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 practices 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, 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

Water Use

Torstai 24.5.2018 klo 11:13

We have heard the news about water in Cape Town area being close to finis, about droughts and wildfires in California, Australia, Portugan etc. We have also heard predictions that climate change causes droughts in many new areas.

Because of these news about too little water in many parts of the world, people in Scandinavia, Germany, U.K. etc. are accused of using unnecessarily big amount of water per day. But hey, it rains a lot in all of those countries normally, and the water use by agriculture and people does not normally lead to shortage of water. I do not understand why people should feel guilty about using a commodity, which is not diminished by use. It is more or less the same as saying: "Since there are people, who are starving in the world, you shall also starve."

The situation is different in places, where water use is greater than water supply. It has been estimated that e.g. in California water use is 8-10 times greater than its yearly supply. Because of irrigation in agriculture, the Dead Sea is rapidly losing its water. The excessive water use presently generates problems in Australia, Texas, Mediterranean countries etc. The common problem in those places is that people are using the water as they would in places, where it is plentiful. In those areas one should, e.g., cultivate plants, which need little water. Israel is, for example, producing a lot of avocados, which is a very water-needing plant. That does not really fit together with drying Dead Sea. Also, innovations to replace WCs (even in urban areas) are urgently needed in dry places.

In conclusion, water-saving solutions should be made in areas having water shortage, but people in North-West Europe can use copious amounts of water in good conscience - the availability of water in South Sudan does not increase if a person saves water by not taking a shower in Turku.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: agriculture, groundwater, climate change

A greenhouse gas measurement system of NASA discontinued by US government

Lauantai 12.5.2018 klo 18:05

After the Trump government left the Paris climate accord, many things of the government have focussed on being against environmentalism. The chief of Environmental Protection Agency is very much against environmental protection, protection of freshwater systems against coal and other mining wastewaters was scrapped etc. Against this background it is not surprising that the funding of a carbon dioxide and methane measurement system of NASA was discontinued, as reported in Science (May 11). The surveillance has been important for monitoring, if the climate accord is being followed. The system may not be important for the present US government, but is recognized to be important by the rest of the world. Consequently, European countries have already developed a monitoring system to replace the American one. Consequently, the slogan "America first" is also in this case becoming "America alone". The rest of the world is moving forward without Trump's USA.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels

The Earth Day

Sunnuntai 22.4.2018 klo 20:04 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It is the Earth Day today. The day for global environmental questions has been around since 1970. During that time a couple of environmental problems have been more or less solved in Western Europe, but many global questions have emerged. Acid rain is not a problem any more in Europe - smoke cleaning standards have abolished it. The ozone hole has started to shrink, because the most harmful chemicals have been banned. The levels of persistent organic pollutants in the Baltic Sea have dNorsu.jpgecreased markedly as water treatment has become strictly required. These examples show that environmental problems can be solved if it is deemed necessary. Today's urgent environmental problems are climate change, and associated with it the availability of water. Solving the climate problem requires many different actions, but two are clear, changing our energy use habits, and increasing carbon dioxide fixation by plants. The most effective solution to the plastic waste problem would be to make waste collection effective everywhere and influence the attitudes of people. In the present situation, if it weren't for plastics, other types of waste would be filling our beaches and seas. Finally, the Earth is facing mass extinctions. For big mammals a solution is to stop trophy hunting completely, but in addition to the mammals, also other species are suffering from the decreased availability of suitable habitats and deaths caused by pesticides and other environmental toxicants.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: environment, conservation, climate change, drought

Gulf Stream may be slowing - should we be worried?

Sunnuntai 15.4.2018 klo 17:10 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The weather in Europe has been very peculiar in recent years. Heat waves, long cold spells, storms and extremely heavy rain have been common - it has become more a regularity than an exception to have strange weather. While the reason for this cannot be given for certain, based on recent articles in Nature (D. J. R. Thornalley et al. Nature 556, 227–230; 2018 and L. Caesar et al. Nature 556, 191–196; 2018), it is tempting to speculate that the sequence of events may be the following. 

1. Increasing temperature causes ice to melt. (Ice is always salt-free)

2. The water from melting ice causes the arctic seawater to have decreased salinity.

3. Decreased salinity slows down the Atlantic circulation. Also the locations of circulation are affected.

4. The climate has been relatively stable for more than a thousand years, because the Atlantic circulation has been stable.

5. Because the changes in Atlantic circulation are unprecedent, the associated weather phenomena cannot be predicted.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, arctic ice, temperature

Unpredictable Weather - a Major Problem

Maanantai 2.4.2018 klo 19:29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

For the past 10000 years the world's climate has been quite stable. This has enabled the cultures to develop. The rains have normally come in time for growing crops, dry periods have enabled harvesting, predictabe winds made long-distance sailing possible. Cold spells and snow have been necessary for winter sports etc. Although we are now waiting and waiting for the spring to break out, the long cold spell in  Northern Europe  is just another indication of climate change. The polar cold doesn't come down to lower latitudes where it has always come. While Helsinki is shivering,  it has never been as warm in Greenland as this year. Also different storms have been more severe and unpredictable in the last years than earlier. The droughts and rain come and go at surprising times causing havoc: floods and wildfires occur with increasing frequency. The predictability of weather has been necessary for effective food production. If we are now losing that, can the large human population avoid starvation?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, food production

Less flying - for the sake of the environment

Lauantai 10.2.2018 klo 18:18 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Flying has changed from being very exclusive way of transport for the rich to quite cheap means of everybody's transport. Presently, flying can be cheaper than taking the train. Tourism industry depends on for the common man IMG_20170807_0015_NEW.jpgto be able to reach the destination by flying. Also, fresh fruit, fish and other perishable items and other kinds of freight are transported, e.g. from East Asia to Europe.

Surprisingly seldom the use of fossil fuels in flying is brought forward as a problem. Scientists concerned of climate change fly from Helsinki to Melbourne etc. However, as a result of the hugely increased air traffic and the lack of alternatives to the use of petrol, flying is increasingly becoming a significant source of air pollution. Further, the air fields take up a lot of space, which could otherwise be used for example for food production. It is also a problem that people speaking about our need to combat climate change are themselves not really taking action against it by avoiding flying. 

So, what to do? I think that instead of trying to increase the speed of getting from one place to the other, one should accept somewhat slower transport. New generations of zeppelins could do that between continents. The picture of an exploding and burning zeppelin has been imprinted in everybody's mind, but that could not happen these days, since inert gases like helium would be used in the balloons of the zeppelins - the balloons of children do not have hydrogen any more because of its explosiveness. If zeppelins instead of present-day planes were increasingly used, the air fields would need much less land area than presently. Within continents, high-speed electric trains could be used. If electricity were generated mainly in power plants not using fossil fuels, the transport now generating a lot of carbon dioxide would be virtually carbon-neutral. Two things should, in addition, be done. First, one should decrease the number of meetings requiring everyone's presence, and use video meetings instead. Second, instead of flying perishable goods all over the world, we could use local foods only (as long as they are produced in a manner not causing large carbon dioxide loads).  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: air pollution, climate change, fossil fuels

Rhythmic behaviours are influenced by temperature - significant for climate change responses

Sunnuntai 21.1.2018 klo 15:48 - Mikko Nikinmaa

One significant question with climate change is that although temperature increases, the light-dark cycles at any location remain constant. Many of the responses of animals living in temperate and arctic (antarctic) areas depend on light-dark cycles. If the responses depending on light are affected by temperature, they may occur at inappropriate times in a climate change situation.

This was the outset for our experiments, reported in JM Prokkola et al. (Journal of Experimental Biology, in press). We studied the transcriptional responses of Arctic charr, a polar fish species, acclimated to two temperatures in July-August. Significantly, the rhythmicity of transcription was quite pronounced at an acclimation temperature close to the upper temperatures experienced by the fish in their natural environment. The rhythmicity of transcription all but disappeared at lower acclimation temperature. Since feeding, reproduction, migrations etc. are cued by light rhythms, an effect of temperature on how genes react to light, i.e. temperature effects on circadian rhythms of transcription may affect all those responses negatively. Consequently, effects of climate change can be pronounced even when temperature changes are such that they can easily be tolerated, e.g., by a fish population: any responses normally cued by light rhythm may occur at inappropriate times.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, circadian rhythms, fish survival

Can we get rid of plastics - or is it really needed?

Lauantai 20.1.2018 klo 13:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When I was a child there was practically no plastic material. Fruit and other foods were placed in paper bags. Water was carried in metal buckets. Now everything is put is plastics - all the clothes are in plastic covers, candies are first in plastic bags and then in individual plastic covers. It can actually be said that we have moved from iron age to plastic age. Plastics are oil-based, cheap, light and durable materials. Further, they are good insulating material. Therefore, when I look around, covers of computers, printers, TVs, phones etc. are made of plastics. The same is true of wastewater pipes. For this reason, replacing plastics in manufacturing is very challenging. Or is it really needed?

The real problem with plastic waste is the material that is thrown in the environment. That is the material generating the big marine garbage gyres. Most of their material is plastic waste thrown to the environment. It is funny that people picknicking in parks do not collect their plastic cups, plates and utensils and put them in garbage bins. If that were always done - all the plastic wastes placed in the collected carbage, there would not be any garbage gyres, and the sea and the coasts would be beautiful and trash-free. I have sometimes wondered if people, who throw the wastes around in the environmentIMG_20170727_0010.jpg do that also in their homes.

So what to do with the plastics? The first thing is that they have to be collected. Thereafter much could be recycled, used for new plastic products. Currently only a few percent of plastics are recycled largely because recycling containers are quite rare. If societies really want to solve the plastics pollution problem, the collection of plastics must be improved - the percentage of plastics that is recycled  could easily be increased to over 50%. For the rest, energy use is probably the best. Since plastics are made of oil, burning them for heat production of towns instead of oil, which continues to be used for a long period of time, would be advisable. Instead of burning oil, one could first carry shoppings home in a plastic bag, thereafter use the bag in collecting trash, whereafter it would be burned. Since the same material would be used for several times, the carbon dioxide footprint of the bag would become smaller. This is more or less the same as instead of using wood to produce energy, it is used to produce paper for a newspaper which is afterwards burned in a fireplace.

If plastics were either recycled or burned for energy production, most of plastic pollution would disappear. The remaining problem would be microplastics. Much of it, which is caused by the slow breakdown of big plastic materials to microplastics as a result of mechanic tear, solar radiation and oxygen, would disappear with the collection of plastics. The remaining sources are plastic microbeads of cleaning liquids, tooth pastes and cosmetics, the small fibres given up whe washing clothing containing synthetic materials, and the dust from tyres, paved roads, artificial turfs etc. The first of these could be avoided already today, since there are more and more products, which do not contain plastic microbeads. The choice is the consumer's: he/she only needs to read the contents or ask the shop assistant, and buy products without plastic beads - if products with plastic beads were left unsold, the manufacturer would soon change their contents.The fibres from washing clothes containing synthetic materials is a more difficult problem, as most pieces of clothing have some synthetic fibres. Fleece clothing has recently gained a lot of attention, but actually most shirts, trousers, Goretex clothing, other outdoor apparel  etc. contain synthetic material, and are thus a source of microplastics. The problem with replacing clothing with synthetic materials by cotton actually causes as big environmental (and social) problems as it solves. Water and pesticide  use of cotton production is unacceptable. Further, the use of child labour in different stages of making cotton clothing is also unacceptable. The third major source of microplastics: the tear of tyres, dust from roads, and dust from artificial turfs is probably quantitatively the most important. There are no easy ways to decrease the amount released from traffic, unless people give up cars, and use rail traffic instead.

Thus, I think that the use of plastics can continue, if measures are taken not to allow the release of plastics to the environment. For a large part this can already be done, but requires actions both from the consumers and the society.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: garbage gyres, microplastics, climate change, energy production, marine pollution

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