Living planet requires population decrease

Torstai 10.9.2020 klo 14:10 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The Living Planet Report 2020 was just published (can be downloaded from https://livingplanet.panda.org/). It is sad reading: the vertebrate populations have decreased globally by 68 % from 1970.The most marked decreases have occurred in areas with high population growth and least in areas with low population growth. In South America the decrease of animal populations is 94 % as compared to 1970 and in Africa 65 %. It is no surprise that the animal populations decrease most in areas with high population growth, since there the changes in land use are greatest, and changes in land use account for more than half of the changes in animal populations. Notably, about 75 % of ice-free land area is nowadays impacted by humans, and the percentage of wilderness decreases with population increase: wilderness remains in Arctic areas and deserts, which are uninhabitable.

Although it is clear from the Living Planet Report that population growth cannot continue, if we are to have sustainable future, the economic circles say that future of economies depends on population growth. This thinking is like increasing the speed of the car, when you know that a collision to a brick wall is imminent. Shouldn’t we instead start modifying our economic theories towards a regulated population decrease? If we did that, both biodiversity could be maintained and climate change could be stopped. Not a bad heritage to future generations. I bet they would accept this even if it was done with loans: it is much better to have healthy environment and high debt than to have no debt but unhospitable Earth.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth

A Change is needed

Maanantai 10.8.2020 klo 18:01 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change, Covid-19 pandemic, racial discrimination, populistic movements, inequality, biodiversity loss – the list could continue almost 

IMG_20170826_0083.jpgforever. The humankind has problems, and the problems are caused by greed and selfishness. That is best seen in the increasing nationalistic populism. We should only take care of our own group. However, why should we broaden our thinking as far as the nation state. There are usually millions of people in nation states – why should we care of people living in different areas, they are certainly taking advantage of us even if they are living in the same nation as we. Shouldn’t we restrict caring about others to our immediate family. Anyone who looks at all different is not worth caring. That is the basis of any discrimination, we can always find a reason to divide people: according to skin colour, language, religion, gender, disability etc. When the people are labelled to different from us, we do not need to think about how their conditions could or should be improved, but can label them rapists, thieves, murderers, terrorists, whose sole aim is to disturb our life.
Thinking of other people that way, the further they are from us, the less we need to care, makes it possible to be greedy – we do not have to care about their conditions as long as suppressing them gives us more riches. Or if we utilize them, they are not our equals but slaves: why would we care as long as we get cheap t-shirt, can dispose of our toxic wastes cheaply to developing countries or can eat cheaply in ethnic restaurants, or get sexual satisfaction. We in the rich world have been able not to care until recently: the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution have now made many of us to realize that the earth has limits and that we have reached them. Further, it is obvious that inequality across the world cannot continue. To enable sustainable development, we rich need to decrease our consumption, and population increase needs to stop.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of greedy rich people (and less rich ones), who refuse to see that anything needs to be done. Invariably they are reverting to the past, more or less saying that the coal and oil consumption is 1960s didn’t cause anything, so why would it now. The difference to today is that the energy consumption today is manyfold per person as compared to 1960s and we are four times as many. If we could go back to the past, I would gladly do it. None of the present-day problems would have taken place with the population and resource use of that time.

Thus, the change that is needed is the way of thinking. Instead of greed and selfishness, caring and compassion should be the leading qualities. Environmental problems cannot be solved, if the getting rich-me first-attitude persists.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth, populism

Population growth of humans may be stopping?

Maanantai 20.7.2020 klo 20:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The most important reasons for all the environmental problems, climate change, biodiversity loss, loss of arable land, overfishing and pollution are the increase of human population combined with the strive for every human to be able to consume more. Thus, to be able to have sustainable development, the primary goal must be to stop population growth. Hitherto it has been estimated that the growth of human population continues to at least 2100, although the growth rate is decreasing. By 2100 there would be more than 10 billion people on the earth, if no catastrophes occur before that. In view of the gloomy predictions, it was refreshing to read the article by Vollset et al. in Lancet (July 14, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30677-2). They estimate that the population reaches a maximum of 9.73 billion by 2064 and thereafter decreases so that by 2100 the population is 8.79 billion. The population decreases everywhere except in Africa especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population increase seems to continue there up to 2100 with the consequence that Nigeria will be 2nd most populous country in the world by 2100. Also, out of the world’s population, about 3.8 billion will live in Africa.   

The economic systems virtually everywhere are based on population growth. Thus, one sees in European newspapers big headlines about how terrible the decrease of birth rate is. However, to enable sustainable development, that is what needs to take place. Since the population growth occurs in area from which emigration to Europe is feasible, European countries should, for their own sake, start thinking about immigration as an asset, not as a burden. This requires a change of many people’s attitude.

However, even the 8.8 billion population is too large for sustainableSyntyvyys.jpg living. Even if climate change with new technologies could be stopped, the need for food, biodiversity loss and pollution continue. The population can be further decreased, if the education, especially women’s education is improved. It is clear from the enclosed figure that lifetime fertility (y-axis) decreases with the number of years of education. With education improved and birth control applied, the human population would decrease to about 6 billion by 2100, i.e. be about a quarter less than today. That would certainly be sustainable, so there is a ray of hope, which is achievable.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, biodiversity loss, economic growth

Coronavirus pandemic signifies the end for greedy globalism but should be the starting point for sustainable globalism

Sunnuntai 10.5.2020 klo 17:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Looking at the figures showing, how coronavirus is spreading in the world, one cannot but come to one conclusion. The situation is rapidly becoming worst in countries with populistic leaders who preach nationalism. Also, most indicators of world’s present problems show that the greedy economic globalism has failed miserably, and is contributing to the possible rise of next pandemic, climate change, immigration and environmental pollution.

On the other hand, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that the world is one entity, regardless if we want it or not. Currently the virus has spread to 212 countries, and the fact that one can travel from the most remote part of the world to any centre means that the only way to avoid the spreading of this or future pests is complete isolation from the rest of the world. From this I can reach only one conclusion: the only way to have acceptable future is to start sustainable globalism.

A starting point for sustainable globalism is that human population growth must be stopped, and should actually start to decrease. This is already happening in several rich countries, but it is invariably presented as a huge problem threatening the future of the nations concerned. The population growth mainly occurs in poor nations, which were for a long time under colonial rule. Because of this, any efforts originating from the industrialized countries to curb population growth are easily viewed as tries to re-establish colonial rule. As long as the efforts are seen as the rich countries’ effort to maintain their wealth, this is an unavoidable conclusion. Thus, curbing population growth cannot succeed, if nationalistic attitude prevails: it requires understanding that it is needed for global health. Consequently, the global wealth inequality should be decreased.

Decreasing wealth inequality is largely correcting colonial injustices, which persist even today. One cannot say that the currently poor areas like Africa would be poor because of their lack of natural resources. They are poor, because the resources are not used for their benefit, but profit usually multinational companies based in rich countries. This is also true for both manufacturing and agricultural production. With regard to agricultural production, poor countries often cultivate plants which are exported to rich countIMG_20170807_0157.jpgries and do not feed the local population. Furthermore, the production is largely owned by companies residing in rich countries. When agricultural production is largely exported, the poor countries end up as importers of food required by the local people. With regard to industrial production, much of it is done for export. Again, the companies are largely parts of multinational ones with headquarters in rich countries. The reasons for production in poor countries is first that the salaries are very low, but also that environmental standards required for production in rich countries need not be followed whereby production costs are minimized. This type of cutting cost is the greedy economic globalism, which the true sustainable globalism should do its utmost to fight against. The solution to decreasing wealth inequality is actually quite simple. All the products from poor areas are priced as if they were produced in rich countries, and the difference in the present and future price is given to (especially women’s) education, improving the environmental standards of production and salaries. The funds cannot be given directly to the governments of the poor nations, because they are (unfortunately) often corrupt, and would just use the funds for their own benefit instead of using them for the benefit of the people.

The third part of changes, which are required in order to combat one of the grave problems, the climate change, is to stop using fossil fuels. I don’t go further in detail to it, because the two directions above will immensely help in achieving that goal, and because there are already several technological possibilities for the required change.

Why should we then do all of this? The answer is really simple: I suppose we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live in an open society. If this is our hope, we must be able to decrease the likelihood of viral transmissions from animals to humans. They have increased in frequency in recent years, because increased human population decreases the space available for animals, and consequently animal-human interactions increase. Vegetarian diet is not a solution, because direct animal-human transmissions remain a possibility. In addition to avoiding zoonosis, sustainable globalism would also decrease migrations and environmental pollution and combat climate change.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, migration, population growth, economic growth, wealth inequality, environmetal pollution

Degrowth - improved quality of life and climate action

Keskiviikko 22.1.2020 klo 14:20

Going back to the golden past is the major goal of populism everywhere. This is the case even though it is clear that most things are better now than they were 50 years ago. In the face of improved gender equality, it is superficially quite surprising that many women in Europe and North America are attracted to the backward-looking populism. However, maybe it is not surprising at all: the goal of the present economy is to grow. This can be achieved only by increasing the efficiency, which usually means that less people are doing more work. The present society can in short be described as “the society in a hurry”. People are required to be busy ants. No wonder people would want to return to the golden, less busy past.

That should actually also be the goal of climate actions. So, in a way the major populistic goal and the climate action goal are the same. The way to achieve this is degrowth. We do not need the possibility of consuming more, when the extra consumption requires busier working hours. Notably, if being busy would help making new innovations, thIMG_20170808_0063.jpgey would all have been done by the busy Chinese. But no, virtually all the major inventions have been done by the lazy Westerners because they have had some leisure. Thus, in addition to needing degrowth for combatting climate change, it is helping to make new inventions.

The economic theories should change from those of growth economy to those of degrowth economy. Instead of measuring the gross national product (GNP), one should measure indicators of human well-being. Among these indicators, the feeling of being in too much of hurry would be a strong negative one. In virtually all working place surveys being in less hurry is even more important positive feature in the work than getting higher salary. With degrowth, the energy consumption would decrease, whereby the use of fossil fuels would decrease faster than presently estimated.

Thus, the populists wanting to get back to the golden past should join the people combatting climate change, because the degrowth needed for combatting climate change is required for being able to be less busy at work wanted by populists – and other people.   

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

Black Friday - An Overconsumption Feast Directly Opposite to What Should Be Done to Combat Climate Change

Perjantai 29.11.2019 klo 11:15 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It started in America as many workplaces have free day after Thanksgiving. The commerce realized that this could be the time to get people in department stores and other shops. In recent years Black Friday has invaded Europe. This happens at DSC_0022_NEW.jpgthe same time that media is showing pictures of the results of overconsumption: wildfires in Australia, melting glaciers in Greenland and drought in East Africa followed by massive flooding. If drought did not spoil the harvest the flooding definitely did. The media have been worried of overconsumption, yet the same media are supporting the overconsumption feast with interviews and advertising.

Let’s face it: Black Friday represents all the problems in the overconsuming Western world. Its purpose is not to get people to buy things that they need but to buy things because they are sold at rebate, regardless if they are needed or not. The only purpose is to increase sales – and this happens in the world where European countries and America have used their yearly quota of resources before midsummer. In view of this, Black Friday represents the most blatant action against the possibility to combat climate change, and against the possibility to give a habitable earth to our grandchildren.

Today I buy nothing.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: consumption, economic growth, sustainabilit

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