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

Subsidies to green energy production: a mechanism to reduce peak energy prices

Tiistai 25.1.2022 klo 15:33 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The energy and electricity price has increased immensely during recent past. Invariably the climate sceptics, deniers or “realists” have said that it is because overambitious climate goals, we should not aim at reducing the use of fossil fuels. Well, we have not so far succeeded in reducing fossil fuel use – 2021 was the year with the highest combined coal, natural gas and oil use. The increased, not the decreased consumption of fossil fuels is the major reason for increased energy price. Because the coronavirus pandemic decreased the fossil fuel consumption in 2020, their production and storage were decreased in 2021. As the economic activity increased markedly in 2021, fossil fuel supply could not fulfil the demand, and their price increased markedly, driving also the price of electricity up. So the increased cost of electricity is not caused by increased shift away from fossil fuels, but fossil fuel producers producing less when the consumption was increasing.

Thus, increased green energy production is, in fact, reducing the price increase. Also, subsidies to wind and solar energy production do not increase the energy price, rather the opposite. In many cases, the wind and solar energy producers are given subsidies, if the energy price is below an agreed level. If it goes above the agreed sum, a part of the profit is paid back. This sum could then be used to offset the increasing cost to the consumer. Therefore, building more wind mills would dampen the energy price increases, which are largely caused by imbalance between fossil fuel production and consumption.   

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

Demographic Catastrophe or the Direction towards Sustainable Human Population?

Tiistai 18.1.2022 klo 18:12 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Whenever population growth stops anywhere, media and politicians are screaming about demographic catastrophe. This has earlier been said of Japan and many European countries, but now China is concluding the same. The concept of endlessly growing population is based on the gross misunderstanding that the earth has no limits, it is related to the concept of eternal increase of consumption.

Even though recent reports have suggested that human population may peak during this century at 10 000 000 000, this number is far greater than is sustainable. If one would want to have the consumption habits of Americans, we could have about 1 500 000 000 people, if we would want to be like Europeans, then about 2 500 000 000 people could inhabit the world sustainably, and if our outset were that the wealth (or its lack) was frozen at the present-day level throughout the world, about 5 000 000 000 people could inhabit the world. So, regardless of the goal, human population needs to decrease at least to half to enable sustainable use of resources. The last goal, freezing the wealth in different parts of the world is completely unacceptable: it amounts to “climate colonialism”, the rich keeping what they have, and preventing the poor from increasing their wealth.

A sustainable solution would involve a marked decrease of inequality, the rich 25 % of nations should decrease their gross national product by improving the standing of poor nations, which should aim at limiting population growth. Interestingly, the carbon footprint of a Chinese is greater today than that of a European. Thus, a stable or decreasing population in China has as much influence on climate as that of Europe and thus China cannot claim to be a developing country which would have exemptions from policies required of rich countries.

Decreasing or stable population is not a demographic catastrophe. Rather, increasing population is a demographic catastrophe, since it will cause unsustainable life on earth.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, population growth, carbon footprint

Scientists have reported the effects of fossil fuels for hundred years

Lauantai 11.12.2021 klo 19:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although the alarming effects of fossil fuel consumption have only become headline news only during the past 20 years, measurements done over 100 years ago have indicated that coal and oil burning cause increased carbon dioxide tension of the atmosphere. The measurements were done in 1902 when the Danish physiologist August Krogh took part in a scientific expedition to Greenland. He observed that the carbon dioxide tension of the atmosphere was slightly above that of the seawater. His conclusion was that burning of coal caused this mismatch. This information was published recently by Tobias Wang in FUNCTION, 2021, 2(6): zqab052.

So, scientists have reported the change of carbon dioxide tension and its reason for 100 years ago. However, nothing has been done to prevent the problem before it became critical. Even now people who would like to return to the past say that we should not try to be “so ambitious” in combatting climate change. Instead, we should think about the economy. I do not understand the division between economy and environment. In a world with limits, environment must be a part of every economic decision.  This is the major change that must be reached in economic thinking to enable sustainable economy.

Money is a poor substitute for healthy environment.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, sustainability, economy

How to avoid making friends in British Columbia?

Tiistai 16.11.2021 klo 13:40 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change ain’t real.

Say that to anybody in British Columbia, if you want to be alone and disliked. First they had temperatures above 40oC in the summer, and now they have rain, which exceeds even their expectations. It has always rained a lot in BC in the autumn, but now the rains enough to cause flooding in an area known for its heavy autumn rains.

So when talking with British Columbians, start your conversation with the sentence above, if you do not want them to be your friends.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, floods, temperature

Promises, promises - COP26

Torstai 11.11.2021 klo 19:00 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Glasgow climate summit has again brought a lot of promises of future actions in combatting climate change. Nations have agreed to stop deforestation by 2030, to generate carbon-free shipping and to become carbon-neutral generally by 2050 (except for India by 2070). However, so far virtually everything is just talk of future actions. And even the promises fall short of the 1.5oC temperature increase limit, which is the preferred target of the 2015 Paris Agreement. At present, the promises made (for 2030) would limit the temperature increase to 2.4oC.

And these are almost totally just promises. Since the electricity use has increased markedly in the 21st century, the proportion of it produced using renewable sources has increased only about two percentage points, from 37 to 39 %. Many countries, such as Australia are building new coal mines and oil exploration continues virtually everywhere. The social media are filled with climate-denialist propaganda, and what is very worrying is that close to 20 % of the biggest oil product companies are running ads with misinformation about climate change. Many Facebook and Twitter users believe these ads. In contrast, they say that scientists are spreading lies about climate change. It is amazing that after the heat waves, wildfire, storms and floods of this year, about 45 % of people, e.g., in Finland deny that there is any human influence on climate – and Finland is supposed to have high education level.

The fact that it is all promises with little action is shown by a couple of examples. In COP26 an alliance committing to ending oil and gas extraction was formed. As members it has Costa Rica, France, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Quebec, Wales and Greenland. None of the countries are significant oil and gas producers and only Denmark has committed to immediately stop issuing new oil and gas licences. The other countries have not set a date to when they will stop permitting new oil and gas projects. In Finland subsidies of peat extraction were not stopped and worldwide subsidies to fossil fuels amount to hundreds of billions of euros. An alliance for generating non-carbon shipping by 2030 has been formed, but present changes from the use of diesel oil to the use of LNG actually increases greenhouse effect, because of the engine type used. The greenhouse gas emissions could be curbed by a different type of engine. However, they would cost more, as they require catalytic converters for removing nitrogen oxides.

It appears that despite their urgency, climate actions are not accepted, if they cost anything. This is a huge problem, since a small cost now could prevent a huge, if not insurmountable cost by 2050.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, shipping, oil extraction

Methane limits to shipping - a climate action that could be done immediately

Tiistai 9.11.2021 klo 16:36 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The low pressure dual fuel engines used in most LNG-fuelled ships are more or less the same as the two-stroke engines (Otto motors) of old Wartburgs and Trabants, or present-day lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Typical for all two-stroke engines is that a lot of unburnt fuel is emitted to the environment. For example, 8-hour use of a leaf blower emits about the same amount of hydrocarbons in the environment as driving a car around the world. Thus, it is no surprise that the use of low-pressure dual fuel LNG engines cause a massive increase in the emission of the very powerful greenhouse gas methane.

What is worrying, though, is that the governmental response has been that even though the negative climate effects of most LNG-fuelled ships are clear, it does not pay to set emission limits to methane in ships for two reasons. First, LNG is only a transition-phase fuel from diesel oil to hydrogen or ammonia. Second, acceptance of the limit in International Maritime Organization would take up to ten years, and even then the requirement could be enforced only for new motors/ships. Consequently, any climate effect would not be seen before 20-30 years have passed.

The situation is somewhat funny, since the most important reason for replacing diesel fuel by LNG was to decrease air pollution. Compared to diesel oil, LNG causes virtually no sulphur oxide emissions and decreases nitrogen oxide emissions drastically. The latter is actually the reason for the use of low pressure dual fuel engines: the alternative LNG-fuelled engines, high pressure dual fuel engines have higher nitrogen oxide emissions, and would require external catalytic converters for removing the nitrogen oxides like cars have. Since nitrogen oxides have emission limits, decreasing their emissions has been priority in ship building.

However, the inability of governments to do anything not only with regard to this but in general in combatting climate change is alarming. In the case of shipping, this can mean that the climate effects double if LNG becomes a major fuel. The major problem is that any climate actions should be done immediately, but most responses require 20 years or more with devastating results.

 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, diesel oil, shipping

LNG - an environmentally friendly ship fuel?

Perjantai 5.11.2021 klo 15:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Ships started using Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as a fuel, because there was a grave need to decrease the sulphur and nitrogen oxide pollution caused by ship transport. Also, particle emissions are significantly smaller than for diesel-fuelled ships. Thus, the introduction of motors using LNG was considered to be a significant environmental win.

However, recent findings cast a doubt on this. In Environmental Science & Technology, Grönholm et al. (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2021, 55, 13677−13686) have measured the emissions from LNG-fuelled ships in the Baltic. Although also the carbon dioxide emissions decrease about 20 %, there is a marked methane emission. Since methane is about 30 times worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, a ship using LNG instead of diesel oil may have at least 30-fold climate effect. This is because of the LNG motors are commonly similar to the two-stroke motors in common use in e.g. leaf blowers. These motors emit a lot of unburned fuel in the environment. There are also LNG motors without this problem, the high pressure dual fuel engines. However, they have not become common for the simple reason that their nitrogen oxide emissions are higher than those of low pressure dual fuel engines and International Maritime Organization has setlimits to nitrogen oxide emissions. In contrast, there is no limit for methane emissions. The nitrogen oxides could be removed from the exhaust fumes by catalytic converters, but that would increase the cost of the motor, and as long as the methane emission is unregulated it is unlikely that the LNG-fuelled motors would change.

The simple solution would be to set emission limits for methane in boats. Since ship traffic accounts for approximately 3 % of world’s greenhouse gas emissions, without limits to methane emissions, conversion of ships to LNG-fuelled ones could increase this proportion far above 10 %. In order to combat climate change such a simple solution should be implemented until more environmentally friendly fuels become mainstream.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, methane emission, greenhouse gases

COP26 Summit

Maanantai 1.11.2021 klo 16:06 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Glasgow Climate Summit has started with most world leaders present. Undoubtedly, we will hear many promises of climate deeds. However, words do not often translate to actions. If the words promising climate deeds had become reality, we possibly would not have the present climate emergency. Further, there are three important world leaders missing, Xi from China, Putin from Russia and Bolsonaro from Brazil. Although reasons for their absence have been given, it shows their preferences: and climate is not their number one.

What is really interesting is that commercial sector seems to be more eager to apply new climate-friendly technologies than many governments. This is likely due to the companies understanding that the new approaches give them an advantage in an area that is definitely becoming important. On the other hand, many politicians are afraid of losing the support of their conservative funders and voters. It is really surprising that almost half of the populations in European and North American countries think that climate change is not a serious problem despite the Arctic heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires and hurricanes.

In the coming two weeks, it is likely that one of the border lines will again be between the developed and developing nations. Hitherto China has always considered itself to belong to the group of developing nations, which do not need to carry out as drastic climate actions as developed world. For most of the developing nations the carbon footprint per capita is much smaller than that of developed nations: and average European has ten times greater carbon footprint than the average African. How can we rich Europeans say that the poor Africans are not allowed to have the same energy use as we are. However, this argument does not apply to China any more. An average Chinese has a bigger carbon footprint than a European. This means that the energy use for high material standard of living can be diminished, like it has been done in Europe for the past 30 years. Thus, China should stop claiming that it needs to increase its carbon footprint to reach the same standard of living as Europe.

One of the pressing problems with manufactured goods is that much of the energy-demanding and polluting industry has been removed from Europe and relocated in Asia or Africa, where energy and environmental laws are nonexistent or much more lenient than in Europe. Yet, the markets are almost completely here. This being the case, the Climate Summit should generate a mechanism by which the end user would be responsible for the carbon (and other environmental) footprint of any imported product. One could, e.g., require that any product sold/imported to Europe would have a carbon/environmental tax collected towards improving the energy/environmental standards in the place of production to European levels. Naturally this would increase the prices, but wouldn’t it be fair, as the consumer of the product would pay the cost required to combat climate change and other environmental deterioration.

The above would also make the following statement, used by the people who are not willing to do anything to combat climate change, invalid. “Why should we do anything, things are done here already. Climate actions should be done in places, which cause the problem.” If the costs of climate actions were included in the use of imported products, we would only pay for the climate actions caused by us.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon tax, china, environmental standards

Renewable energy and electricity demands

Torstai 21.10.2021 klo 13:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Bitcoins, electric cars and other vehicles, green hydrogen production, household appliances, heating and cooling of apartments with electricity etc. The list of places/appliances where electricity is needed is increasing almost daily. Because of this, it is estimated that the use of fossil fuels will increase for several years to produce enough energy for electricity generation.

A climate change-conscious person buys an electric car thinking that doing it will decrease carbon dioxide emissions. However, it only does that, if electricity production is fossil-free, and because of the increasing electricity needs and simultaneous decrease of energy production using nuclear power plants, a large portion of electricity is produced using fossil fuels. In most countries with high energy consumption, most electricity is still produced using fossil fuels. Although this situation is concerning, there is one silver lining: about three quarters of new electricity is produced using renewable sources. But because electricity needs increase all the time, the production from renewable sources cannot keep up with consumption increase.

Thus, the major way to both prevent energy crisis and decrease the use of fossil fuels in electricity production is to decrease electricity consumption. The first, very simple solution would be to ban bitcoins altogether. Who needs them? Bitcoin mining uses as much electricity per year as Finland and Denmark together. The second, also easily implemented solution would be to decrease lighting, when it is not needed. Technological advancements such as automatic movement and light sensors make this much easier than 50 years ago, when most streetlights were shut down because of oil crisis. With regard to neon lights, they could be automatically shut down, e.g., between 23 and 5. Third, the car use should be decreased; most of work traffic could be done with collective traffic, which could increasingly use the same principle as school taxis in Finland, i.e., have a set group of employees picked up near their homes. The cost could be partly covered by the employer, partly by the state/community and partly by the employee. The cost would probably not be higher than for driving to work today. Fourth, do we really need all the electric appliances we are using? The manufacturers have actually done a good job in decreasing the energy consumption of household machines, but we are having more and more of them. Fifth, presently the dream of using green hydrogen as fuel is problematic, since it requires a large amount of electricity. Current research is trying to overcome this problem by splitting water to hydrogen and oxygen directly with the use of sunlight.

There are thus multiple ways to decrease the consumption of electricity, and many could be implemented immediately so that fossil fuel use could be diminished faster than planned. Ultimately, renewable energy must fulfill the electricity production completely. One almost infinite energy source is almost always forgotten: tidal energy. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on that it becomes a major energy source within the next twenty years.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, tidal energy, bitcoin mining, fossil fuels

Functions Determine Temperature Effects on Animals and Man

Torstai 30.9.2021 klo 19:05 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change is one of the most studied topics of the present time. The web of science contains approximately 350 000 scientific articles studying the topic. Out of these, around 64 000 have studied the biology of climate change. However, only about 1500 of those appear to be concerned with animal or human physiology. This is very concerning, since any effects of temperature changes must be a result of physiological responses to the change. All the other findings on animals and man will be downstream consequences of the physiological adjustments. In view of the above, the recent compilation of reviews in the Journal of Experimental Biology is very welcome. Since it is open access, everyone can read it at https://journals.biologists.com/jeb/issue/224/Suppl_1.

As an example, polar bears have become iconic victims of climate change. There are several documentaries about skinny and diseased creatures about to succumb to increased temperatures as they find less food, when sea ice decreases because of an increase in temperature. However, if that were the only problem they are facing, their plight would probably be tolerable. But since their food availability is decreased, they need to spend an increased amount of energy to catch the prey. Because of the sea ice loss, the energy needed for locomotor activity is 3-4 times higher than expected. Another problem with endotherms is that an increase in temperature is less well tolerated than a decrease. Further, an increase in temperature is a serious problem in dry environments because water loss increases.

For ectothermic animals, temperature increase causes various problems. Dive durations of reptiles, turtles and amphibians decrease by about a third. This translates directly to decreased feeding efficiency. The thermal niches of fish become decoupled from the light-dark rhythms, which function as cues for reproduction etc. When thinking about thermal niches, it appears that both tropical and polar fish tolerate changes in temperature less well than temperate ones. Two overall problems are apparent in translating most temperature studies on fish to climate change scenarios. First, the temperature changes due to climate change are usually much slower than temperature changes imposed on fish in experiments. Second, individual variation as an important component of temperature responses of fish is hardly ever considered. Also, one knows very poorly, what the actual physiological mechanisms behind the measures of thermal tolerance are.

The major reasons why our understanding of physiological mechanisms behind the responses to climate change are poor is due to the fact that functional studies have not been considered important. However, any ecological or genetic response can only occur, if physiological changes take place earlier. Thus, predicting climate change effects on animal populations requires understanding how animals respond physiologically, not by observing changes that have already occurred (either ecologically or genetically).

 

 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, physiology, temperature biology, individual variatio

Steel Production without Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Sunnuntai 29.8.2021 klo 20:22 - Mikko Nikinmaa

One of the forgotten players in carbon emissions is steel production. It accounts for nearly 10 % of the total global emissions. Thus, steel production is 4-5 times greater emitter than air traffic, which has received a lot of attention. Further, current steel production is still largely based on iron extracted from mined ore, and not on effective recycling of used steel products.

The technology for carbon-free steel production is available. However, as with making all environmentally friendly products, making steel without carbon dioxide emissions is currently more expensive than the traditional steel production. Traditionally, steel is made from iron ore using coal as reductant. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions are high. The environmentally friendly way of producing steel would first make directly reduced iron (DRI) from iron ore using green hydrogen (hydrogen extracted from water with energy from renewable sources). The DRI and recycled steel scrap is then melted in Electric Arc Furnace (again with energy from renewable sources) and steel is produced.

As I said above, steel produced without carbon dioxide emissions is currently much more expensive than traditional coal-using production. The cost is, however, dependent on the proportion of production without carbon need. This is illustrated by the change in paper production. In 1970’s paper industry said that it would never be economically plausible to produce paper without chlorine-based bleaching. Yet, today all paper is chlorine-free and none of the paper mills have gone bankrupt because of that. Thus, once the carbon-free steel production is mainstream, the methods for such production certainly become more economical. Also, since the increased cost of steel production is directly associated with environmental actions, shouldn’t we accept it without reservations, if we say that we want sustainable economy.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, recycling, mining

We have got a long way to go

Lauantai 21.8.2021 klo 17:48 - Mikko Nikinmaa

To keep temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius, the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050. This means that the use of fossil fuels must virtually stop by that date. We have a long way to go to achieve it. The world’s energy use is still increasing, and about 85 % of it is produced using fossil fuels. What is even worse for climate is that to cover the increased energy needs also the use of fossil fuels has increased apart from the use of coal, which has decreased. In absolute terms, the total energy production using fossil fuels has increased more than that using renewable sources.

The use of energy per capita is greatest in Canada, out of which about 65 % is produced by fossil fuels. Compared to Canada, the energy use per person in India is only 1/20. However, coal use in both countries is approximately the same. Behind Canada, USA and Australia use most energy per person. And what is worse, in USA about 80 % of energy is produced using fossil fuels and in Australia more than 90 %. Australia leads the world in per capita energy production using coal. Against this, it is disappointing that the present Australian government is not planning to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels. The two countries with greatest dependence on coal energy are China and South Africa. Still, their energy use per person is only one third of that in USA, which means that total energy consumption in China and USA is about the same.

In global energy production Europe, especially the present-day EU is in the class of its own. Most EU countries produce less than 50 % of their energy with fossil fuels. Further, the energy used for a given gross national product is much smaller than in North America, China and Australia. Europe is also the only big economic area with marked decrease in energy consumption per capita. These statistics indicate that Europe is a clear front runner in decreasing the use of fossil fuels.

But even Europe has a long way to go to reach carbon neutrality. And what is worse, there are several political parties, and a lot of voters to them, who do not think that the use of fossil fuels should be restricted. If economic growth requires, we should not do any actions to decrease their use.

It is the people, who do not accept that the world climate is changing despite the wildfires, heat waves, draughts and hurricanes, that we should get convinced about the need for a change in the way we produce energy. Only that way the fossil fuel use could be phased out and climate change be combatted. The scientists are starting to be afraid that the climate of Venus represents what climate change gone awry may have in store for Earth. The thing is that we would have the means needed to prevent further climate change, but the technology is not used, because so many people are so greedy and egoistic.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy use, fossil fuels, coal, oil

IPCC Report - Nothing New But Still Alarming: Immediate Global Climate Actions Are Needed

Tiistai 10.8.2021 klo 12:11 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change was released yesterday. It is not likely that many people read all its 1300 pages. However, it is enough if the 65-page summary for policymakers is read through. In fact, all of the findings and information are in line with what scientists have been saying for the past 50 years: ever since the book “Limits to Growth” was published in 1972. The scientists’ warning has been repeated twice – or three times, if you take into account the recent addition to the 2019 data. This is now the 6th IPCC report. The scientists’ voices have come louder and more demanding: actions are needed. What was a worst case possibility in 1970’s has become likelihood with high probability, if drastic actions are not done.

 With the wildfires raging throughout the world, many massive heat waves, heavy rains causing floods and droughts in various parts of the world one would think that people accept that climate change is taking place, and demands global action. Hot temperature extremes and heavy precipitation have increased frequency in most places, and there is not a single area in the world where their frequency would have decreased. Similarly, droughts have increased in many parts of the world, but decreased only in one: Northern Australia. Despite this, a significant proportion of people think that climate change is a hoax, and many politicians are of the opinion that one must not do any environmental actions if they interfere with economic growth and decrease the economic competitiveness.

Quite often those, who deny climate change, say that for example last year it snowed in Spain and Texas, and that very high temperatures have been reported earlier, e.g. in 1998. That one year is climate denials’ favourite, since having that as a basis, there has hardly been any change in average global temperature afterwards. However, it is known and repeatedly pointed out by climate scientists that natural variability dampens or accentuates changes in the short term. In fact, the probability of most types of extreme weather increases with climate change: the likelihood of both droughts and heavy precipitation doubles even if the temperature increase can be kept at 1.5oC; if drastic climate actions are not done, droughts become 5x more common, and heavy precipitation occurs 3x more frequently than now.

The climate problem is global. Thus, we cannot say that our country is doing its share, now the other nations should do the same. Combatting climate change in developing countries should be a primary focus of the rich countries, and rich individuals: what is the point of spending billions to military or space flights if the world is in peril. Even if the report is gloomy, we have all the technology and other means to still prevent the climate catastrophe. What is required is that we start to think globally instead of nationalistically.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, temperature, weather

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