Why the investments should now go to railroads and renewable energy?

Keskiviikko 27.5.2020 klo 14:19 - Mikko Nikinmaa

During the coronavirus lockdowns the energy consumption has decreased markedly so that carbon dioxide emissions have decreased measurably. This has mainly been caused by reduced traffic, since heating and production of electricity have continued close to pre-coronavirus time. Now, the leaders/economist/politicians looking in the past suggest that when the economies are opened, the climate actions, including changes in energy production, should be delayed until a better time. However, there will never be a better time than this to increase investments in renewable energy.

First, all countries are giving massive stimulus funds. One of the most important sectors is improving infrastructure. When improving infrastructure, two directions stand out: railroads and power plants. With improvements of rail traffic, one could change most transport from road transport to rail transport. It would only require that in addition to improvement of rails one would build goods terminals to facilitate container transfer from trains to trucks. With this done, all long-distance goods transport would take place in railroads, and road transport would be restricted to the travel between the place of production/use and rail terminals. Such a change would have several benefits. One would decrease oil use markedly in transport, since trains are mostly electrical. One would also decrease the use of roads by heavy traffic, and thereby reduce the need for repairing them, also reducing oil consumption (in asphalt). Finally, tyre wear is currently the most important source of microplastics. Thus, reducing road traffic would reduce this universal environmental contamination. Developing bullet trains with international route planning would diminish passenger transport in air traffic, and improvement of railroads would increase local passenger train traffic, also reducing oil consumption.

One of the things with investment is that virtually all political and economic circles say that the corona support should be for a fixed time period, not taking place forever. Building power plants to harness renewable energy fulfils this criterion. Power plants prodIMG_20170730_0073.jpgucing energy from renewable sources, wind, sunlight, waves, tide or water flow, only carry costs during building. Thereafter virtually no costs are associated with energy production, so energy production becomes cheaper and cheaper with time. This is in stark contrast with power plants using oil, natural gas, coal or peat, which all require continuously buying the fuel. Further, whereas much of the traditional fuels must be imported, thus generating problems with security of supply, the renewable resources are truly local, and can be used even in the direst of crises.

In conclusion, investing in climate-friendly railroads and renewable energy makes sense both politically and economically. Such investments are going to the future, which we should do instead of reverting in tha unsustainable past.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, investments, energy production

Combatting Climate Change requires Environmental Globalism - thinking nationalistically or regionally is not enough to tackle most environmental problems

Keskiviikko 29.1.2020 klo 18:14 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Nationalistic movements have gained ground during the recent past – Brexit, “America First” as prime examples. This is a sorry situation, because virtually all environmental problems are global. You can find a pollutant that originates from a factory in New York in a whale caught off the coast of Iceland. The foreign molecules are found in the Antarctic ice. The clothing we wear in European countries causes pesticide pollution, dye pollution, and decreased water availability throughout the cotton-producing countries.

The nationalistically thinking circles always forget this, and say that “we are doing our share of combatting environmental problems.” To be able to say this, they should not use any t-shirts which use cotton grown in India and made in a factory in Bangla Desh. In buying and using these clothes the people are outsourcing the environmental pollution. If the nationalistic circles were actually thinking of their responsibility to the environment, they would pay for the expenses needed for proper water treatment in factories producing the clothes or their dyeing units.

The global nature of environmental problems is clearest in combatting climate change. For example in Finland the nationalistic circles say that any industrial production in Finland is actually an action against climate change because of the strict environmental standards required here. This is the major point of environmental globalism. The same high environmental standards should be required everywhere on the globe, and the buyers of the products should pay for the improvements of environmental standards. Otherwise the buyers of the products are taking a free ride at the expense of the environment. Naturally it is not the environment we see every day, but the pollutants can later affect our everyday life.IMG_20170729_0029_NEW.jpg

Perhaps the clearest example of why nationalistic or regional thinking is not enough comes from the energy use. Finland and Europe are striving for fossil fuel-free energy production in the near future. To some extent this is done by importing electricity from countries, which are producing electricity using fossil fuels. This is the same kind of outsourcing of environmental problems as otherwise buying products with inferior environmental standards of production. Thus, industrial production in Finland and elsewhere in Europe are partially not reducing their carbon footprint but outsourcing it to places, which do not enact to do such reductions. This partially negates the argument that nationalists are using about our climate-friendly industry. It does not really help, if it’s said that we are only importing electricity produced with sustainable means. If the electricity was not exported, the exporting country could give its own inhabitants less fossil fuel-produced and more sustainably produced energy. Again, the solution would be environmental globalism. The electricity throughout the world would be taxed according to the percentage use of  fossil fuels regardless of the origin of electricity.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: environmental pollution, energy production, carbon footprint

Gaia is sick: It is not only Climate Change

Lauantai 22.12.2018 klo 13:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Gaia hypothesis was generated in 1970's by chemist James Lovelock (and co-developed by microbiologist Lynn Margulis). It states that organisms interact with their inorganic environment so that the Earth is a complex self-regulating system, where chemical, physical and biological components all affect the state of Gaia (=Earth). In the early 1990's there was a computer game simulating the development of Gaia.

Gaia concept is very fitting to climate change, bIMG_20170728_0063.jpgecause any change is the result of changes in atmospheric chemistry, energy production, the use of fossil fuels, radiation, respiration of organisms, environmental pollution, photosynthesis etc. However, although climate change is at the moment the most serious complex disease of Gaia, there are many other, which all generate problems, and require active combatting. They include land use, waste production, environmental pollution and biodiversity loss. If one tries to pinpoint a single factor causing the diseases of Gaia, the increase of human population is that. If there were less than two billion of us like there were a hundred years ago, none of the problems - climate change, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss etc. would have occurred provided that today's technologies were used.

With regard to land use, large population needs space for housing and food production. This results in cutting forests, and both decreases carbon dioxide utilization worsening climate change and causes biodiversity loss. It is notable that organic farming is actually a bigger problem than modern agriculture, since the same amount of food production requires larger area whereby carbon dioxide sink is reduced as more forest needs to be cut. (It is clear that plants used for food production also take up some carbon dioxide, but the amount is smaller than for trees). Land use also includes mines and such like. Much of metal mining could be stopped, if all metals were recirculated.

Increased food production is necessarily causing biodiversity loss. It is, for example, thought that overfishing will increasingly result in a decrease in a number of marine species. Largely fisheries-induced biodiversity loss could be decreased by aquaculture. Notably, aquaculture decreases biodiversity loss only if their feed is not fishflour, i.e. fish are not caught to get fodder. One way of increasing land area for food production is to replace cotton fibre with wood fibre and another is to decrease meat use (and thereby production).

The waste collection and recycling of materials can be improved and environmental pollution decreased by effective wastewater treatment plants. However, regardless of what is done, the problems become more difficult to solve with increasing human population. So, Gaia is sick, and the best remedy would be to be able to decrease human population, or since this is not likely to be achieved, at least stop population growth. To be able to do this an important component would be improving women's status and schooling. Also, a major shift in ideology is required - growth ideology must be scrapped.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: land use, population increase, growth, energy production

Biofuel from wood - is it climate-friendly?

Sunnuntai 14.10.2018 klo 15:21 - Mikko Nikinmaa

To be climate-friendly, the production of biofuels from wood should be associated with an increase of forest growth, which covers both the burned wood, and the carbon dioxide production during harvesting the material and transporting it to the biofuel factories and transporting the ready fuel to the fuel stations. If this requirement is not fulfilled, and new cuts done to obtain biofuel, then the new carbon dioxide produced is no better climatewise than carbon dioxide produced from oil and coal.

Climate-friendly biofuel can be produced from waste material, if new forest is planted at the same time. Then one increases the carbon sink, and simultaneously does environment-friendly treatment of waste.

I cannot understand, why production of biofuels without the above requirements is marketed as climate action, because it is definitely not that. To market something on grounds that is good for certain economic sectors and political parties, but against the most crucial requirements needed to have a sustainable world future, is something that our children do not thank us for, because we would have a choice. It would probably be against the interests of some groups, and probably more expensive than the cheapest choices, but it would in any case be a choice that we can decide on. Our children and grandchildren do not have the choice, but have to accept the situation we have generated through our choices.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, fossil fuels, bioenergy

Solutions to plastics problem - 1 & 2

Sunnuntai 16.9.2018 klo 11:18 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Anything done to the plastics is better than that they litter the environment, so the primary problem is their presently poor collection especially in some countries. That could be very easily solved by giving a small token for any plastic taken to waste collecting units. If they don't exist, their generation could be a primary target of developmental aid. The collected plastic could then be used:

1. Plastics use for energy production. Since plastics are made of oil, they could be used for producing energy instead usiage of oil. In the simplest case, this would just mean burning plastic waste to produce energy for heating instead of burning oil. In a more advanced case, plastic waste is processed so that its molecules can be used as part of car fuels. Such processing is already done by some oil refineries.

2. Use of plastics as part of road paving. If the durable waste plastic is ground, it can be mixed to asphalt and used for paving of roads. The asphalt containing plastic particles can be even more durable than asphalt without them.

Naturally these choices do not decrease the carbon dioxide formed by the use of fossil fuels or the formation of microplastic particles from the wear of asphalt or tyres, but it does not increase it either, since microplastic particles are similarly produced from asphalt without added waste plastics. These problems will be resolved only after complete stop of fossil fuel use for energy production and replacement of asphalt in road paving.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: plastic pollution, road paving, energy production

Enemy of the people

Maanantai 6.8.2018 klo 12:20 - Mikko Nikinmaa

President Trump is calling liberal media enemies of the people. At the same time the Trump government is scrapping the agreements that have been made to limit the production of toxic effluents and greenhouse gases. This happens at a time that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions are clearly seen in Northern Hemisphere. Although individual weather events cannot be associated with climate change, this time the accumulation of different phenomena has occurred in so many different places that there can only be one conclusion: enemies of the people are not the ones that report what is happening but the ones, who decide to neglect all the warning signals, and remove or weaken the emission standards as well as promote the use of fossil fuels.

The Californian wildfires are to some degree worsened by the extreme heat and drought - several people have already died. Extreme heat has been the plague of people in Europe, China, South Korea, Japan, parts of North America and parts of North Africa - altogether one can estimate that there have been several hundred heat-related deaths across the world. This is the first time ever that extreme heat has occurred simultaneously in all the continents of the Northern Hemisphere. Storms and heavy rains have already killed hundreds of people, and droughts in other places similarly. 

Thoughts and prayers are offered to the mourners of the victims of weather-related deaths by the government, which acts in many ways to worsen them. While other governments could also be doing much more than they are, at least they are not saying that the whole climate change is "fake news".

Isn't the enemy of the people the government that neglects the evidence that is seen by everyone except them and acts in ways that may worsen the situation causing human deaths.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, Paris climate agreement

Can we get rid of plastics - or is it really needed?

Lauantai 20.1.2018 klo 13:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When I was a child there was practically no plastic material. Fruit and other foods were placed in paper bags. Water was carried in metal buckets. Now everything is put is plastics - all the clothes are in plastic covers, candies are first in plastic bags and then in individual plastic covers. It can actually be said that we have moved from iron age to plastic age. Plastics are oil-based, cheap, light and durable materials. Further, they are good insulating material. Therefore, when I look around, covers of computers, printers, TVs, phones etc. are made of plastics. The same is true of wastewater pipes. For this reason, replacing plastics in manufacturing is very challenging. Or is it really needed?

The real problem with plastic waste is the material that is thrown in the environment. That is the material generating the big marine garbage gyres. Most of their material is plastic waste thrown to the environment. It is funny that people picknicking in parks do not collect their plastic cups, plates and utensils and put them in garbage bins. If that were always done - all the plastic wastes placed in the collected carbage, there would not be any garbage gyres, and the sea and the coasts would be beautiful and trash-free. I have sometimes wondered if people, who throw the wastes around in the environmentIMG_20170727_0010.jpg do that also in their homes.

So what to do with the plastics? The first thing is that they have to be collected. Thereafter much could be recycled, used for new plastic products. Currently only a few percent of plastics are recycled largely because recycling containers are quite rare. If societies really want to solve the plastics pollution problem, the collection of plastics must be improved - the percentage of plastics that is recycled  could easily be increased to over 50%. For the rest, energy use is probably the best. Since plastics are made of oil, burning them for heat production of towns instead of oil, which continues to be used for a long period of time, would be advisable. Instead of burning oil, one could first carry shoppings home in a plastic bag, thereafter use the bag in collecting trash, whereafter it would be burned. Since the same material would be used for several times, the carbon dioxide footprint of the bag would become smaller. This is more or less the same as instead of using wood to produce energy, it is used to produce paper for a newspaper which is afterwards burned in a fireplace.

If plastics were either recycled or burned for energy production, most of plastic pollution would disappear. The remaining problem would be microplastics. Much of it, which is caused by the slow breakdown of big plastic materials to microplastics as a result of mechanic tear, solar radiation and oxygen, would disappear with the collection of plastics. The remaining sources are plastic microbeads of cleaning liquids, tooth pastes and cosmetics, the small fibres given up whe washing clothing containing synthetic materials, and the dust from tyres, paved roads, artificial turfs etc. The first of these could be avoided already today, since there are more and more products, which do not contain plastic microbeads. The choice is the consumer's: he/she only needs to read the contents or ask the shop assistant, and buy products without plastic beads - if products with plastic beads were left unsold, the manufacturer would soon change their contents.The fibres from washing clothes containing synthetic materials is a more difficult problem, as most pieces of clothing have some synthetic fibres. Fleece clothing has recently gained a lot of attention, but actually most shirts, trousers, Goretex clothing, other outdoor apparel  etc. contain synthetic material, and are thus a source of microplastics. The problem with replacing clothing with synthetic materials by cotton actually causes as big environmental (and social) problems as it solves. Water and pesticide  use of cotton production is unacceptable. Further, the use of child labour in different stages of making cotton clothing is also unacceptable. The third major source of microplastics: the tear of tyres, dust from roads, and dust from artificial turfs is probably quantitatively the most important. There are no easy ways to decrease the amount released from traffic, unless people give up cars, and use rail traffic instead.

Thus, I think that the use of plastics can continue, if measures are taken not to allow the release of plastics to the environment. For a large part this can already be done, but requires actions both from the consumers and the society.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: garbage gyres, microplastics, climate change, energy production, marine pollution

G20 and climate change

Lauantai 8.7.2017 klo 9:28 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In the G20 meeting, it is 19-1 for climate change actions. Only Trump is still against. I am not saying my opinion of the person, but the denial is irresponsible. Even if climate change were for a large part a natural phenomenon, as climate sceptics maintain, one cannot deny that human actions contribute. This being the case, man should take any action possible to reduce human effects.

And there are clearly effects seen. There are already climate refugees in the USA. Places where people lived in Mississippi river delta in Louisiana are now under water. Clearly Trump government doesn't care that people in his own country have had to move. Also, one just heard the news that a huge iceberg may be loosening from Antarctica - the size is 7 x the area of New York. Further, temperature records have been broken - there have been three consecutive days with over +50 degrees Celcius in Iran. Unnatural weather: winds, floods, cold spells, heat waves occur very frequently all over the world.

Aren't these indications enough to show that something has to be done?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate refugees, temperature increase, energy production

Solar power cheaper than coal

Maanantai 3.7.2017 klo 10:25 - Mikko Nikinmaa

It has now happened. Solar energy has become cheaper than coal - at least for places where old coal power plants do not exist. The decrease in relative price of energy produced using renewable sources has surprised everyone. One needs to go back only 20 years, when "energy experts" said that renewable energy (referring mainly to solar and wind energy) will always be so expensive that its commercial use will not be feasible without marked financial state support.

The fact that solar energy has now become quite cheap has important ramifications. For example, oil and gas prices cannot increase markedly, since one is always able to use alternative energy sources instead, if the price is too high. Nuclear energy with its huge building costs is not an attractive alternative. And imagine if even a half of the 10 billion € now needed to build a nuclear power plant would be used to research on how to store energy, which is the major problem with solar power.

Yes, storing energy so that the solar energy would be usable in the dark times is still not solved satisfactorily. Plants do it, and the energy stored is the basis of fossil fuels. This actually shows that energy storage is a solvable problem. And if even a half of funds needed to build a nuclear power plant were directed to this type of applied research, the result would likely to enable us to produce cheap, clean energy, which is usable overnight - for the benefit of mankind.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy production, fossil fuels. carbon dioxide footprint

Are there no environmental effects associated with coal burning?

Lauantai 18.2.2017 klo 15:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Industrialization started with the use of coal. Immense amount of energy could be obtained for industry and housing by burning coal. However, already in the early 20th century its clear negetive effects were seen. We all know London fogs - they were mostly caused by coal burning to heat housing. They have virtually disappeared now that coal use has diminished. Another clear effect was the so called industrial melanism. Certain butterflies became darker, because all the surfaces in industrialized areas had dark coal dust. The change was hereditary indicating rapid evolution. Now that coal dust accumulates less on surfaces in the British Isles, also the colour of butterflies has become lightier agan. In China it is estimated that the coal dust in the cities makes up to millions of respiratory diseases more serious.

Against this background it is incredible that the new US administration has now decided to abolish restrictions of allowing coal-associated wastewater to enter streams and lakes. It is equally scary that very strong support for both Brexit and Trump's presidency was obtained from people, who imagined that coal-mining and coal-based industries could be brought back, even though that is definitely not possible. Instead of trying to go back to the past, one would need to find new solutions, and generate new coal-independent livelihoods. It is equally incredible that the head of US Environmental Protection Agency is a person, whose major goal earlier has been to close the agency.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: fossil fuels, energy production, air pollution, water pollution

China - a leader in actions against climate change

Perjantai 20.1.2017 klo 10:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The government of China has really woken up to the problems caused by burning fossil fuels, especially coal, to obtain energy: air quality in Chinese cities needs to be improved and  carbon dioxide emissions curbed. To accomplish this China just announced that more than 100 coal power plants planned or already under construction will not be built. The amount of energy that the discontinued power plants , which were already under construction, would have produced yearly is about the same as that used by Germany.

This happens at the same time as the new American goverment with many members downplaying the environmental effects of fossil fuel use is starting its term. So, it really seems that the sun is rising from the east, and the far west, USA, is really experiencing sunset.

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