Overshoot and Collapse or Constraints and Sustainability

Perjantai 21.6.2019 klo 13:59 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Although many different signals such as climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and decrease in land fertility, as indicated in the scientists’ warning (http://www.scientistswarning.org), show that we utilize the planet more than its resources allow, a surprisingly large percentage of mankind thinks that nothing needs to be done. One reason for this could be lack of information and schooling, but the attitude is quite common even among people, who could easily assimilate the available information. One reason for thinking that no actions are needed is denying that anything happens, the second is relying on that market forces and technological advancements will solve any problems. Coupled with denying is often spreading false information, and quite often the nationalistic populistic agenda is associated with denying that there are limits to the earth. With nationalistic agenda one may think that the following actions help one’s own nation: building high chimneys so that any air pollution goes further away, shipping toxic wastes to faraway places, as from Europe to India, overfishing claiming that the overuse of the resource is needed for keeping jobs, compensating for failing land productivity by using more fertilizers, subsidizing production so that rising prices do not indicate increasing scarcity of resources, using or threating to use military force to keep one’s own resources secure including means to keep unwanted foreigners out etc. The production by one’s own industry is invariably considered to be environmentally friendlier than that by industry of other nations.

A form of denying that nothing needs to be done is blind faith to technological solutions. For example, with regard to climate change, the newscasts are almost daily reporting different ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, although the technological advancements will be important for sustainable future, they cannot do anything but postpone the collapse if our ways do not chaPohjois-Wales.jpgnge. The same is true for recycling, reducing the amount of pollution per produced unit and improving water purification etc. If the growth ideology is continued, the reduced burden to environment at present will be eaten up by the economic and population growth so that the collapse will occur later than without technological advances. Consequently, we need an ideological change to achieve sustainability.  

The growth ideology is based on thinking that no limits exist. Since the limits have clearly been reached, there is a grave need to change to thinking that we have enough. However, although stationary state is necessary for sustainability, it is very hard to achieve, because it places great demands to our morality. One can see this in the way that any attempts to built societies based on equality have failed. But to achieve sustainability both population growth and the concept of economic growth need to be stopped and changed. Doing one is not enough. Stopping population growth will not generate new resources; as technological advancements and recycling, it only postpones the collapse if we do not accept that the concept of economic growth has to be replaced with no-growth ideology. In the scenario requiring economic growth, even if population growth stops, the stable population will use more and more resources yearly with collapse as the end result.

Thus, we need to replace economic growth with economic stationarity. This makes it possible, together with stationary population and technological advances, to decrease the ecological footprint of the human population to sustainable level. I cannot understand why it is all the time said by the people denying the need to do anything that the environmental movement and climate change activists only generate fear without giving solutions, when virtually all the comments with environmental concern give them. The only thing is that the solutions given require a drastic change in economic thinking. But that is what is needed. And let’s face it, the GNPs of 1960’s were quite adequate for decent life. In fact, the nationalistic populists often think of that time as the golden age in all other aspects. If one did not require growth, the investments needed for it could be used, e.g., for taking care of elderly, children and sick. In many ways a stationary, sustainable society could be more humane than the present growth-based society. And since it would also be sustainable, why cannot political and economic leaders accept that this kind of structural change, revolution, would be needed to secure the well-being of mankind.    


Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, economic growth, sustainability

Our Planet

Lauantai 11.5.2019 klo 18:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Our Planet documentary series by David Attenborough in Netflix (www.ourplanet.com) is incredibly good, and will probably be the most popular pro-environment series that has recently been published. When watching it a couple of things must be remembered. Although climate change is of a huge concern, the short-term solutions alleviating it will not solve the basic problem, which is our overuse of the planet. Climate change is just one symptom stemming from the facts that there are too many people who are overusing Earth's resources. In November 2, 2018 I wrote a blog, where pictures of human population change and the increase of world's carbon dioxide were side by side. And they could be superimposed. Further, although it could be possible to severe the link between human population and carbon dioxide production in the short term, the vicious circle between population growth, resource overuse, pollution and climate change still exists in longer term because of the following.

Human population needs to be fed. The intensive agriculture with artificial fertilization and pesticide use has increased the agricultural production per hectare to 5-10 times the crops obtained before "industrial" agriculture. It has been estimated that without the use if artificial fertilization and pesticides the maximal size of human population would be 2-3 billion. However, Nature presently strikes back. Fertilization pollutes our waters, pesticides kill pollinators and the microalgae of the seas. The results arte that aquatic pollution is decreasing the ability of algae to photosynthetize. The aquatic algae have contributed to 50 of the carbon dioxide sinks of the world. Now it is estimated that carbon dioxide fixation by them has decreased by 20 %. Aquatic pollution thus drives climate change.

Pollinating insects die as a result of insecticide use. Since about 2/3 of all the food plants need pollination by insects, this as such reduces the possibilities of increasing agricuDSC00354.JPGltural production by increased insecticide use. As the productivity per hectare cannot be increased, more people means that forests must be cut to obtain agricultural land. At the same time old agricultural land is becoming infertile, and changes in precipitation aggravate the problem. Cutting the forests causes biodiversity loss and since forests are more effective carbon dioxide sinks than agricultural lands, aggravates climate change.

Apart from cutting rainforests, the most pronounced biodiversity losses are caused by overfishing. Most fisheries at the moment are unsustainable, and aquaculture does not help the situation, as most of the fish feed is made from fish. So, the only change that happens is that for human food less preferred species are caught. An additional problem with aquaculture is the use of antibiotics and pesticides, which affect marine life and be one component of generating antibiotic resistance in the environment.

Besides the decrease of marine biodiversity, especially the large amount of plastic waste in the oceans is an anthropogenic problem. Here an important step forward was taken a day or two ago, whem most countries in the world agreed that plastic waste may not be exported. This will generate national recycling of plastics. Notably, Trump's USA did not sign the agreement. The present government of the USA has been very consequent in the anti-environment actions, opposing any actions which could be seen as trying to improve the state of environment. The US government after Trump will have much to do to reverse the anti-environmental actions of the present government.

If it weren't for plastics, it is likely that there would be other tash all over the place. Different materials, which could be recycled are just thrown away. For example, much of the metals could be reused which would much reduce the need for mining and theeby overuse of world's resources. 

In conclusion, we would need to find ways both to decrease the human population and the amount of energy and resources used by a unit human. Changes in the first pertain especially to developing countries and in the second to inhabitants of traditional industrialized countries. One cannot think in terms "we will do nothing unless the others do their share", because that is a certain way to go to catastroph.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity, climate change, environmental pollution, economic growth, sustainability

G20 and climate change

Sunnuntai 2.12.2018 klo 12:55 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Invariably, older people are looking in the golden past - how things were good then. This is actually the breeding ground for the populism of today: none of today's threats existed in1960's. However, the gross natioal products of all the rich countries were only a fraction of what they are now, and many things everyone of us now take for granted were extremely rare.

The book "Limits to Growth" was published in 1972. The book introduced the idea that there would in future be limitation for many needed resources.  At the time, virtually all economists rejected the idea, and the continued thinking that economic growth is needed is still prevalent, although all the calculations and exrtapolations indicate that Earth's limits IMG_20170728_0079.jpghave been reached long ago. The major problem resulting from exceeding Earth's limits, and accepted by most givernments in the world, is the climate change. However, although it should be accepted that growth economics ha come to an end, and should be replaced by sustainability economics, it is qurious that there is G20 meeting going on, and that is completely based on securing economic growth. Simultaneously, a meeting on climate change in Katowice, Poland, is starting, where the same governments are participating. 

It is notable that economy and climate change actions are kept strictly separate, although the truth is that economy depends on environment. And even more, the sad truth is that the growth economy isn't possible if we want to have an Earth that is habitable for future generations. So, instead of trying to calculate, how much economic growth is decreased by climate actions, the outset should be: how much should the world's economies (and population) need to be reduced in order to have sustainability. The new economic thinking, based on sustainability of natural capital, should be the major direction that economics goes into. We have reached the limits to growth about twenty years ago, and the future requires completely new way of thinking, which has little to do with the economic theories of growth economy. If the choice were made clear by governments and media that the choice is between a balanced diminishing of economies - back to 1960's - or a catastrophe, I am pretty sure that people would choose the first alternative. As has been said by many climate scientists, the question is not that we would not have the solutions to solve the problem, but that solving it requires the change of attitudes.

In short, all the media should start praising the situation that is taking place in many developed countries today, the population has stopped growing. Further, the media and governents should start campaigns in developed countries to say thet our material well-being could easily go back 50 years without much disturbing our daily life. Since the problem iss not that we would lack solutions to combat climate change, to save the planet we would need to scrap the attitudes pertaining to growth economy - the need for population and economic growth. 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: economic growth, population, Paris agreement

Growth - threat to Earth

Lauantai 10.11.2018 klo 11:17

Reading the news, two problems are invariably brought forward: population growth in Japan and Europe have completely stopped and economic growth is again slowing down.  These are given as negative news, although at the same time the news bring forward that this year the day that the resources of the world that could be used per year if sustainability were the aim was reached earlier than ever. Consequently, both news items about the stop of population growth and and decrease of economic growth are positive news for the Earth, hopefully more of them follow.

As a need for economic growth, it is invariably said that if economic growth does not continue, one cannot continue with the present benefits - but wait a minute, those if us who lived in 1970s lived quite happily then, even though all the economic indicators were much worse than today .- the gross national product was only a fraction of today's and there are many things all of us consume now, which were not needed then: and honestly, do we really need them.

As a need for population growth it is usually said that without it there is not enough working force to pay pensions to retired people (and jobless atc.). Again, wait a minute, at the moment immigration is the most negatively thought-about aspect of life in Europe. Wouldn't it be actually right to welcome immigrants and say that they are needed to make it possible to continue the welfare states of Europe. If this were the attitude, I bet the majority of immigrants would soon assimilate to society. And if immugration were mostly young people and children, taken in with a positive attitude, they wood soon see their new living place as home and try to make the normal habits there their own. The hostile apartheid mentality of the right wing populists generates hate and conflicts, which is good for nobody.

To combat the major environmental problems in the world, we would need to forget nation satates, and think that we are citizens of the world. This does not mean that we would need to forget our identity or that we should not try to convince other people about the points done well in our societies. But - I can say that I am a Finnish World citizen, against inequality, male white domination, environmental distruction etc. However, although my aims are good, I make mistakes - human as I am.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, economic growth, sustainability, gross national product