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.
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.