Tidal Energy - an Almost Untapped Major Energy Source

Tiistai 29.11.2022 klo 13:39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Moon gravity creates tides, felt everywhere in oceanic coasts. Tides have immense energy, probably more so than the inland waters, which have been used for generating electricity for years. Furthermore, as flowing water, tides are very regular, occurring regardless of sunshine or wind. Thus, the tidal energy does not suffer from the problems with solar and wind power, i.e., marked daily or seasonal variation. Further, huge tides wash the coasts of many of the world’s rich countries, and in principle the technology for generating electricity from tidal energy is already available.

Because of the above, one would imagine that tidal power features strongly in the renewable energy sector. But no, so far there are only a couple of experimental tidal power plants in function. The main reasons for this are probably the following: First, there was no tradition of converting tidal energy to usable power. In contrast, windmills have been around for at least a thousand years, as also riverine power stations. Second, since coal and oil have been cheap, generating energy using the fossil fuels has been the preferred way for energy production.

The situation must change now that we shall combat climate change. A major argument of the fossil fuel lobbying groups has been that the green shift is not really possible, since wind and solar power have marked production fluctuations. The same argument is used by nuclear power advocates, who maintain that in order to get assured constancy of energy production, nuclear power plants are required. However, tidal energy power plants will produce energy at a predictable rate, and building them is both cheaper and more rapid than nuclear power plants. Also, they do not generate carbon dioxide emissions thus representing a true green shift.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, electricity, energy production, green shift, fossil fuels

Another disappointing climate meeting

Maanantai 21.11.2022 klo 15:47 - Mikko Nikinmaa

We know what should be done. We have the methods and technology to do it. There would even be enough funds to do it. Yet, combatting climate change remains at the stage of lip service. Politics does not enable climate actions to be done. It is very funny that the same politicians, who are so worried about our children inheriting debt are not really worried about giving our children an Earth, where only some places are truly inhabitable (or in the worst case not even that; the bleakest scenario has the Earth going the Venus way with average temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius).

Country leaders quarrel as to who should pay. Naturally, climate actions should not cost at all. Surprisingly many politicians do not accept the existence of climate change despite the heat waves, droughts, surprising floods, wildfires and melting glaciers. Oil-producing countries try to delay the transfer to not using oil, China tries to convince others that it is a developing country, which needs to get financial support to carrying climate actions. Small, rich countries have large groups of people saying that we need not do anything, as our contribution is necessarily so small that it does not affect world’s climate at all. Maybe a lot of the reluctance of politicians to do anything is due to the fact that they are overwhelmingly over 50 years old, and are living in the past. In their childhood climate change was not an issue.

So I, as an old-age pensioner, hope that there is a rapid generation shift in political leaders of the world. To me it appears that only people who have grown with acknowledging that climate change can seriously affect their life will be able to carry out the necessary actions even if the Gross National Product decreases because of them.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: COP27, climate change, environmental politics

Heart function and individual variability play major roles in temperature tolerance of fish

Maanantai 14.11.2022 klo 14:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change has major effects on fish, especially fish in lakes, since the whole water body can warm up as a result of long-lasting heat waves. Because of the uniform temperature regardless of the depth, fish cannot seek colder temperatures near the bottom. As a consequence, massive fish mortalities occur in shallow lakes of temperate zone every summer nowadays.

The reasons, why fish die as a result of increased temperature can only be understood by studying the functional changes occurring as a result of temperature elevation. Thus, physiological studies should be in the centre of climate change studies. If the reasons for vulnerability to increased temperature are known, it can also be estimated, which measurable responses predict fish mortalities. This as a background, and recognizing that individual variability of fish determines why some die and others remain living, we studied how fish tolerant and intolerant to high temperatures differed from each other. The results of the extensive studies are reported by Anttila et al in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology (//doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpa.2022.111340).

Our results show that for a given age group, heart function is decisive in determining temperature tolerance. The efficiency of heart is markedly different in different individuals, whereby marked individual variability in temperature tolerance occurs. Thus, in predicting the effects of climate change on fish populations, we should not restrict our analysis to the mean response but also to the variability observed. In future it must be evaluated to which extent the thermal tolerance and its variability are heritable, as this will have significant impact on the vulnerability of species to global warming.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fish biology, temperature acclimation, heat wave, fish mortality

World Scientists' Warning 2022

Torstai 3.11.2022 klo 13:43 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The alliance of world scientists, with the lead of William Ripple in Oregon, have again done a report of what has been happening during the recent past. The report is published in BioScience and can be accessed freely at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biac083. The year 2022 has been characterized by a multitude of climate-related disasters, which the report tabulates. I have taken the information from the table and give it below.

In addition, the film “The Scientist’s Warning” has now been released and is free to view online at https://scientistswarningfilm. Further, different climate-related resources can be accessed in the Alliance of World Scientists website https://scientistswarning.forestry.oregonstate.edu/

Climate disasters in 2022.

January–September

Many rivers in Europe have run low or dried up partly because of the worst drought in 500 years and intense heat waves. Climate change has likely played a significant role in this crisis by increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves.

February

La Niña and climate change contributed to record-breaking rainfall on the east coast of Australia. This led to flooding that damaged thousands of properties and killed eight people.

February–March

Record-breaking flooding occurred along the northeastern coast of Australia, leading to standing water, which, in turn, promoted the spread of mosquitoes that carry the Japanese encephalitis virus. Such flooding is likely becoming more common because of climate change.

February–July

The number of people affected by drought in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia who have limited access to safe water increased from 9.5 million to 16.2 million. This increasing drought severity may be at least partly due to climate change (Ghebrezgabher et al. 2016).

March

A severe drought in the Southern Plains of the United States put the winter wheat crop at risk. Although droughts are complex phenomena with many possible causes, increasing drought intensity has been linked to climate change (Mukherjee et al. 2018).

March–April

A deadly heat wave occurred in India and Pakistan, killing at least 90 people and contributing to widespread crop losses and wildfires. It was estimated that climate change made this event 30 times more likely to occur.

April

Climate change likely contributed to extreme rainfall in Eastern South Africa, which triggered flooding and landslides that killed at least 435 people and affected more than 40,000 people.

April–June

Widespread dust storms in the Middle East led to thousands of people being hospitalized; such dust storms may be increasing in frequency because of climate change.

May

Extremely heavy rainfall in northeastern Brazil resulted in landslides and flooding that killed at least 100 people. Climate change may be responsible for the increasing frequency of extreme rainfall.

June

A severe storm in Yellowstone (United States) caused the Gardner River and Lamar River to overflow, destroying parts of various roads in Yellowstone National Park. Such extreme flooding could be increasing in frequency because of climate change.

June

Several countries in Western Europe experienced a record-breaking heat wave. This heat wave contributed to major wildfires in Spain and Germany. Many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere also experienced extreme heat; for example, temperatures reached 104.4 degrees Fahrenheit in Isesaki, Japan—an all-time record for the country. Similarly, a heat dome in the United States contributed to record-breaking temperatures. Other affected countries include Finland, Iran, Norway, and Italy. In general, extreme heat is becoming more common because of climate change (Luber and McGeehin 2008).

June

Following extreme heat, China experienced record-breaking rainfall, which may be linked to climate change.

June

Bangladesh experienced the worst monsoon flooding in 100 years, killing at least 26 people. This flooding is likely at least partly due to climate change causing monsoons to become more variable.

June–July

Extreme rainfall led to flooding in some parts of New South Wales, Australia. Sydney is currently on track to experience the wettest year on record. It is likely that climate change contributed at least partly to this rainfall and flooding.

June–August

Deadly floods in Pakistan have killed more than 1,000 people and affected roughly 33 million people, including 16 million children, since mid-June. Impacts include surging rates of dengue fever, gastric infections, and malaria. These floods may be at least partly related to climate change causing monsoon rainfall to become more intense.

June–August

China experienced an extraordinary heat wave, which may be the most severe that has ever been recorded globally. Such events are likely becoming more common because of climate change. The extreme heat contributed to large-scale crop failures and wildfires, in addition to exacerbating a major drought that caused 66 rivers to dry up and led to a significant decline in hydroelectricity generation.

August–September

California and other parts of the Western United States faced extremely hot temperatures because of a heat dome, which caused seven firefighters to be hospitalized with heat-related injuries. The effects of the heat dome may have been worsened by climate change.

September–October

In the United States, Hurricane Ian caused damage across many parts of Florida and the Carolinas, killing more than 100 people and leaving at least 2.5 million without electrical power. Ian is one of the costliest and strongest hurricanes to ever hit the United States. Climate change is likely causing strong and rapidly intensifying storms such as Ian to become more common.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, floods, wildfires, drought, heat waves

Climate Promises from Glasgow - It was all talk

Keskiviikko 26.10.2022 klo 16:13 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Last year 193 countries solemnly agreed in Glasgow to speed up climate actions to decrease the negative effects of climate change. A year has gone and the next climate meeting in Egypt is just around the corner so it is good time to evaluate, if the pledges made have been fulfilled as promised for the year 2022. This is even more important, as the year 2022 has been characterized by huge wildfires, record-breaking heat, extreme drought, melting of glaciers and devastating floods. In addition, deliberate natural gas leaks have been generated and Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused fossil fuel use that much exceeds peace-time consumption.

Further, now that energy price is high, the populistic politicians everywhere demand that more electricity should be produced using subsidized fossil fuels. One would have thought that the pronounced adverse signals that things are going wrong with climate at an alarming rate would have made governments to take mitigation measures of climate change more seriously than a year ago, but no. “Blaah, blaah, blaah, it is all talk”, said climate activists disappointed after the Glasgow meeting.

Indeed, only 26 countries, i.e. 13 % of nations who made pledges to do something extra in 2022, have fulfilled their promises. This means that climate change can continue almost as nothing had happened. For a large part the inactivity is said to be due to actions being economically too expensive. This claim does not hold, as there are funds to repair the climate-caused damages. Indeed, proper combatting climate change could currently turn out to be cheaper than repairing the damage done by climate-related catastrophes.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, wildfires, fossil fuels

Air pollution increases stroke risk

Perjantai 7.10.2022 klo 13:44 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Today, only climate change effects of fossil fuel burning get attention. While climate change is undoubtedly the ultimate stress, it does not seem to reach the minds and be accepted by many people even today when the heat waves, hurricanes, floods and wildfires all testify that climate change is happening. The people with the highest percentage of climate sceptics are also the most susceptible to stroke: overweight, with low education, not exercising and driving a lot. They are not likely to be worried about something that may happen to the next generation or to other people as long as they can live their comfortable life.

But they may get stroke! That is something they are worried about when they drive to work in the congested highways of towns with high nitrogen oxide and elevated small particle levels. In a recent article in Neurology, Tian et al. (DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000201316) showed quite conclusively that this kind of air pollution increases stroke risk. Earlier studies have shown that air pollution causes all sorts of lung-related problems. Thus, there is quite clear evidence that fossil fuel use should be stopped even if one is only worried about one’s own health and wouldn’t care at all of the well being of future generations.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, climate sceptics, nitrogen oxide, traffic

The thermal tolerance of fish is not increased by 40-45 years of exposure to increased temperature

Sunnuntai 25.9.2022 klo 18:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The waters in the vicinity of nuclear power plants give a possibility to investigate how increased temperature affects fish populations. Nuclear power plants use ambient water to cool down the units where energy is produced. The cooling water is returned to the environment. As a consequence the water in the vicinity of the power plant is 2-5oC higher than in the environment generally. In Finland, nuclear power has been produced 40-45 years, so organisms have experienced the increased temperature for that period of time. Both the temperature increase and the duration of exposure are similar to what can be expected to occur as a result of climate change.

In her Ph.D. thesis, which is defended on September 30, 2022, Giovanna Mottola used this natural exposure to evaluate, if the 40-45-year exposure was able to improve the thermal tolerance of stickleback. The results indicate first, that regardless of the previous exposure history, a short heat wave increases the highest temperature tolerated acutely, and second, that previous history of living in the high temperature of the vicinity of nuclear power plant does not affect the temperature tolerance as compared to non-exposed fish. This means that fish living at an increased temperature are closer to the tolerance limit than fish living in cooler temperatures, and if a heat wave occurs, are consequently more likely to succumb. Although the studies are only on one species, similar results have been observed with the couple of other species so far studied. This suggests that the upper thermal tolerance of a given species is fixed and cannot be evolutionary increased within the time window available in climate change scenarios.

If one then considers on the basis of the natural laboratory data the ecological status of fish populations in the climate change scenarios, it appears likely that marked disappearance of fish occurs, before the migration of more temperature-tolerant, southern fish occurs. This will be true because of the time constraints of movement. Also, coastal fish are not likely to cross open water areas, so in their case the northward migration of southern populations is further slowed down.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fish populations, temperature acclimation

Amazonas may have reached the tipping point already - if not, urgent action is necessary

Maanantai 12.9.2022 klo 18:51 - Mikko Nikinmaa

If 20-25 % of a rainforest area is lost (deforested, burned), the forest turns to savannah. This is because the water cycle maintaining the forest is interrupted. The tree area of the forest needs to be adequate in order to guarantee that the evaporative water loss from the trees turns to rain that keeps the forest alive. With decreasing evaporation, the moisture generated is not enough to turn to rain, and the moisture-requiring forests disappear and are replaced by savannah. This generates an extensive loss of the carbon-dioxide absorbing capacity of the area. Since Amazonas has for good reason been called Earth’s lungs, the deforestation and burning can be called Earth’s lung cancer.

It is estimated that the area of Amazonas that has already been changed to agricultural land is a little less than 20 %. In addition, another 6 % is under quite heavy human influence, but could be returned to proper rain forest. Thus, we are clearly at the tipping point; if forest loss is allowed to continue, we lose the major carbon dioxide sink, if we take the countermeasures, restoring the heavily impacted area, Earth’s lungs may survive.

When the international agreements on combatting climate change were done, one point that was agreed upon was that the industrialized North would give lots of funds for third world countries to enable them to establish, e.g., protected forest areas. Hitherto only less than ten % of the promised funds have been allocated. It would, however, be easy to fulfil the monetary promises, e.g., by placing a small climate tax on the superrich. Then their riches would be more beneficial to mankind than the short space explorations.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon dioxide sink, water cycle

Forest Fires of the Arctic - as Big Problem as Amazonian Forest Fires

Maanantai 22.8.2022 klo 17:34 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When people are talking about the role of forest fires in climate change, the talk is almost invariably restricted to destruction of Amazonas and other major rain forest areas. Without doubt the problem of Amazonian deforestation is highly important as it has been estimated that if more than 20 % of the rainforest area disappeared, the rainforest would start turning into savannah. Amazonas has already lost more than 15 % of the forest area. For the world’s carbon dioxide balance this is a huge threat, as savannah is a much weaker carbon dioxide sink than rain forest.

However, wildfires elsewhere can be as big a problem to the earth’s well-being as fires in rain forests. To give an idea of the overall problem of wildfires, the estimated carbon dioxide release in 2022 already exceeds the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of European Union. Thus, small reductions in anthropogenic emissions cannot compensate for the forest fires.

The Arctic forest fires cause many additional problems. The magnitude of forest fires in the Arctic areas has tripled in the last 50 years. The first immediate problem is naturally the carbon dioxide given up in the burning forest. Luckily, much of the carbon dioxide is quite rapidly taken up by regrowth. Much worse problem of the Arctic wildfires is that the permafrost starts to melt. It is estimated that about twice the amount of carbon as is currently present in atmosphere is currently stored below permafrost, mainly as natural gas. Imagine if that becomes liberated via the craters developed by the melting permafrost – such a catastrophe is not included even in the most pessimistic climate models.

In comparison to the liberation of natural gas the other problems associated with wildfires may be considered small but are still serious. For salmonids migrating up the rivers to spawn, the fires cause problems liberating significant amount of nutrients and muddying the water. Consequently, the oxygen level of the water decreases, and the bottom becomes unsuitable for egg development. This, together with increased water temperature may wipe out the populations of salmonids altogether. Lichens, which are an important food item for deer (such as reindeer and caribou) may take up to 50 years to recover from burning. Similarly, cranberries and blueberries can rapidly grow back from roots, if only the above-ground part of the plant burns. However, if the fire is so severe that also the roots burn, the recovery is slow, as seeds must come from elsewhere to replace earlier growth. Losses of plants and animals can also otherwise be replaced only slowly, so that since the biodiversity of Arctic areas is low, it will remain extremely low in burnt areas for many years after fires.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, natural gas, carbon dioxide emissions, heat waves

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

Did you know?

Perjantai 12.8.2022 klo 10:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires in the northern hemisphere in 2022 already exceed the emissions of the whole European Union.

The highest temperature measured (“in shade”) in 2022 is 63 degrees Celsius.

The carbon dioxide emissions per person are highest in oil-producing small Arab countries, tightly followed by Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Estonia and USA. The emissions by an average American are approximately double of that of and average Chinese. An average European’s emissions are currently slightly above an average Chinese, but whereas the emissions by Europeans are decreasing, those of Chinese are increasing. An average Russian emits much more carbon dioxide than Europeans, being in the middle between Chinese and Americans. Within Europe, an average Finn emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide as an average Swede. Currently, an Indian emits about 15 % of the emissions of an American, and an African only 5 %.

Humans are using more than half of all habitable land to either agriculture, roads or habitation. Forests make up ca. 35 % of habitable land, and a large part is subject to human activities, so one can estimate that currently less than 20 % of all habitable land is free from human use. Out of the agricultural land use, 75-80 % is used for livestock (either directly or to produce fodder).

Virtually all seas are overfished. The present aquacultural practices do not decrease overfishing, as most of the feed for the cultivated preferred species is obtained by catching and processing less valuable species.

The sea ice extent in Antarctica has been the lowest ever throughout 2022 and also in Arctic much less than the long-time average. While the Arctic temperatures in 2022 are generally much higher than the long-time average, the area between Alaska and Eastern Siberia makes a notable exception as it has been very cold there.

The world’s glaciers have lost more than 25 meters of ice by 2022 relative to the situation in 1970. Since the water from glaciers is the primary water source in many areas, and glaciers have melted, the water availability decreases.

In England, July was driest after 1935. Lake Mead (the most important reservoir in Colorado river) is drying up. In other places deadly floods occur (Kentucky, South Korea)

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, water availability, land use, carbon dioxide emissions

Oil Exploration Boom Is Heating Up

Maanantai 25.7.2022 klo 13:19 - Mikko Nikinmaa

With huge forest fires raging more carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere than the present restrictions in fossil fuel use diminish the emissions. The net result is further heating, leading to further forest fires, leading to further heating…and so on.

One would imagine that at least now the world leaders would start markedly diminishing our dependency on oil production, but no. It is only last November that virtually every country in the world pledged in Glasgow to do quite a bit to combat climate change. Notably, though, leaders of Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Iran (and a couple of other nations, which I don’t mention as they are not major global players in the production or use of oil) did not attend the Glasgow Summit. Well, the leaders made pledges, but what has recently happened?

Putin has started the war against Ukraine and ridiculed the European aim to shift from oil to green energy production. Since EU, UK and USA are stopping or have stopped to use Russian oil, oil production elsewhere is increasing. For example, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia, asking them to increase oil production. Norway is increasing oil production and offshore drilling. In view of these incidences, it is no wonder that Congo is slipping from its Glasgow pledge. In Glasgow, Congo agreed to protect its large rain forest for the next ten years. In exchange for this pledge, the international community promised to give Congo 500 000 000 USD.

Promises are made to be broken. Congo has now started an auction for oil exploration in its rainforest. It is expected that the oil production of Congo could increase 50-fold. At the same time the rain forest of Congo as a carbon sink would clearly decrease.

The poor countries like Congo maintain that the rich industrialized countries are again being colonial – trying to keep themselves rich and using poor nations as “carbon dioxide sinks” preventing them from economic growth if they have their way. There is some truth in this claim. After all, who are most likely to use the oil drilled from the rain forest in Congo. And the companies getting most of the profits from oil drilling are hardly from Congo. Notably, Elon Musk would rather spend his money on Mars than help people on Earth. He has already spent much more on space travel than the international pledge of funds to Congo is. I wonder which is more important for humankind – or even to him, his space travel or combatting climate change?

All in all, the best way to combat climate change would be to markedly reduce economic inequality.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, economic inequality

Profits before Planet

Keskiviikko 20.7.2022 klo 19:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

This summer in the industrialized north has been hotter than ever. Temperatures over +40 C have been reached even in England. And the heat is not restricted to one area, but above-average temperatures are measured everywhere in Northern Hemisphere. On top of the acute heat waves it is now estimated that the present trend for temperature increase to 2.7 C above preindustrial values causes 40 % of world’s human population to live outside the thermal niche.

One would imagine that the heat and wildfires would wake up even the climate sceptics, but no. And, unfortunately, many of the people who have much influence on fossil fuel production and consumption belong to the group that does not care about what is happening to the climate. It is profits before planet. These people often say that they are worried about leaving debt to the future generations. However, a little more debt hardly matters, if one can have tolerable climate instead of scorching heat.

Oil price has recently rocketed, and consequently oil companies are making huge profits. It is naturally too much to ask that instead of lining the owners’ pockets, the profits would be used for combatting climate change. Putin’s Russia is one of the countries benefiting from high oil price, even if the sales to Europe and North America are stopped. Putin has throughout his reign been known as climate sceptic, so it was no surprise that he recently ridiculed the European aim to turn from fossil fuels (where Europe is dependent on Russia) to green energy. In the USA the Supreme Court ruling made it virtually impossible to carry out climate actions. The final blow to President Biden’s climate plans came when the “Democratic” Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia decided not to support any legislation supporting climate action. Needless to say that his major donors are companies depending on coal (and oil). What is common to the above people is their age: people around 70 or older hardly need to suffer the scorching heat that younger people must suffer 30-40 years from now.  Unfortunately, even younger people in politics do not seem to take climate change seriously. For example, the candidates for Conservative Party leadership did not have climate change among the important topics they need to address.

And it was +40 in London.

Lue lisää »

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, heat waves

We have got a problem

Keskiviikko 18.5.2022 klo 15:54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

More than half of Arctic land area belongs to Russia. Now that Russia is for a good reason isolated from most of the world, it is virtually impossible to get to have on-site information about what happens to the permafrost land in this time of climate change. This is a big problem, as there are huge deposits of natural gas under the permafrost, and if it melts, uncontrolled leaks of this very potent greenhouse gas get into the atmosphere.

Uncontrolled methane leaks have probably already taken place, as the appearance of unexplained craters has been reported before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Also, the measured methane concentration in air exceeds the concentration, which can be explained on the basis of agriculture, animal production and losses during oil and natural gas excavation, transport and use. So, now that we cannot follow the occurrence of leaks on site, the importance of remote sensing increases. Land-based measuring stations cannot report what is happening, as they are also in Russia and not available for Western climate scientists.

Luckily we now have quite extensive satellite surveillance system, which enables rapid evaluation of methane and other greenhouse gas concentrations. It is clear that the exact locations of methane leaks remains unknown, but that would be the case even if one had access to Russian locations, since most of the permafrost area is uninhabited.   

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane, permafrost, Russia

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.  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04644-x) 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

Heat Tolerance of Some Animals Is Already Exceeded

Tiistai 19.4.2022 klo 20:22 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Among animals, humans are probably among the best in adapting to hot and arid environments. There are several reasons for this. First, we have lost the fur coat almost completely – thus the name “naked ape”. This maximizes the heat loss. Second, humans are able to use evaporative cooling better than virtually any animal. We have more sweat glands per unit area than other mammals, and the glands are of the eccrine type, whereas the glands of most other mammals are of apocrine type. Eccrine glands are capable of secreting sweat of low salinity for a long period of time. In contrast, the sweat form apocrine glands is of higher salinity, and the secretion capacity is smaller. Many mammals such as cats and dogs have limited number of sweat glands: they are completely absent in bats. Also in birds evaporative water loss is a major mechanism of cooling. This is often done by panting and in some species by gular vibration. The physiology of heat tolerance in small endotherms has been reviewed by McKechnie and Wolf in Physiology 34:302-313 (2019).

The problem with evaporative cooling is that it requires water, which is very scarce in arid environments. Thus, even in species such as humans, which have efficient evaporative heat loss, the lack of water may cause mortalities. As most hot areas also become drier, this is a major problem with climate change. That the heat-related problems have already become serious ones even to humans is given by the estimated increase in heat-related deaths, which has increased 20-fold in 20 years after 1990’s. For humans the mortality is small as compared to bats in Australia and in South Africa. As bats don’t have sweat glands, their tolerance of increased temperature is very weak. So heat waves have caused many bats to literally drop dead from the trees they have lived in. It is estimated that for one particular species 1/3 of the population has died because of the heat. In Australia and South Africa also mass mortalities of birds have occurred because of heat waves. I bet that similar heat-induced mass mortalities have taken place also in other hot, arid areas, but there have not been scientific reports about them. Also birds appear to have weaker tolerance of increased temperatures than mammals.

Any temperature increase now will put an increasing number of species to knife’s edge regarding their survival. Bats and birds serve as first indicators of intolerable heat. So, canary birds were used in coal mines as warning signs. Now birds indicate that coal use must be stopped. It is appropriate that the first mass mortalities of animals occurred in Australia as the country is the biggest coal exporter in the world.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, temperature regulation, mass mortalities, evaporative cooling

It is only 5 % - why the human addition to carbon dioxide load matters?

Tiistai 5.4.2022 klo 14:40 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The people denying that human influence has little or nothing to do with climate change invariably point out that the addition by humans represents only 5 % of the total production of carbon dioxide at any given moment. Surely, such a small increment cannot have an effect attributed to it.

Another group of people say that the climate change problem is only caused by rich industrialized nations, and has nothing to do with population growth in poor areas of the world. The richest 10 % of the world’s population cause 1/3 of all greenhouse gas emissions while poorest 50 % emit only 15 % of world’s total human-emitted carbon dioxide.

Both of these statements are drastically wrong, and below I try to indicate why. In both cases the ultimate reason is the disturbance of the carbon cycle. In undisturbed nature the carbon cycle is in equilibrium. The carbon dioxide produced in the respiration of all organisms is used up in the photosynthesis and oxygen is produced.

A 5 % increase in carbon dioxide production, because of fossil fuel use, generates a huge disequilibrium, which we now see as climate change. In undisturbed nature, the disequilibrium would slowly (in hundreds to thousands of years) be corrected by an increase of green vegetation to generate a new equilibrium. The 5 % disequilibrium is so huge than the return to equilibrium lasts a long time if it is possible at all. Tipping point can be caused by the disequilibrium such that the temperature increase is so large that a net increase in photosynthesis cannot be achieved. In such a case temperature increase just continues and as worst, Earth becomes similar to Venus.

A disturbance of the carbon cycle can also result from the increased use of land by humans. This is what is currently happening in poor areas, where population increases. The carbon dioxide uptake and oxygen production by green plants is currently decreasing, mainly because of deforestation (but also as agricultural land erodes or is turned to human settlements). This causes similar worsening of the climate change situation as the fossil fuel use of the industrialized nations.

We live in one world with limits, and we should all work for the wellbeing of the planet. We should stop blaming others, which is the easy thing to do, and instead aim at reducing inequality and excessive consumption.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, deforestation, carbon cycle, population growth

Russian Ukraine aggression - and the loser is Russia

Keskiviikko 23.2.2022 klo 19:45 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Russia has remained as a nation exporting fossil fuels and raw materials, which other nations turn into more advanced products. Now that Russia is attacking Ukraine, virtually all nations are placing economic sanctions on Russia. As the major one is the decision of Germany to stop the approval process of Nord Stream 2. The dependence of Europe, especially Germany, on the largely Russian natural gas has hampered combatting climate change seriously. However, there would be an alternative to Russian natural gas already available, and Putin’s actions may be enough to change even the minds of Germany’s greens. One could just start the nuclear power plants already in place until there is enough windmills and solar power available. Doing this would have two major beneficial effects: first, it would immediately reduce the carbon dioxide emissions so much that the EU goals would easily be achieved. Second, it would really hurt Russia, as their major export income would disappear. That could stop Putin, or cause him to be replaced; I think the reason for his aggressive behaviour towards Ukraine is because he is afraid that even Russian people start seeing that a democratic country has developed from the earlier Soviet Union mainland (I am not counting the Baltic nations here, because they were democracies before being forced to become part of the Soviet Union).

The skeptical reader here says that it would not make a difference to Russia, if gas export to Europe would decrease, as it can be replaced by sales to another autocratic country, China. However, I don’t believe that China would want to severe its ties to Europe and USA for the simple reason that they are much more important to Chinese economy than Russia. Chinese exports to EU and USA are about 15 times greater than to Russia. This has actually already become obvious in the UN Security Council discussions, where China indicated that it was of the opinion that the souvereignty of a nation (Ukraine) should be respected.

Thus, in my opinion, Putin is shooting himself in the stomach by his aggression against Ukraine. So far, he has developed unprecedent unity of EU and NATO, and he will further speed up the transformation of Europe to fossil fuel-free area faster than has been planned, depriving Russia from export income. And Russia is not known to produce anything which could be called high tech.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, nord stream 2

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

Promoting SSAB - a Big Steel Producer Is Going Green

Maanantai 31.1.2022 klo 15:54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the end of August (29/8/2021) I wrote about steel production, and the possibility that it would become carbon-free. The reason for making such a change is that steel making causes 10 % of the world’s carbon footprint. Now, one of the big steel companies in Europe, SSAB, has committed to change its Nordic steel production to carbon-free by 2030. This is an important step. The commitment requires major investment to electric arc furnaces, and the electricity that they use needs to be produced in power plants using renewable energy sources.

What does the company gain? Since it is the first to produce “green steel”, it will certainly have a huge advantage in the market that is looking for eco-friendly steel solutions. Certainly car makers, and actually all companies using steel and wishing to give a future-looking image of their products will choose the “green steel”.

The decision made by SSAB can only be applauded. It shows that companies willing to look forward, may reap commercial advantages, while companies making maximal profits using old technologies will be losing their market share in a couple of years.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon footprint, green economy

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