Broken water cycle

Tiistai 29.8.2023 klo 15:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The civilization as we know it is dependent on appropriate availability of water. Water availability has been adequate and constant for the past 10000 years. It has enabled the development of agriculture followed by industrialization. Feeding the billions of people has been possible, as there has been enough water at right time.

However, it appears now that humans are breaking the water cycle. Intensive agriculture is using more fresh water than would be available. Climate change affects the timing, duration and place of precipitation. Also, glaciers, which are the source of many rivers, have melted to such an extent that the river flow is reduced. Deforestation affects the rains in the areas in the vicinity. All in all, although roughly ¾ of Earth’s surface is covered with water, the cycle of fresh water, needed for civilization as we know it, seems to be in peril.

It is easy to blame climate change for the fresh water problems, but it is only part of the problem. Because of climate change, droughts and heat spells become more common, heavy rains come irregularly and at unexpected places. Often they occur after severe drought, whereby the soil cannot bind the water, which flows to the sea. An important component of the water cycle in equilibrium is that the upper soil is moist. It is then able to bind additional water.

As for many other resources, mankind is overusing water. Intensive irrigation and domestic water use have emptied Jordan, Sacramento River, Colorado River etc., caused almost total disappearance of Dead Sea and Aral Sea, and lowered ground water level to such an extent that Earth’s poles have shifted slightly.

With regard to deforestation, rainforests are much more than important carbon dioxide sinks. They suck moisture from soil, liberate water in the air, and thus cause development of rains in the surrounding areas. With deforestation, this cycle is weakened with the result that rainforest may turn to savannah. It is estimated that when ¼ of the forest is cut, this happens. We are nearing this  percentage both for Amazonas and Congo rainforest.

In view of the disturbed water cycle, one should make every effort to diminish water use in any area to the amount which is certainly replaced by inflow. In terms of plants that are grown, this means that we should at least stop using cotton products, as there is already a sustainable alternative for cloth fibre, i.e., wood fibre. Deforestation of rainforests should be stopped. In this context it would be valuable to be able to stop population growth, as it inevitably causes the need for increased agricultural production, which is a primary reason for breaking water cycle.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, deforestation, population growth

Flying should be taxed as other forms of transport

Perjantai 18.8.2023 klo 17:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Flying is estimated to cause several percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Its influence on climate is much worse than the emissions, because the gases are emitted at high altitudes. One would consequently think that because there is a sore need to combat climate change, steps would be taken to diminish the effects of flight traffic on climate change. Two such steps have commonly reached the news. First, the possibility of passengers to pay extra to compensate for flying. The compensation is them used to pay either the protection of forests or planting trees. The funds obtained by the compensations are currently so small that it can be said to have only conscience-cleaning effect. Second, an increasing proportion of the fuel, kerosine, is made from biowaste or plant material instead of being fossil fuel. However, the so-called biofuel does not decrease the production of carbon dioxide in the flights, it only decreases the use of fossil fuel. It appears that electric airplanes will at most be responsible for short distance flights in the near future. For long distance travel one needs to ask the traveller if the present-day speed is really necessary. If not, zeppelin-like aircraft could replace a lot of the airplanes and fuel consumption would decrease radically.

However, the biggest change that should be made is that air traffic should be taxed as other traffic forms. Today fuel of airplanes is completely free of taxation throughout the world. As a consequence, air traffic is subsidised, e.g., in Finland approximately 20 times more per customer than environmentally friendly train traffic. And this is true at a time when politicians say that they are trying to get people to diminish travelling, if it has large carbon footprint. Yet they do not use the tax instrument, which would also make fairer to use different ways of transport. It is quite certain that all the nation states say that this cannot be done, since that would generate unfair competition in favour of countries that do not tax their flights or maintain tax level low. However, this is what EU is for. The European Union, which is also otherwise front runner in climate questions, could decide that all European flights would have a common fuel tax. One could try to get a world wide agreement; it should be relatively easy, if climate change is taken seriously.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon footprint, fossil fuels, air traffic

Zero-carbon shipping by 2050?

Maanantai 10.7.2023 klo 16:24 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The International Maritime Organization took a huge step forward in the fight against climate change, when it agreed that shipping would become carbon-free by 2050. Earlier, IMO has been quite conservative, and reluctant to take significant steps forward, so the agreement is even more noteworthy.

The reason for a radical change is mainly that many of the island and coastal countries, which naturally have shipping as a major business, are really suffering from climate change. However, also other countries with the notable exception of Russia (they are doing nothing right at the moment) have finally woken up because of heat waves, wildfires, droughts and floods.

The bold agreement is presently only paper, so it must be implemented. Thus, the first question is: is implementation possible? The question is very acute, since the life-length of a ship is up to 60 years. Thus, the ships built today are probably sailing at 2050. The initial reductions in decreasing carbon dioxide emissions are easily done, as the fuel of ships has been the worst source of carbon dioxide of any of the fuels. So, things are getting somewhat better, when the old ships are replaced by new ones using, e.g., liquified natural gas (LNG) as fuel. However, natural gas still produces carbon dioxide, so it cannot be the final solution. One possibility is to mop up the carbon dioxide produced, but that isn’t a real solution, either, as carbon dioxide is still produced, but is filtered away. The sustainable solutions are new motors using ammonia or hydrogen as fuels. Several ship motor industries have done a great deal of work in developing such motors, and it is quite certain that within the near future we hear the news that the first ships without any carbon dioxide production have been launched.

The ammonia and hydrogen need to be produced without fossil fuels, but that has become increasingly possible. What Putin’s Russia has done, when it tried to cut off especially the European energy production, is to speed up the transition to green energy. Putting everything together: reaching zero-carbon shipping by 2050 is difficult but doable.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, shipping, hydrogen economy, IMO

We could easily tolerate a two-degree increase in temperature, but not unpredictability of weather

Torstai 29.6.2023 klo 16:24 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Human civilizations started flourishing about 10000 years ago, and there is a very simple reason for that. The weather conditions around the globe became stable. They were different in different parts of the world, but very predictable. You could count on that rain came at certain times, the dry periods needed for harvesting occurred at the end of the growing season, snows came and melted at predicted time…Agriculture has prospered as a result of predictable weather creating the civilizations which have grown until now. Although food production capacity has been questioned from time to time, and unwanted means to improve it has been used, the total amount of hunger has decreased to 2010’s thanks to weather stability.

During the last 5-10 years, famines have again started to increase!! And the increase is probably due to climate change.

Climate deniers always say that there is clearly no climate change, as there have been frosts in Texas and Spain at times they have earlier not occurred. However, that is actually one consequence of climate change. Upper atmosphere jet streams are important in generating weather patterns, especially influencing temperature. They used to be straight with the direction from southwest to northeast in Europe. The latitude of current shifted northwards during summer and southwards during winter thus favouring warm weather in summer and cold in winter. During the recent past the jet streams appear to have started undulating. Depending on the direction of the undulation the weather can be unusually cold or warm. Because scientists want statistical proof, so far this phenomenon has not been scientifically verified, for that to happen another ten years is required. The jet stream undulations and temperature changes also affect atmospheric pressures, wind strength and direction and rains. Droughts can become common in areas never having them earlier, and rains can become heavy, often occurring without any predictability.

The overall result is that the stability and predictability of weather, which is required for food production, is lost throughout the world. As a result, food production suffers, famines become more common again, and we will be facing a climate refugee wave, if climate change is not stopped, even if two degree temperature increase as such would be no problem.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, agriculture, famine

Covid compared to air pollution

Torstai 22.6.2023 klo 17:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The covid pandemic closed the world for the better part of two years. Travel restrictions, mask mandates, chaos in hospitals…So went 2020-2022. And many people’s scare still persists. However, it is now time to relate the threat of covid to other problems we face, largely because the drastic measures most people were ready accept indicates that strong response to imminent crisis is possible.

The covid pandemic came out of nowhere very rapidly. That is the main reason for the strong response. In the beginning we did not know, how the disease would evolve and if the health care systems would be able to respond to the increasing disease pressure. Now, three years later, we are much wiser, vaccines have been developed, treatments are more effective than in the start and the virus has probably evolved so that new mutants cause less serious infection. Thus, life has normalized and coronavirus does not dominate the news. There  have been about 600 000 000 reported cases so far (although the true case load is certainly much higher, maybe 2-3 billion). The reported death toll is approximately 8 000 000, giving 1.3 % mortality.

These numbers are important, as they enable comparisons to deaths caused by air pollution. It is usually said that the reason why government do not respond to pollution as they did to coronavirus is the former being “tomorrow” and the latter “today” problem. Since combatting pollution would mean expenses, economic growth today would be disturbed, thus actions are delayed until there are economic resources to do them. Such “we’ll do things tomorrow” attitude was not possible for covid. However, one must seriously ask, if air pollution is a “tomorrow” problem. Every year it  directly causes 10 000 000 deaths, i.e., clearly more than covid has caused during the pandemic. In addition to direct mortality, indirect deaths occur, and asthma cases increase massively. Thus, air pollution is a “today” problem, and by making actions against it, one would also combat climate change. The economic cost of failing to do actions against air pollution is far greater than the funds needed for mitigating air pollution as a result of sick leaves, needs for hospital beds etc. And here, as in the case of climate change, we already have the technology needed for actions against air pollution.

We only need to accept that we have a “today” problem, which must be solved. Solving it may initially carry economic costs. However, in the long run the costs will most likely be recovered, and they will certainly be much smaller today than in future. Instead of asking: do we have the economic means to stop air pollution, we should ask: can we avoid economic collapse in future, if we do not stop air pollution today.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: coronavirus, climate change, mortality, economy, tomorrow ptoblem

Cattle ranching - taking animal welfare and climate change into account

Lauantai 3.6.2023 klo 15:48 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Industrial cattle rearing got its first dose of negative publicity from the animal welfare people, who pointed out that cows were not able to live a decent life. They were always kept in small unnatural space and could not move freely. Public health experts then warned that since meat production in many countries was maximized by heavy use of antibiotics, steroids and growth hormone the effects could be carried on to human health. For example, the antibiotic resistance of bacteria could increase. Finally, cattle ranching is now considered to worsen climate change, as much of the available agricultural land is going to feeding cattle and because cows produce, in addition to carbon dioxide, methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Consequently, in instructions for people to combat climate change, it is advised that one should avoid eating beef and using dairy products.

All the concerns are valid for the current industrial cattle ranching, which seeks to maximize milk and meat production. It is completely forgotten that cows are more than just production machines and that they interact with their environment. Cows and their calves are separated as soon as possible, cows cannot roam freely in their pastures, and usually fed commercially bought fodder. Much medication is needed…All in all, the negative opinions about cattle ranching all apply to the industrial beef and dairy production. We are far from the times of family farms in 1960’s: my uncles remembered all their cows’ names and the cows could happily roam around in their pasture.

But we could and actually should make a revolution in cattle ranching. The first thing to get rid of would be the separation of mother cows and their calves almost immediately after birth. This is done in order to increase the amount of milk that can be sold, as the calves drink about 40 % of their mothers’ milk production. The decrease is, however, counteracted by the mothers producing 25 % more milk than cows in industrial dairy farm. The cows and calves graze in natural pastures, which hardly need fertilization, as their clover fixes nitrogen from the air and phosphorus is largely recycled in the faeces. Calves eating natural food wean earlier than the ones eating “commercial” fodder, which in the industrial dairy farm needs to be bought. Altogether this results in the fact that the total milk production decreases only slightly, and the total production costs decrease, as fertilizer, fodder and medication costs decrease. And the cows are happy. It can be seen from the observation that their milk production continues several years longer than that of cows in industrial dairy farms. Upon weaning, male calves can be slaughtered and go in meat production.

The natural pastures, utilized by cows, are a carbon sink. They are covered by green plants throughout the year thus photosynthesizing and mopping up carbon dioxide. Recent studies have shown that increasing root mass functions as an effective carbon store, just like trees. The problem with agriculture is that conventional farming ploughs the fields, and the root-stored carbon is released. The carbon-sink property of the pastures is so great that even with the methane produced by cows, the dairy farming can remain a carbon sink. If the ongoing work, which aims at decreasing the methane production by cows, is successful, the carbon sink property of dairy farming will be increased.

It is thus possible to make beef and dairy production sustainable without virtually any decrease in monetary production. For the sake of climate and animal welfare, it should be done immediately.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon footprint, dairy farming, carbon sink

Russia and environmental protection

Lauantai 20.5.2023 klo 15:21 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Russia has now banned Greenpeace, because it demanded that Russia should take actions to combat environmental pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. That actually says it all about the environmental policy of the present Russian government. Since Greenpeace dares to say that Russia should do something in terms of environmental protection, it is a hostile entity, and shall be banned. This attitude is typical for the Russian dictatorship. No-one is allowed to say anything that could suggest that Russia is not acting completely right. I suppose that all the talk about environmental pollution and climate change is just Western propaganda and lies. Russia is handling all environmental problems perfectly. To say anything else is hostility against Russia.

It doesn’t matter that Greenpeace is also criticizing environmental actions in Europe and North America. That criticism is founded according to Russian government, since Western countries do not carry out environmental protection admirably as Russia does (according to Russian government). It does not matter that environmental standards of Russian industry are low. It is only Western lies that environmental actions are only done, if a company is acting against agreements it has undersigned. It doesn’t matter that Russia is doing virtually nothing to change from fossil fuel-dependent society to fossil fuel-free one. It doesn’t matter that after Western tankers stopped shipping Russian oil, the standard of tankers has decreased increasing the probability of oil spills in the Baltic Sea.

I am afraid that only a revolution in Russia could change it to a more responsible country. Russian imperialism should end, maybe even the small ethnic areas, which now form Russian federation, should become sovereign nation states to enable fruitful dialogue and actions for environmental protection.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, environmental pollution, environmental actions

Hypoxia - a problem for aquatic environments

Maanantai 15.5.2023 klo 13:46 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When I started my scientific career about forty years ago, I concentrated on the effects of increased temperature and hypoxia on oxygen transport in fish. At that time the topic was not considered to be of general interest. Things have changed since then. In 1970’s oxygen minimum zones were a peculiarity in the oceans. Today their occurrence has increased markedly making them a grave threat to the well-being of aquatic fauna. The increased occurrence of oxygen-minimum zones occurs together with climate change and ocean pollution.

Aquatic environment always requires very effective oxygen uptake, because water can contain very little oxygen – at sea level about the same amount as air in about 20 km’s height – it is hard to breathe, and the few oxygen molecules present in water move slowly. For active aquatic animals the added problem is to be able to release enough oxygen to working muscle. In the situation of hypoxia occurring together with increasing temperature, active fish and crustaceans are not able to coupe. Consequently, large areas of oceans become devoid of animals. Since those animals are the preferred foodstuff of man: salmonid species, cod, tuna, lobster, shrimp, the spreading of hypoxic areas causes the lack of seafood.

The problems with obtaining enough seafood comes at the same time as man should increasingly shift from eating cattle and sheep, i.e. homeotherms, to eating fish and other poikilotherms in order to combat climate change. Climate change itself makes doing this difficult. Also, the oceanic biodiversity is at risk, since the habitats of many species become unsuitable for them to thrive in.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fish, seafood

Electric cars - there are all sorts of environmental problems

Perjantai 5.5.2023 klo 14:22 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the name of combatting climate change, car manufacturing is rapidly changing from producing petrol- and diesel-consuming cars to electric cars. It is reasonable to ask, if electric cars are a sustainable solution. There are several problems, which should mean that one cannot increase the number of cars, even if they are electric. Rather, to combat climate and other environmental changes, the number of cars should be drastically reduced. The paragraphs below indicate the reasoning for this.

First, electric cars are fossil fuel-free only if the electricity used in them is produced not using coal and oil. The overall electricity use increases markedly with increasing number of electric cars. Hitherto the proportion of electricity produced using fossil fuels has not really decreased, even though the electricity produced using renewable sources has increased markedly. This is due to the increase in the total electricity use. So, presently an electric car user may increase the use of fossil fuels in electricity production (naturally depending on the country).

Second, production of cars is using a lot of steel. Steel production is currently one of the most important sources of emitted carbon dioxide. For example, out of the total carbon dioxide emitted by Sweden, steel production accounts for more than 10 %. The steel producers are aware of their large carbon footprint, and companies are currently competing to have carbon-free steel production. Carbon-free steel will undoubtedly be eagerly bought by car manufacturers. However, its production requires a lot of electricity, so fossil fuel-free electricity production is the key also here.

Third, present electric cars are on average bigger and heavier than petrol-fuelled cars. As a consequence, their production needs more steel. Also, their batteries use more of the metals, which must be mined with dire consequences to the environment. Some of the needed metals occur only in low concentrations even in the richest ores. Electric cars must thus become smaller and new types of batteries utilizing commonly occurring compounds developed.

Fourth, almost every day news alerts us about the dangers of microplastics. It is hardly ever mentioned that by far the most important source of them is tyrewear. They cannot be removed in sewage treatment, as they are produced wherever cars are driven. The amount of particles released increases with the weight of the car, so the heavier electric cars are a bigger problem than current petrol cars.

All in all, electric cars have several problems, so we should try to reduce the number of automobiles in use. By doing that, some land now taken up by roads would be free for other uses. Doing it may be required for the wellbeing of environment.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, microplastics, steel production, electricity

Is seawater alkalinization an unproblematic way of carbon dioxide removal?

Maanantai 1.5.2023 klo 17:30 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It is simple. One just has ships floating in the high seas spreading alkaline substances to seawater. As a result, the pH of the seawater increases, carbon dioxide-bicarbonate-carbonate equilibrium is shifted to the right, and consequently carbon dioxide is mopped up. What a neat and cheap way of combatting climate change, and it can be done without any requirements for technological advancements. No wonder technology-oriented people have been jumping in excitement. But are there serious downsides?

The question becomes immediately relevant, as apart from the climate crisis we are experiencing biodiversity crisis. And any large-scale bioengineering project such as seawater alkalinization will affect the biota of the area which is alkalinized. It is not known how large the effects are, which species suffer from, and which don’t mind about the pH changes. So, if an alkalinization project is carried out, one is really doing a large-scale experiment with unknown results.

A recent modelling study about alkalinization of seawater and its possible effects has been reported in Environmental Research Letters (18: 044047;; Fakhraee et al.).

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon dioxide sink, geoengineering, seawater pH

Aquatic pollution is still a serious issue

Tiistai 28.3.2023 klo 15:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

 In 1970’s and 80’s rivers were little more than sewage channels, and most waste water was pumped out to lakes and seas virtually uncleaned. If strands started to get littered, the solution was to make sewage pipes longer. A standing “joke” was that Americans built holiday resorts to Central America so that whenever the beach started to suffer from municipal pollution, that resort was left to locals and a new one built elsewhere. The polluted rivers could catch fires and fish deaths were common. In the Baltic Sea at least 70 % of the seals could not reproduce, almost causing extinction of Baltic seals.

One would have thought that humankind would have learnt from the problems of the past. But no. Profit is still the major goal; environmental actions are only done, when immediate financial gain would suffer from not doing them. Admittedly, water purification has been much improved in the industrialized countries in fifty years. In part, however, this has meant that the most polluting industry has been relocated to countries with lax environmental regulation. Some rivers in India have so high antibiotic levels that a patient could get a daily dose of medicine by drinking river water, others in Pakistan have so high effluent load from tanning industry that the water colour shows which dye is used most in the textiles. Even in our Western World, many improvements are not real. When it became clear that chlorinated compounds were highly toxic, they were banned. The chemical industry then started producing new fluorinated compounds. Anyone with reasonable knowledge of chemistry could have predicted that since fluorine and chlorine are sister elements, also fluorinated compounds are very toxic. This conclusion was finally reached, and several fluorinated compounds are banned. The insecticide use all over the world has increased, and one of the problems in their use is, if a sweeping generalization is made, that they are much more toxic to aquatic animals than to insects. Also, an occasional spill of toxic substances to rivers still occurs. Add climate change on top of all that, and the present-day situation emerges. The reason for including climate change is that first, the increase in temperature is a stress, and combined with contaminant-induced stresses can cause mortality, and second, climate change causes marked variations of river flow (because of alternations between heavy rains and dry periods) whereby the contaminant flow, e.g., from agriculture becomes highly pulsatile.

One sees the results in the news items. There have been massive fish mortalities in many shallow European lakes and in sea areas at Australian coast. Gold mining effluents have caused fish mortalities in Amazonas area and in Danube. The river Oder (in Poland) experienced major mass mortality of fish last summer and Murray and Darling rivers (in Australia) just recently. While the ultimate reason of neither is clear, agricultural toxicants together with climate change have likely contributed. About 30000 l of styrene leaked last Friday to a tributary of Delaware river, where Philadelphia obtains its drinking water, making it unsuitable for human use for a few days…These are just a couple of examples, it appears that there is an issue with aquatic pollution more or less every day somewhere in the world.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: fish mortality, climate change, multiple stresses, insecticides

Russia is a problem - also environmentally

Sunnuntai 19.3.2023 klo 15:41 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Massive forest fires, melting permafrost with immense release of subterranean natural gas. No information about the environmental conditions in more than half of the arctic areas. The economy almost totally dependent on the exports of fossil fuels and mining products, which are produced with minimal concern about the environment in order to reduce production expenses. Shelling Ukrainian soil with ammunition; the compounds reaching the ground are known to be highly toxic.

That, in short, is Russia today. We have only read the news about the war Russia has started, but for the world the Russian – or at least Putin government’s – attitude to environmental questions may be even more detrimental. Whereas it is generally accepted that climate change is causing massive devastation of habitable areas, sinking coastal cities and island countries, Putin’s government appears to clap hands, as increasing temperatures will probably enable commercial shipping in the Arctic Ocean North of Siberia through the Northeastern Passage.

In the age of Soviet Union, terrible environmental disasters happened without any information about them in the Western world. For example, hundreds of thousands people died or were relocated when a nuclear arms storage site blew up. Chemical weapons were dumped in sea bottom as unknown sites. Western scientists had no way of checking what happens, because they had no contact with Russian scientists. The situation today is definitely not better, and maybe even worse, than at the time of Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia is closed like North Korea, virtually all the intellectuals which could alert of the existence of environmental problems have either been forced to emigrate or are in prison, and the government is anti-environmental. In view of this, the change of Russian government is needed in addition to stopping the war also for enabling sustainable life on the Earth.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: sustainable life, climate change, environmental pollution, chemical weapons, arctic

Liquid Sponges - Mopping up Carbon Dioxide and Methane

Keskiviikko 15.3.2023 klo 14:43 - Mikko Nikinmaa

I admit that I have never been overly enthusiastic about technological advances that make it possible to continue in the path of growth. That is because they cloud the primary issue of why the earth is in trouble: overconsumption and resource use. To have a healthy planet consumption, resource use and human population should all decrease. Instead of having the population of eight billion, the planet in balance should have about three billion, just like there was as late as 1960’s.

Having said that the primary goal for us should be to accept that the earth is finite and thereby cannot sustain limitless growth, the technological advances can speed up our aim to reduce and even abolish the damage we have caused during the years. Among the recent, promising technologies are liquid sponges, liquids that can take up the carbon dioxide or methane from the effluents of energy production and even exhaust fumes. The liquid containing the carbon dioxide or methane load can be stored as such or be heated, whereby the mopped gas is given up, and can be utilized as the starting material for any industrial process requiring them. That is an incredibly good way of mitigating climate change just as long as instead of continuing on growth path we choose to adopt sustainable life.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon dioxide absorption, porous liquids

An Agreement Reached on Protecting High Seas

Maanantai 6.3.2023 klo 19:32 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Worldwide agreement on the protection of open oceans was reached yesterday. In comparison to climate change and biodiversity protection negotiations, reaching an agreement was easy, and nobody expressed serious dissatisfaction. Not surprisingly, though, the negotiations even in this “easy” case took ten years. The reason for reaching an agreement is, however, not that governments would have become environmentally conscious, but because of the following fact. The open seas are ocean areas, which are not under the control of any nation. The maximal “economic zones” where different nations can restrict the use of the sea area are 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) from the coast. Beyond that point anyone from anywhere can use the resources of the sea and sea bottom. Thus, they belong to no nation state, but because more than 70 % of earth’s surface is ocean, form the majority of sea area.

Protecting the oceans is crucial in order to combat climate change and feed world’s people. It is not generally known that oceanic algae consume about half of the carbon dioxide and produce half of the oxygen in the world. Consequently, the well-being of oceans is as important for preventing global temperature rise as preventing the rain forest loss of Amazonas. Because of aquatic pollution, which should now be decreased as the result of the agreement, oceanic photosynthesis has probably decreased by 10-15 %. People have not really cared about what happens to the open oceans before the huge plastic gyres have caught everyone’s eye. It is clear that not only plastic waste but all sorts of chemicals, including oil components are something that sea organisms encounter all the time. To my mind it is probable that the marked decrease in eel stocks, which has occurred in the last 50 years, is to a large extent caused by oceanic pollution. Because of the very strenuous spawning migration, even slight pollution can overstress the eels so that spawning becomes ineffective.

At present, less than 1 % of the oceans is protected. The agreement states that by 2030 30 % of the high seas would be protected. This would enable many overfished species to recover. However, even though the actual protection of the seas is important, it is even more important that the pollutant discharge to oceans is diminished. Only that can help the high seas to stay healthy or recover.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: ocean, aquatic pollution, climate change, eel, plastic pollution

Whale strandings - what causes them?

Keskiviikko 22.2.2023 klo 16:00 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The stranding of whales almost invariably result in the death of the animals before they can be returned to water. This is because when whales start to dry, their temperature increases since the surrounding water is not there to cool the body. The body temperature increases until it is lethal. To limit the temperature rise, stranded whales are flushed with water. During the recent past whale strandings have become more and more common. They are one of the symptoms of disturbances in oceanic environments, and may have various reasons. Regardless of the ultimate reason, it is possible that the whales make a decision to commit suicide because of the environmental stress. This can happen, as whales have very complex brains, and appear capable of conscious choices, as, e.g., commit suicide.

However, many of the strandings take place to injured whales. One of the biggest causes of whale injuries is a collision with ship. Because of the injury, the whale may not be able to swim properly and is washed ashore. Also, whales use sea currents to help them in swimming. As a result of climate change, the direction and strength of the currents may have changed so that when the whale thinks that it is swimming normally using the help of the current, it ends up stranded. By far the most important disturbance to whales is noise pollution. This is because long-distance acoustic communication is a major feature of whale life. If acoustic communication is disturbed enough, the whale may decide to commit suicide.

Sounds travel long distances in water. As a result, whales can communicate with their mates tens of kilometres away. This is the way they find partners for reproduction, inform of good food sources etc. Ships and motorboats make a lot of noise in the oceans. The noise levels may disturb whale communication. And the sea traffic has become more intensive and noisier in the recent past disturbing the whales more and more.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: noise pollution, climate change, ship traffic

Exxon scientists predicted climate change already in 1970?s - the company marketing sold a different story

Perjantai 20.1.2023 klo 13:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The high standard of living in Europe and North America is largely based on the use of oil (and coal). The fossil fuel industry has made immense profits during the time of fossil fuel use. It should now be apparent that the use of oil is causing climate change. Yet, even now climate denial is common, and is supported by oil industry lobby groups.

It was predicted already more than a hundred years ago by the Danish physiologist August Krogh that the use of fossil fuels would increase atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Fifty years later all the big oil companies had scientists working on the atmospheric effects of the company’s products. In a recent number of Science (Science 379, eabk0063, January 13, 2023) Supran et al. review what has been reported by the scientists of the oil company starting from the late 1970’s and up to 2000’s.

The main takeaway from the reports and articles is that Exxon scientists informed the company and academic circles about the likely increase of global temperature as a result of the projected oil use. However, the company itself discounted its own scientists’ findings. The first of the lies of the company was that in 1970’s scientist had reached a consensus that the world was headed towards a new ice age, and now these same scientists are predicting that there will be a marked temperature increase. Clearly, such scientists cannot be trusted. There was no scientific consensus about cooling trend, in fact less than 15 % of climate science papers between 1965 and 1977 suggested temperature decrease. Further, the scientists of Exxon had come to the conclusion that temperature decrease is not probable. The second claim of the company has all the time been that the variability of climate data and predictions is so large that one cannot claim that a single anthropogenic cause could make any difference. However, the scientists of the company had, taking into account the variability, shown that even with the large variability, lack of temperature increase was not a possibility. They also estimated already in 1970’s and 1980’s that one would start seeing clear climate effects in early 2000’s, as has been observed. In addition, they estimated the amount of carbon dioxide, which, if exceeded, would cause problematic warming. Thus, the Exxon scientists appear to have done their best to alert the company.

Instead of heeding the scientists’ warning, the company has lied, hidden unpleasant findings and distorted the data. It appears from this behavior that greed has no limits: who cares about future generations if one can make a lot of profits now.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels

Where have the eels gone

Keskiviikko 18.1.2023 klo 14:51 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Everything was better in the past. That is the slogan of conservative populists throughout the world. It is actually true for some things, but the actions should be completely different from the ones advocated by the populists in order for us getting the good things from the past also in the future.

Here I am focussing on the eel. Smoked eel is a true delicacy. When I was a child, one got eels virtually every time one went fishing. The fish was fatty and had virtually no bones making it tasty and easy to eat. However, eels started disappearing from the shops and waters from 1970’s onwards and now you can rarely find them anywhere.

The life cycle of the eel is the main reason why the species is so vulnerable to environmental contamination. The European eel stocks have decreased more than 90 % from 1970’s to 2010’s. If one starts from the sexually mature eel, it migrates several thousand kilometres from the inland waters, where it matures, to the spawning site in Sargasso Sea. During this months-long migration the fish does not eat, but uses the fat deposits as energy stores. This fact has several consequences. First, the condition of eels reaching the spawning site is poor. Many do not make it to the site at all, and the rest are barely able to make the final effort of the spawning migration. Any lipid-soluble environmental contaminants are released to the circulation when lipid deposits are used for energy production. This further weakens the fish. Also, because of the climate change, the ocean currents may have weakened causing an increase in the energy consumption during swimming from Europe to Sargasso Sea. This also weakens the eel before spawning.

The adult eels die after spawning, but the developed embryos start their long travel towards the European feeding grounds. No specific problems have been found in the early part of the migration in the Atlantic. However, it is possible that the food items of the eel embryos have decreased in abundance and that ocean currents have slowed down. When the eels come to the European coasts, a final strenuous part of the travel awaits. They must go up to suitable growth sites. In selecting where to swim to, eels use, e.g., the lateral line organ. This sensory organ is very sensitive to metal contamination. Thus, the present increases of copper, lead and cadmium levels may disturb the final leg of eel migration.

In short, eels suffer from environmental contamination in most parts of their migration. Further, the studies have shown that the presently occurring contaminant levels are adequate to cause, e.g., sensory problems. Consequently, to be able to go back to the good old days, when smoked eel was a common delicacy, we need to improve water quality.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: aquatic toxicology, metal pollution, climate change

Damage and Repair Fund was established in COP27 Climate Summit - who pays?

Keskiviikko 28.12.2022 klo 19:30 - Mikko Nikinmaa

One of the results of the Climate Summit in Egypt was that the participating nations agreed to establish a Damage and Repair Fund to help poor nations that suffer from climate disasters. Everyone agrees that such fund is necessary. However, what has not been agreed upon is who would give money for the fund. The European Union has again been the primary source of the fund possibility. But EU does naturally not want to bear the cost alone. Thus, European countries think that the biggest fossil fuel polluters should contribute to the fund. Consequently, countries that are normally not paying to global funds, e.g., China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia should be among donors in addition to European countries, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.

Including oil­-producing countries among the fund donors makes perfect sense. They are making their profits with the fossil fuels that cause the damage. And they have money. As an example, the Soccer World Cup in Qatar cost more than 200 billion euros, ten times more than any Olympic Games up to now. It is kind of funny that that sum of money is available for “sports washing”, but not for helping areas which are suffering from the consequences of getting the riches that make also “sports washing” possible. With the same logic, big oil companies should contribute to the fund. Recently, their profits have been huge, and in my opinion should not line only the pockets of owners, but help the areas, which suffer from their profit-making.

There is no reason for the damage makers not to contribute to the fund. If they do not, it is an indication that greed and selfishness are more important for them than habitable world.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels

Energy production using nuclear fusion in 30 years. True this time?

Tiistai 13.12.2022 klo 15:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When I became interested in science in 1960’s, I read with excitement about the possibility of energy production via nuclear fusion. Unlimited amount of energy would be produced without any waste material. It was estimated that commercial nuclear fusion power plants would be functioning in 30 years.

In 1970’s there was a severe oil crisis. People were saving electricity, because of the very high price of oil. Individuals with a strong belief on nuclear fusion consolidated the public promising that the oil price fluctuations would not matter soon, since nuclear fusion power plants would produce plentiful of electricity in 30 years.

When worries of climate change started in 1990’s-2000’s, individuals trusting on mankind’s capacity to solve environmental problems with advances in technology were of the opinion that nuclear fusion could replace fossil fuels in energy production in 30 years.

For the past 60 years, commercial energy production with nuclear fusion has been hoped to happen in 30 years. So, the news from Livermore Laboratory showing that irradiation of small amount of hydrogen with laser beams produced more energy than put in by the laser beams indicates that a controlled fusion was achieved give real hope that nuclear fusion can form an important energy source in 30 years.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: electricity production, nuclear power, climate change

Tidal Energy - an Almost Untapped Major Energy Source

Tiistai 29.11.2022 klo 13:39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

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

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

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

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

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