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

A vicious circle is functioning already? Warming liberates methane and methane causes warming

Perjantai 18.1.2019 klo 20:26

Methane is about 20 times as effective in causing climate warming as carbon dioxide. Much of the methane is in deposits under permafrost in the Arctic areas. Recently, another source under the permanent ice in Greenland has become apparent. The estimations of atmospheric methane level indicate that the amount liberated from agricultural sources, ruminants and swine, industrial sources, and waste treatment is not enough to explain the measured level in the last years. This means that the Arctic deposits are already contributing to the level. Notably, people visiting permafrost areas have reported that small craters can be found in permafrost, suggesting that underground methane has escaped in those places. Also, the ice cover in Greenland has been melting with simultaneous liberation of methane.

The possibility of getting close to temperature increase, which generates vicious methane cycle; methane causes temperature increase which liberates methane, is demanding that climate actions restrict temperature increase to the 1.5-2 degrees agreed in the Paris Climate Accord. By doing this, it is probably possible to prevent entering the vicious circle. However, it is most likely not possible to do it cheaply, so that the "climate promises" of different political and economic circles, which say that we do climate actions as long as they do not disturb economic growth, are utter nonsense. If real climate asctions were the goal, growthnideology would be scrapped, and the high-GNP countries would dacrease their "standard of living" to half to enable funding of climate actions to be able to avoid entering the vicious methane circle.

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

Individual variability is the key for tolerating environmental change

Tiistai 25.12.2018 klo 13:10 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When animal (or plant) populations must face environmental change such as increased themperature, eutrophication etc. the greater the variability bIMG_20170803_0035_NEW.jpgetween organisms, the more likely it is that at least some specimens are able to tolerate the disturbed conditions. Hitherto it has been virtually always been thoght that the only important thing in this regard is genetic variability. However, individual variation is possible also without genetic variation: a single genotype can have quite different phenotypes, which tolerate different conditions. 

In the case that the environment is very labile such phenotypic plasticity - i.e. individual variations in physiological function of one genotype - is better way of tolerating unfavourable environment than having genetically heterogenous populatio with one genotype tolerating that environmental problem. This is because the plasticity of the individuals that tolerate the unfavourable environment is as large as that of the original population. If, however, the tolerance depends on the genotypic variation, it is likely that the overall plasticity of the tolerant genotype is smaller than that of the original, genetically variable population. Genetical variability can be of significant benefit only in cases where the change is to one direction. The possible importance of measures of individual variation in environmental response has recently been discussed in our article (Nikinmaa and Anttila, Aquatic Toxicology, 207, 29-33; open access). Our experimental results on oil-exposed water fleas also indicate that a change in individual variability can occur even when no change is seen in the mean of the measured parameter.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, environmental pollution, phenotypic plasticity

To combat climate change with farming subsidies

Sunnuntai 25.11.2018 klo 20:15 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Much of the farmers' income in Europe is subsidies from state or European Union. This simple fact makes it feasible to do the actions in farming, which are required for combatting climate change, without much affecting farmers' income. Now that all political parties claim that they are in favour of climate actions, this should be eElokuu6.jpgasy to do. All it would take is to direct production towards products, which have less effects on climate than the present agricultural products. This could be done by giving subsidies on the basis of their climate effects. As a result, for example, having sheep for meat production would be discouraged and number of meat cattle would be reduced. Instead, cultivating, e.g., root plants like carrot and turnip could be encouraged. The exact ways by which the subsidies should be redirected should be planned by expert committees with knowledge of the direct and indirect climate effects of cultivation. One point in addition to the subbsidies themselves is that the transport of produce should be minimized, so that local production would be favoured. This could actually be included in the subsidies: increasing them, if the product is used close to the area of production. In this way the carbon dioxide footprint of transport of agricultural products would be decreased. 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: agricultural policy, land use, climate change

Climate change- the reason for the collapse of Western civilization

Sunnuntai 28.10.2018 klo 17:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It has now started -books are written about how western civilization collapses, because adequate actions are not taken to prevent climate change. In the book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway a future historian from about year 2400 writes about the Collapse of Western Civilization a little before 2100. The book recounts how scientists are not adequately listened to by populace, and how the self-serving interests of the oil and coal lobbying groups lead to political collapse. The book, although fiction, is scaringly close to reality. And what is more scary, it was written in 2014 - before Trump got to power, and is doing everything that a politician can do to destroy both American ideals and the rest of the Western World. Actually, the climate crisis shows the problem with democracy: required actions, which are unpopular among the common people, cannot be done. The direction virtually all populists take, going back to the good old days, is not possible, because in the good old days there were 3 billion people in the world, now there are close to 8. If the population were less than half of what it is today, the climate change problem would not be acute.

I only fear that even though books of fiction start to address climate change, they are only read by people, who are aware of the problem and ready to do something, not the ones that would need the change of mind.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, democracy, science fiction

Biofuel from wood - is it climate-friendly?

Sunnuntai 14.10.2018 klo 15:21 - Mikko Nikinmaa

To be climate-friendly, the production of biofuels from wood should be associated with an increase of forest growth, which covers both the burned wood, and the carbon dioxide production during harvesting the material and transporting it to the biofuel factories and transporting the ready fuel to the fuel stations. If this requirement is not fulfilled, and new cuts done to obtain biofuel, then the new carbon dioxide produced is no better climatewise than carbon dioxide produced from oil and coal.

Climate-friendly biofuel can be produced from waste material, if new forest is planted at the same time. Then one increases the carbon sink, and simultaneously does environment-friendly treatment of waste.

I cannot understand, why production of biofuels without the above requirements is marketed as climate action, because it is definitely not that. To market something on grounds that is good for certain economic sectors and political parties, but against the most crucial requirements needed to have a sustainable world future, is something that our children do not thank us for, because we would have a choice. It would probably be against the interests of some groups, and probably more expensive than the cheapest choices, but it would in any case be a choice that we can decide on. Our children and grandchildren do not have the choice, but have to accept the situation we have generated through our choices.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, fossil fuels, bioenergy

Circadian rhythms and environmental disturbances ? underexplored interactions

Perjantai 24.8.2018 klo 9:24 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Variation of functions with daily cycles is an important component of environmental responses of organisms, and environmental disturbances can affect daily rhythms. This possibility has been surprisingly little taken into account in environmental studies. For this reason Jenni Prokkola and I have written a commentary on the topic. Its abstract follows:

Biological rhythms control the life of virtually all organisms, impacting numerous aspects ranging from subcellular processes to behaviour. Many studies have shown that changes in abiotic environmental conditions can disturb or entrain circadian (∼24 h) rhythms. These expected changes are so large that they could impose risks to the long-term viability of populations. Climate change is a major global stressor affecting the fitness of animals, partially because it challenges the adaptive associations between endogenous clocks and temperature – consequently, one can posit that a large-scale natural experiment on the plasticity of rhythm–temperature interactions is underway. Further risks are posed by chemical pollution and the depletion of oxygen levels in aquatic
environments. Here, we focused our attention on fish, which are at
heightened risk of being affected by human influence and are
adapted to diverse environments showing predictable changes in
light conditions, oxygen saturation and temperature. The examined
literature to date suggests an abundance of mechanisms that can
lead to interactions between responses to hypoxia, pollutants or
pathogens and regulation of endogenous rhythms, but also reveals
gaps in our understanding of the plasticity of endogenous rhythms in fish and in how these interactions may be disturbed by human
influence and affect natural populations. Here, we summarize
research on the molecular mechanisms behind environment–clock
interactions as they relate to oxygen variability, temperature and
responses to pollutants, and propose ways to address these
interactions more conclusively in future studies. (Source: Prokkola JM, Nikinmaa M, Journal of Experimental Biology 221, jeb179267)

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: Photoperiod, Climate change, Xenobiotic

Meat-containing diet - not as bad as usually thought

Sunnuntai 19.8.2018 klo 12:37 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When thinking of the most sustainable diet, it is normally considered that one should turn to fully vegetarian one to feed world's population. If animal products were used at all, they should be from ectotherms like insects and fish. Against this background it came as a surprise that having a small amount of traditional farm animal products in the diet actually reduces the land use needed for obtaining a given amount of energy even as compared to vegetarian diets. This surprising result is caused by the fact that farm animals can utilize feed that is human refuse - something that cannot be included in vegetarian diets. Pigs and cows happily eat the leaves of sugarbeets and turnips, which would just be left to rot and to release the carbon dioxide taken up back to the environment, if strictly vegetarian diet were utilized. This surprising conclusion was reviewd by van Zanten et al. recently (Glob Change Biol. 2018;24:4185–4194). So, the most sustainable diet includes some animal products.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: land use, climate change, food consumption, population growth

Enemy of the people

Maanantai 6.8.2018 klo 12:20 - Mikko Nikinmaa

President Trump is calling liberal media enemies of the people. At the same time the Trump government is scrapping the agreements that have been made to limit the production of toxic effluents and greenhouse gases. This happens at a time that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions are clearly seen in Northern Hemisphere. Although individual weather events cannot be associated with climate change, this time the accumulation of different phenomena has occurred in so many different places that there can only be one conclusion: enemies of the people are not the ones that report what is happening but the ones, who decide to neglect all the warning signals, and remove or weaken the emission standards as well as promote the use of fossil fuels.

The Californian wildfires are to some degree worsened by the extreme heat and drought - several people have already died. Extreme heat has been the plague of people in Europe, China, South Korea, Japan, parts of North America and parts of North Africa - altogether one can estimate that there have been several hundred heat-related deaths across the world. This is the first time ever that extreme heat has occurred simultaneously in all the continents of the Northern Hemisphere. Storms and heavy rains have already killed hundreds of people, and droughts in other places similarly. 

Thoughts and prayers are offered to the mourners of the victims of weather-related deaths by the government, which acts in many ways to worsen them. While other governments could also be doing much more than they are, at least they are not saying that the whole climate change is "fake news".

Isn't the enemy of the people the government that neglects the evidence that is seen by everyone except them and acts in ways that may worsen the situation causing human deaths.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, Paris climate agreement

World Population Day

Tiistai 10.7.2018 klo 10:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In 1960's-1970's when the environmental movement started, population growth was considered to be maybe the biggest problem for the future of the earth - it was considered that world's agriculture could not feed population exceeding 5 000 000 000. We are now 8 000 000 000. So, the development of agricultural practises has enabled food production far beyond the expectations of late 20th century.

However, that does not mean that there would not be many problems associated with the large population. The increase in agricultural production has been achieved with the help of pronounced pesticide use and artificial (mineral) fertilization. Fertilization in crop production is an important component in eutrophication of waters, which is also caused by the excretion of people and livestock. Water and land is polluted by pesticides and other toxicants. Recently, as a result of waste production of the large human population, the huge plastics problem has been generated. One can also say that the climate change, associated with the large use of fossil fuels, is caused by the large population. 

Further, the oceans are overfished, the mineral resources are overexploited etc. In fact, the earth's resources are drastically overused - if the population were much smaller, the overuse were much easier to avoid.

The World Population Day is on July 11. As one aim of the future for world population is to curb population growth. In Europe the population is not increasing any more, and the same could and should be the goal for every other part of the world. The second aim should be to increase recycling: instead of producing new products of virgin materials and at the end of the product's life time throwing it away, everything should be recycled. It would be important for us in Europe to have all the household machines to be made so that they would be repaired instead of being thrown away/replaced when broken down. As a final aim, the whole concept of economy should be changed: economic growth should not be sought for.

As individuals and families/groups we can celebrate World Population Day by decreasing the group's use of resources per time. The manifest of concerned scientists can be found at http://www.scientistswarning.org/, which generally is a site to follow if one is interested in anthropogenic influences on Earth.


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

Borders, immigration and populism - environmental considerations are needed for counteractions

Sunnuntai 1.7.2018 klo 15:51 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Already the Roman Empire faced the Great Migration. Mongol hordes and invasion of Europeans to America are other examples of mass movements of people a long time ago. Although the areas facing invasion invariably tried to build walls or fight the invaders, the final result was not very good for the original inhabitants. One of the major cases was that the cultures of American Indians were all but destroyed by the European invaders.  In the mass migrations people were always looking for better places to live.

Thus, today’s immigrations do not differ from the ancient ones. However, there are three major differences which actually make the problems more acute, if we have not learned from the past. First, there were less than a tenth of the number of people as compared to today during the old mass migrations of people. This results in the fact that wherever the migrations go to, there are a plenty of people already inhabiting the areas, which inevitably generates marked clashes. Second, even the poorest places have mass media, and can thus every day see how rich places like Europe and North America are. Third, the means of transport are much faster than they were during the ancient migrations. There are two main reasons for people leaving their native lands: either conflicts or environmental deterioration. If the conditions in the areas from which the people leave were tolerable, the likelihood of mass migrations would markedly decrease.  

Immigration and the fear of people of anything different from things that they are used to are together the most important reasons for the rise of populism. It is invariably so that the strongest opinions against immigrants are found in areas with least immigrants. Further, people do not want to experience any changes. Virtually always things were best during the childhood days, even though if people now had to actually go back to them, many aspects would be completely intolerable because they were so poor as compared to today’s conditions. The hostility between local people and immigrants (or even their descendants because of the poor integration) is what has generated and maintains both the terrorism and ultra-right. As long as reasonable people do not rise against the hate-mongering which is utilized from very small minorities from both sides, proper integration of people to a common world cannot occur.

Although conflicts are presently probably the most important reason for the mass movements of people, the deterioration of the environment does not come far behind. Besides, the conflicts are more and more caused by environmental deterioration. Because people would likely not leave their native lands, if living conditions were tolerable, immigration would be stopped much better by improving the living conditions in the places from which people leave than by building border walls. By putting only a few % of the money that is now used for “defence” to developmental aid, national security would be increased much more than can be done by any money invested in defence budgets. However, that is contrary to the populist approach, in virtually every country the populist voices demand more money to defence budgets and less to developmental aid. However, the aid should not be given from our standpoints but from those of the receivers (which should not be the corrupt governments but the people actually in need). For example, the agricultural practises of temperate areas do not fit tropical soils. Further, much of the agricultural area of developing countries is used for crops, which are not for food production of natives, but for the different uses in rich countries. Similarly, the development of crops with, e.g., gene modification is not directed to increase food production where production is scarce, but to increase the profits of big companies.

The final problem of environmental deterioration is climate change. The overall temperature increase, unpredictability of weather, erosion as a result of sudden rains coming at the wrong time, droughts, frequent storms, floods affecting coastal populations – more than a billion people live in an area that may be covered by sea within the next 100 year, if the climate change cannot be stopped etc. are all factors that may cause an increase in the number of environmental refugees.

Economists and politicians have long thought that environment is not something that needs to be considered deeply in their profession. However, it is now quite clear that only by taking environment thoroughly into account in economical and political decisions we can have a peaceful future for mankind. Otherwise we will be having conflicts and chaos, as has been the case in all of the historical migrations. Borders and rise of nationalism can only lead to conflict.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, refugees, developmental aid

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