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

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

Promoting SSAB - a Big Steel Producer Is Going Green

Maanantai 31.1.2022 klo 15:54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the end of August (29/8/2021) I wrote about steel production, and the possibility that it would become carbon-free. The reason for making such a change is that steel making causes 10 % of the world’s carbon footprint. Now, one of the big steel companies in Europe, SSAB, has committed to change its Nordic steel production to carbon-free by 2030. This is an important step. The commitment requires major investment to electric arc furnaces, and the electricity that they use needs to be produced in power plants using renewable energy sources.

What does the company gain? Since it is the first to produce “green steel”, it will certainly have a huge advantage in the market that is looking for eco-friendly steel solutions. Certainly car makers, and actually all companies using steel and wishing to give a future-looking image of their products will choose the “green steel”.

The decision made by SSAB can only be applauded. It shows that companies willing to look forward, may reap commercial advantages, while companies making maximal profits using old technologies will be losing their market share in a couple of years.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon footprint, green economy

Scientists have reported the effects of fossil fuels for hundred years

Lauantai 11.12.2021 klo 19:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

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

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

Money is a poor substitute for healthy environment.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, sustainability, economy

It Is Not Racist to Worry about the Size of Human Population

Maanantai 7.12.2020 klo 15:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

There are currently 7.8 billion people on Earth. Recent data suggest that the population peaks 2064 at a little less than 10 billion and thereafter slowly decreases so that in 2100 the population is 8.8 billion. This is taken by some people to indicate that the warnings of overpopulation were too hasty. However, it is estimated that these population sizes far exceed what is sustainable: if the European style of living was aimed for by the whole Earth’s population, the planet could sustain 2 billion people, if rich countries would decrease their consumption allowing the poor countries to increase the standard of living considerably, the planet could have about 3 billion people and if the present economic inequality persisted, 4-5 billion people could exist without clear deterioration of the planet.

The world population has started to increase markedly only a couple of hundred years ago. In the beginning of 1900’s there were much less than 2 billion people. In 1960’s and 1970’s the possibility of overpopulation was brought forward by environmental scientists, but was not taken in serious consideration in economics and politics. In fact, it presently appears that if one says that a major environmental problem, also feeding climate change, is population growth, one is immediately labelled a racist. It is often considered that the problem is really overconsumption of resources by the rich, who are then the crooks and racists immediately if they say anything about the high birth rates in Africa and much of South America and Asia even though it is clear that even the present population size in those areas is not sustainable.

Washington et al. just wrote in Journal of Future Studies 25, 93-106:  Why Do Society and Academia Ignore the ‘Scientists Warning to Humanity’ On Population? They brought forward all the points that also I think are important. The overuse of the Earth has three components: overpopulation, overconsumption, and the concept of unlimited growth. All three need to be considered together. There is also the point that the rich countries naturally cannot demand that poor people of the South are not allowed to improve their standard of living. This necessarily causes increased resource use per person.

A major question affecting the population growth is the standing of women. It has been shown that if women’s standing increases, population growth decreases. Washington et al give the following points as ways to combat population growth:

1. Assure universal access to a range of safe and effective contraceptive options and family planning services for both sexes.

2. Guarantee education through secondary school for all, with a particular focus on girls.

3. Eradicate gender bias from law, economic opportunity, health, and culture.

4. Offer age-appropriate sexuality education for all students.

5. End all policies that reward parents financially if they are based on the number of their children.

6. Integrate teaching about population, environment, and development relationships into school curricula at multiple levels.

7. Put prices on environmental costs and impacts.

8. Adjust to population aging rather than trying to delay it through governmental incentives or programs aimed at boosting childbearing.

9. Convince leaders to commit to ending population growth through the exercise of human rights and human development.

I agree with all of these, and if they are thought to be racist, then striving for improving education and for gender equality is racist.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, overconsumption, resource use, growth economy

Healthy environment is needed for functioning economy

Perjantai 9.3.2018 klo 16:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa

To be sustainable, any economic theory needs to take into account the limits set to economies by the global environment. Otherwise any economic actions are just very hard-repayed loan from future generations. As the two worst alternatives are either that a small proportion of mankind can leave this planet, when it becomes uninhabitable, to continue the wasteful way of living in another planet until that is also spoiled or that most people dye and a small proportion continues to live in the spoiled environment.

To avoid these worst-case scenarios, one should actually give the Nobel price in Economics in continuation to economic theories that strive to reconcile economics and environment, as suggested by Ripple at el. in “The Role of Scientists’ Warning in Shifting Policy from Growth to Conservation Economy”, which can in full be viewed at

"Most helpful for this paradigm shift, both symbolically and pragmatically, would be for the scientist members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to insist that its Economic Sciences Prize Committee give greater weight to awarding prizes for economic theory that accounts for environment–economy interlinkages and feedback loops. If Nobel memorial prizes in economics were given to those drawing attention to economic drivers of environmental degradation and the well-being implications of degraded ecosystems, it would draw attention to problems with mainstream economic theory as well as encourage other economists and natural scientists to collaborate and to do more work in this area."

Economy and environment are not opposite, but there cannot be a functioning economy without healthy environment in the long run.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: GNP, Nobel Price in economy, sustainability