that tAutiomaa.jpghere may be temperature increase, but that it does not have anything to do with human actions. I cannot understand either: statistics show the temperature increase. And if one is of the opinion that there may be temperature increase, but that it is not anthropogenic, why would one oppose climate change actions. If the actions were successful in decreasing carbon dioxide (and methane) levels, but still the temperature would increase, the persons could say "what did I say".

The temperature increase has already caused deaths of animals. Last summer there were a lot of fish kills in small Finnish lakes, which could only be attributed to temperature increase. Similarly, in marine Australian waters temperate fish species have experienced significant mortalities while tropical fish have had no ill effects. The four-horned sculpin in the Baltic Sea has all but disappeared. While the reason for its population decrease has not unequivocally been clarified, it is worth noting tha it is a cold-water species and has disappeared during the time that temperature has increased by 3 degrees.

Although it is probably useless to say these things to the readers of this blog, since undoubtedly you all agree with the above points, I am at a loss in trying to make climate sceptics to realize that something should be done, and fast.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, climate sceptics, temperature

Cotton - always in the middle of social and environmental problems: could it be replaced for the benefit of mankind

Keskiviikko 10.7.2019 klo 12:17 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Cotton clothes, all of us wear them.  However, do we realize all the social and environmental problems associated and the fact that we could presently achieve a cotton-free society which would be a contribution towards combatting climate change, social inequality and environmental destruction?

Initially, the cotton production was a strong component for American slavery. Cotton fields in southern USA needed workers, and they were brought in Kartano.jpgas slaves from Africa. Although also other forms of cultivation such as growing of tobacco and sugar cane needed workers, cotton cultivation was the most important one, generating rich plantation owners and poor slaves, and later the racial problems in America, which are still a big problem.

The problem with genetically modified organisms really boils down to cotton.  Out of the approximately 32 million hectares, where cotton is grown, approximately 25 million hectares is genetically modified (GM). Consequently, it is my bet that people against the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) daily wear clothing that has genetically modified cotton. GM cotton was marketed to farmers saying that the need for pesticides would be reduced. However, that has not turned out to be the case. While the insecticide use in USA and Australia has markedly decreased after the introduction of bt-cotton (a genetically modified plant, which produces its own toxin against several insect pests), the herbicide use has not decreased. In most other cotton-producing countries pesticide use has not decreased, partly because secondary harmful insects require heavy insecticide use to ensure high production. Further, it appears that the difference between pesticide use in large industrial cotton cultivation (decrease in insecticide use) and small cotton farmers (no change or increase in insecticide use) has increased.

 The heavy pesticide use in cotton production is an important component in causing the deaths of non-target organisms. Insecticides kill non-selectively all insects, be they beneficial or harmful. Research on waterways has indicated that agricultural pesticides kill aquatic invertebrates and fish. Often the insecticides are more toxic to aquatic creatures than to their target organisms. Further, it was recently estimated that close to 70 000 000 birds per year die directly because of pesticide use.

Although cotton cultivation does not require very much water (10000 l/kg cotton produced worldwide), the fact that it is grown in dry areas largely for eJoshua_tree.jpgxport with the profits going not to local farmers but to big agricultural companies often from foreign countries means that the water use does not support the local people’s food production or water needs. Consequently, the poor people in the dry areas continue to suffer from food and water shortage in India and Africa. Partly the recent trend that food shortage is again in the increase in Eastern Africa could be alleviated by stopping cotton cultivation and using the water for cultivating edible crops.  This, as such, would decrease the number of refugees trying to come to the paradise in Europe.

Production of cotton clothing has also another social problem. In many countries producing cotton clothing cheaply, child labour is used. To best combat this, e.g. European collaboration would be helpful. As the final question one must ask if cotton is necessary as primary cloth material any more. Earlier it was, as all the other fibres that could be used for producing fabrics yielded much harder and therefore less comfortable cloth than cotton. However, recently the situation has changed, and currently wood fibres can yield as soft and comfortable cloth as cotton. Since the need for paper production has markedly decreased, wood could be used for cloth-making.

Replacing cotton with wood fibre would thus be a highly beneficial both socially and environmentally. First, the land and water used now for growing cotton for export with most profits not coming to local people could come completely to help the food and water needs of local communities. This would decrease the refugee pressure to North. Because the pesticide use would be reduced, all the negative issues associated with them would also be reduced. Growing trees for fibre production would not have a negative effect on carbon footprint globally, most likely the opposite, as the life length of clothing is longer than that of paper products. Thus, one would be combatting climate change, whereby the number of climate refugees in the future would decrease. Finally, as the right-wing populists always say that isolationist policies are needed for the success of “our” industry, producing cloth would be a significant new direction to pulp industry. All in all, replacing cotton could be a good example of how thinking globally has positive influence on social and environmental problems in the world.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, drought, refugees, pulp industry, pesticide use

Record Deforestation of Amazonian Rainforest

Keskiviikko 3.7.2019 klo 19:19 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Brazilian President Bolsonaro is keeping his promises. IMG_20170826_0005.jpgHe belongs to the group of world leaders together with Trump and Putin, who deny that such thing as climate change is taking place. Or actually in an interview Trump said: “I don’t deny climate change, but it can go both ways – it can go both ways.” Anyhow, for some time now, deforestation of Amazonas has decreased, and that has been good news for world’s climate. But unfortunately the positive trend has now stopped. The deforestation of Amazon is now record high. Just as President Bolsonaro said, when coming into power. He wowed to stop environmentalists from disturbing the agroforest industry. He is now keeping his promise. It does not matter that the cutting of Amazon rainforest will make agricultural land everywhere, also in Brazil less fertile and increase the number of unpredictable weather events, including droughts all over the world but especially in the tropical and subtropical areas. However, if you deny that anything is happening to the climate, then doing what the present Brazilian government is doing is logical. It would actually be very pertinent for the rich Americans, who have said to use billions of dollars to combat climate change, to buy forest around areas, which are now being cut. That would make future deforestation more difficult.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon dioxide sink, climate deniers

Overshoot and Collapse or Constraints and Sustainability

Perjantai 21.6.2019 klo 13:59 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although many different signals such as climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and decrease in land fertility, as indicated in the scientists’ warning (http://www.scientistswarning.org), show that we utilize the planet more than its resources allow, a surprisingly large percentage of mankind thinks that nothing needs to be done. One reason for this could be lack of information and schooling, but the attitude is quite common even among people, who could easily assimilate the available information. One reason for thinking that no actions are needed is denying that anything happens, the second is relying on that market forces and technological advancements will solve any problems. Coupled with denying is often spreading false information, and quite often the nationalistic populistic agenda is associated with denying that there are limits to the earth. With nationalistic agenda one may think that the following actions help one’s own nation: building high chimneys so that any air pollution goes further away, shipping toxic wastes to faraway places, as from Europe to India, overfishing claiming that the overuse of the resource is needed for keeping jobs, compensating for failing land productivity by using more fertilizers, subsidizing production so that rising prices do not indicate increasing scarcity of resources, using or threating to use military force to keep one’s own resources secure including means to keep unwanted foreigners out etc. The production by one’s own industry is invariably considered to be environmentally friendlier than that by industry of other nations.

A form of denying that nothing needs to be done is blind faith to technological solutions. For example, with regard to climate change, the newscasts are almost daily reporting different ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, although the technological advancements will be important for sustainable future, they cannot do anything but postpone the collapse if our ways do not chaPohjois-Wales.jpgnge. The same is true for recycling, reducing the amount of pollution per produced unit and improving water purification etc. If the growth ideology is continued, the reduced burden to environment at present will be eaten up by the economic and population growth so that the collapse will occur later than without technological advances. Consequently, we need an ideological change to achieve sustainability.  

The growth ideology is based on thinking that no limits exist. Since the limits have clearly been reached, there is a grave need to change to thinking that we have enough. However, although stationary state is necessary for sustainability, it is very hard to achieve, because it places great demands to our morality. One can see this in the way that any attempts to built societies based on equality have failed. But to achieve sustainability both population growth and the concept of economic growth need to be stopped and changed. Doing one is not enough. Stopping population growth will not generate new resources; as technological advancements and recycling, it only postpones the collapse if we do not accept that the concept of economic growth has to be replaced with no-growth ideology. In the scenario requiring economic growth, even if population growth stops, the stable population will use more and more resources yearly with collapse as the end result.

Thus, we need to replace economic growth with economic stationarity. This makes it possible, together with stationary population and technological advances, to decrease the ecological footprint of the human population to sustainable level. I cannot understand why it is all the time said by the people denying the need to do anything that the environmental movement and climate change activists only generate fear without giving solutions, when virtually all the comments with environmental concern give them. The only thing is that the solutions given require a drastic change in economic thinking. But that is what is needed. And let’s face it, the GNPs of 1960’s were quite adequate for decent life. In fact, the nationalistic populists often think of that time as the golden age in all other aspects. If one did not require growth, the investments needed for it could be used, e.g., for taking care of elderly, children and sick. In many ways a stationary, sustainable society could be more humane than the present growth-based society. And since it would also be sustainable, why cannot political and economic leaders accept that this kind of structural change, revolution, would be needed to secure the well-being of mankind.    

 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, economic growth, sustainability

Global Environment Tax - for the Survival of the Earth

Sunnuntai 9.6.2019 klo 18:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It is an undeniable fact that the Earth’s resources and possibilities for production are overused. Another indisputable fact is that the wealth in the world is very unequally distributed. A third fact almost universally accepted is that companies move their production to cheap countries and that companies and individuals often go to great lengths to pay as little tax as possible. These facts have resulted in the most inappropriate response that is possible: the rise of populism striving for nationalistic isolation. The solution could have been appropriate a hundred years ago with less than two billion people, virtually no mass communications and no means for rapid transport possible for common people. However, today we must accept that we live in one world, and that what is happening in, e.g., India will affect us in, e.g., Scandinavia. It doesn’t help us much if we can say that “our nation has done everything correctly, but we are going under because other nations have not done enough”, when the environmental problems such as climate change, environmental pollution and food shortages make life intolerable.

Thus, only global solutions can be sustainable. However, up to now globalism has only been associated with favouring the rich. All the international negotiations have had the dividing line between developed and developing nations. Both outsets must be changed if we will have sustainability and will leave habitable Earth to our grandchildren. A balanced solution to this would be a progressive global environment tax (GET). The funds collected this way would be used for urgent environmental needs throughout the world. Below a certain adjusted (one needs to take into account absolutely necessary expenses required for warming the houses and clothing that differ between warm and cold climates) level of income there would be no tax, and tax would be increased with income. This would ensure that inhabitants from low- and high-income areas would pay justified tax. The tax should also be paid from property to make it impossible toIMG_20170725_0053.jpg evade the tax by, e.g., investing in stock market. Further, since the tax would be global, companies could not evade it by transferring operations to low-tax nations. A question, which also has to be solved is how different nations would pay the global tax, since their involvement in the overall economy differs. The simplest solution, again taking into account the different wealth of nations, would be to have the contribution as gross national product divided by population. It would be imperative for nations to be required to contribute to the global tax fund, since they have very different roles in overall economy. Since a major environmental problem is that the world population has increased beyond what can be tolerated, the average number of children should somehow be taken into account. This could be done by including in the nation tax average number of children. The nation’s contribution would be increased, if the number of children exceeded the number calculated for a stable population. As no nation would be exempt from the nation-wide payment, this would ensure that the population contribution would be paid also by countries, where most of the inhabitants would be exempt from payment. GET would be collected by the United Nations: UN already has all the world’s nations included.

Utopia? Probably, but environmental deterioration (which includes climate change) is the major enemy of every person living on the Earth. Consequently, combatting climate change should be given a high priority in allocating defence budget funds. All the nations in the world could easily pay a significant sum of money to GET – and doing that would actually decrease the need for traditional defence spending. Besides, having large defence budgets do not help much if there is nothing to defend any more. Utopia, maybe, but we need these kinds of solutions in order to give a habitable Earth to our grandchildren.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, environmental pollution, developmental aid

Methane levels on the rise - have we entered the vicious circle

Tiistai 4.6.2019 klo 16:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Approximately two and a half years ago I wrote in this blog about rapid recent increase of methane level in the atmosphere. It has now become news in major newspapers and TV. As the figure indicates, after a period of constant level, the methane concentration has again Methane_trend.jpgstarted to increase in 2007. The news have been puzzled about the reason, but for me it was quite apparent already two and a half years ago.

A large part of the methane is under permafrost. It is largely from such deposis that the Russian natural gas exporters take the gas. If the permafrost has started melting, uncontrolled release of natural gas is possible. I fear that this is what is happening. Reports from Siberia have indicated that in the last few years large, unexplained holes in the ground have appeared. The most likely explanation for such holes is that the temperature has increased enough so that some of the natural gas deposits have been able to burst to the atmosphere. This is a worrying possibility, because it means that it is not enough that we limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Further temperature rise will increase methane release markedly, and, consequently, the temperature increase will continue even if we are able to limit carbon dioxide emissions (because methane is 30 times more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). If the methane increase is due to permafrost melting, we need to decrease the temperature to levels before year 2000. Even this would be possible, there are technical means to do it. However, it would require a radical change in many people's thinking.

To combat climate change we have virtually all the means, the problem is people's attitudes. Especially the statement "We are so small proportion of world's population that it doesn't pay for us to do anything, since that will not have any effect. We can require that other nations do as much as we have already done" is the most problematic of everything. It is like a cyclist riding under a bus, which did not follow the traffic rules. Being right doesn't help the dead cyclist much. It is the same with environmental questions. If we can do something, even in the places which would be other nations' tasks, we must do it to keep the world habitable for our children and children's children.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, natural gas, permafrost

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

American Politics and Climate Actions

Lauantai 4.5.2019 klo 18:03

Oh, California - the beautiful landscapes of Yosemite, the redwood forests etc. But it is getting dry; because of overuse of water the groundwater level has decreased alarmingly in recent years. The climate change has aggravated droughts, and every year more and more serious wildfires are news all over the world. Last time the fires reacheIMG_20170727_0035_NEW.jpgd Yosemite. The fires in California are one indication of the effects of climate change. However, that is not the only one. The storms in the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and even the extreme cold spells in recent American winters are all indications of climate change. Yet, despite of all evidence about human influence on climate, the present Trump/Republican government denies that any change is happening. They have even tried to remove any wording suggesting that climate change may be affectng Arctic environments and should be combatted from the final communication of the Arctic nations during Finland's presidentship. The funny thing is that even if climate change were not caused by human influence, the overuse of Earth's resources cannot be denied. One questions, what the reasons behind denying facts can be. The sorry fact is that the present government, as the populists (including Putin's Russia) all over the world, is living in the past, when there were only two billion people in the world, one had enough resources to waste and the carbon dioxide production from fossil fuels was no problem. The posiion of Americam government is like that of car passsengers, who are driving full speed towards a brick wall and quarreling about their sitting positions. 

LuckiIMG_20170826_0191.jpgly, it appears that the majority of Americans see climate change as a fundamental problem, which needs to be tackled. Since the president of the USA is very powerful, the choice of POTUS in 2020 is very decisive for the wellbeing of the world. As a latest democraic presidential candidate, Beto O'Rourke said that America need to spend up to ten trillion dollars in combatting climate change within the next ten years. This would indicate a drastic change to the actions of the present government, and would give hope to the world.

The reason why I, living in the other side of the world, am taking a strong position in American politics, is that all of us are inhabiting a small, overused planet, and whatever the actions in one side are, we on the other side will be affected. We cannot isolate ourselves any more, that priviledge has been lost a long time ago with increasing population and resource use. Unfortunately, many people have not accepted this. But the truth is that in next American presidential election one is pretty much deciding, if one chooses the unsustainable past or future, which may be sustainable.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, droughts, forest fires

The Earth Day - 49th time

Maanantai 22.4.2019 klo 12:54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It is again Earth Day, and compared to last year the state of the earth has not improved. The predictions are gloomier and gloomier. However, there is much to be pleased about, despite the gloomy predictions. The state of environment, especially climate change and plastic pollution have become front page news. Although many people are of the opinion that one should not scare people by giving them too negative news, it appears that IMG_20170727_0037_NEW.jpgnothing is accomplished unless a catastroph is imminent.

As a flagship for Earth day one could take Our Planet, now available in Netflix. David Attenborough (born 1926) is still avtive, and his documentary, showing different aspects of the earth clearly indicates that the beauty and diversity of world is far too great to be given up. This is so especially, as we have the means to combat climate change and other environmental problems. With regards to plastic pollution, it doesn't even require significant funds, just a change of attitude all over the world. What is worrying that plastic collected in Industrialized Western Countries has recently been found disposed in the environment in Malaysia. It is not the way that collected plastic should be found. A likely reason for such finding is that China has stopped importing plastic waste. However, the stop of import should not result in throwing the problem elsewere, it should result in treating the material where it is used. In the case of climate change, we need to be willing to set aside funds. However, most people are certainly willing to give up some of the money we have taken as loan from future generations. The problem is people, whose attitudes are from the past, when there were only 2 billion people in the world, when Europeans dreamed of big Amerrican cars and petrol was cheap and coal mines an important work place.  Such people should see that thing are different now, and stop resisting actions that are needed to keep world beautiful as in Our World.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, extinctions, environmental conservation

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

Environmental Biology Depends on Functions

Sunnuntai 24.2.2019 klo 12:14 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The difference between a stone and an organism is function. A stone could have exactly the same DNA molecules as an organism, but without function it would be just a stone. For evolution and heritability the organisms need to reproduce; there can only be environmental effects on organisms, if the functions are affected. Consequently, any ecological response requires functional changes. For example, climate change can only influence ecosystem response via the effects of temperature on organismal function.

The study of functions is physiology. In view of the above, it is very surprising that when one studies the functional responses that determine, how environmental changes affect ecosystem function, they are not considered to be of "general interest". In contrast, studies, which look at species changes observed or changes in the genetic composition of populations without trying to understand the underlying functional mechanism are of "general interest". The reason for this cannot be anything biological, but related to the nIMG_20170730_0119.jpgumber of scientists working in the field. The number of scientists studying the functional environmental responses, i.e. ecophysiology, is very small, whereas environmental ecology, ecological and evolutionary genetics are very popular fields of biology. I am afraid that there are two major reasons for this. First, it appears that scientist are crowding in popular fields, whereby even if a field is potentially important, but not very popular to start with, it remains small. Second, it appears that the tedious laboratory work, which is needed for studying functional responses, is keeping people from doing the difficult physiological work. In physiology any determination is difficult and requires that the scientist is much more careful and accurate than in many simple ecological observations. Further, to successfully work in environmental pysiology, one needs to have good knowledge both of ecology and of animal physiology, i.e. more or less double the understanding which is common, if only ecological approach is utilized.

However, to study the responses of organisms to environmental changes and environmental contamination, physiological responses need to be studied. The common recent approach determining only mRNA level (quantitative PCR or RNA sequencing) does not say anything of the functional responses unless the transcriptional changes can be tied to protein function. It is completely plausible that the transcript is not translated to functional protein. If the transcript information is said to show functional responses, it is like saying: since we have increased the number of instuction books of how to build a machine, the amount of product the machine makes has increased.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, ecology, genetics, environmenal responses

Only half-a-degree temperature increase affects aquatic invertebrate communities

Torstai 14.2.2019 klo 15:38 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When the threats caused by climate change are discussed, it is often brought forward that temperature increase above 1.5 degrees would be critical. Usually verified data of what has already happened is not brought forward. Another proSci_Total_Environ.jpgblem with most biological climate change studies is that conclusions are based on experiments lasting days or weeks instead of the many years that are required for the temperature increase in nature that is rapidly achieved experimentally. A recent study in the Science of the Total Environment avoided both problems. Haase et al. (Sci. Total Environ. 658, 1531-1538; 2019) have followed the invertebrate communities in some Central European streams for 25 years. During that time the temperature has increased only 0.5 degrees. However, despite the minute temperature change, the invertebrate communities were markedly affected. At first sight, as compared to the recently reported decrease of insect diversity, the findings look good: both the total abundance and the diversity of invertebrates increased by approximately 40 %. However, when the groups were differentiated on the basis of their temperature preferences, it was observed that the abundance and diversity of cold-water taxa was halved. For the species living in the north this is very bad news. Temperature changes occurring already, and not ones expected to occur 30 years from now, may cause their extinctions.

So, political decision-makers should start taking the school-children demonstrating for climate actions instead of going to school seriously, not just saying that we are taking climate issues into account in our decisions, as long as they affect economic growth minimally.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, community ecology, freshwater biology

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

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