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 agricultural 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.
Sunnuntai 24.3.2019 klo 19:49 - Mikko Nikinmaa
We need to live in this planet. There is no alternative universe, where we can jump to if we overuse the resources of Earth. Although climate change is the single topic that has caught general attention, it is no more than a symptom of the general sickness of Gaia. There are several other symptoms that will also unattended make life problematic.
In all of this, the major problem is that the decision makers were young in the world that didn't have any of the environmental problems, which the teenagers today are faced with. A week ago schoolchildren around the world demonstrated against climate change. Not surprisingly a lot of people in my generation said that they are just taking time off school. Their thinking is not idealistic or important. - People completely forget when saying this that when we were young, we demonstrated against Vietnam War, were worried about population growth and chained ourselves to dredging machines, which were spoiling lakes for economical land use. In fact, many of the problems associated with climate change would not be acute, if we had, in addition to demonstrating, used our working life to solve the environmental questions.
The major problems are the large world population, and the very uneven distribution of wealth in the world. Together these generate much of the refugee problem, which cannot be solved by closing our borders, building walls, and decreasing foreign aid. On the contrary, increasing foreign aid is the only possible solution. People would not move to rich countries, if life in their living place were tolarable. Also, schooling of women is by far the most effective way of decreasing population growth. Further, we in the rich North lived quite happily 50 years ago, when our standard of living was only a fraction of what it is today.
This partial solution requires that we, the generation in power, stop thinking in the old ways, and admit that one has to do things that cost. We cannot keep taking from our children's well-being to be able to go towards a crash in first class.
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, because 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.
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 have 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.
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.
Tiistai 9.10.2018 klo 20:26 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In the late 1960s, when I became an environmentlaists (and still am 50 years later), the major worry was population growth. Then it was estimated that food production would soon become a problem. However, as a result of advances in agricultural methods, the absolute hunger in the world has decreased, although the population has increased threefold. However, one can say that virtually all of the present mejor global problems are due to population growth. I was shocked to see two charts superimposed: the population growth and the energy consumption in the world. The graphs were more or less identical. So, the climate change is very much to do with population growth. If the population could decrease to the level that it was in 1960s, there would be no climate change, nor would there be the global plastic problem etc.
Naturally we cannot forcefully decrease world population, but one of the ways to migitate climate change should be to decrease population growth in Asia and Africa. And there could be quite a simple way to do this with everyone being happy. Much of the developmental aid could be tied to birth control: if a family had maximally two children, they would be given a certain yerly sum of money. This would probably be more effective way of combatting climate change in developing counties than anything else.
Sunnuntai 19.8.2018 klo 12:37 - Mikko Nikinmaa
When thinking of the most sustainable diet, it is normally considered that one should turn to fully vegetarian one to feed world's population. If animal products were used at all, they should be from ectotherms like insects and fish. Against this background it came as a surprise that having a small amount of traditional farm animal products in the diet actually reduces the land use needed for obtaining a given amount of energy even as compared to vegetarian diets. This surprising result is caused by the fact that farm animals can utilize feed that is human refuse - something that cannot be included in vegetarian diets. Pigs and cows happily eat the leaves of sugarbeets and turnips, which would just be left to rot and to release the carbon dioxide taken up back to the environment, if strictly vegetarian diet were utilized. This surprising conclusion was reviewd by van Zanten et al. recently (Glob Change Biol. 2018;24:4185–4194). So, the most sustainable diet includes some animal products.
Tiistai 10.7.2018 klo 10:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In 1960's-1970's when the environmental movement started, population growth was considered to be maybe the biggest problem for the future of the earth - it was considered that world's agriculture could not feed population exceeding 5 000 000 000. We are now 8 000 000 000. So, the development of agricultural practises has enabled food production far beyond the expectations of late 20th century.
However, that does not mean that there would not be many problems associated with the large population. The increase in agricultural production has been achieved with the help of pronounced pesticide use and artificial (mineral) fertilization. Fertilization in crop production is an important component in eutrophication of waters, which is also caused by the excretion of people and livestock. Water and land is polluted by pesticides and other toxicants. Recently, as a result of waste production of the large human population, the huge plastics problem has been generated. One can also say that the climate change, associated with the large use of fossil fuels, is caused by the large population.
Further, the oceans are overfished, the mineral resources are overexploited etc. In fact, the earth's resources are drastically overused - if the population were much smaller, the overuse were much easier to avoid.
The World Population Day is on July 11. As one aim of the future for world population is to curb population growth. In Europe the population is not increasing any more, and the same could and should be the goal for every other part of the world. The second aim should be to increase recycling: instead of producing new products of virgin materials and at the end of the product's life time throwing it away, everything should be recycled. It would be important for us in Europe to have all the household machines to be made so that they would be repaired instead of being thrown away/replaced when broken down. As a final aim, the whole concept of economy should be changed: economic growth should not be sought for.
As individuals and families/groups we can celebrate World Population Day by decreasing the group's use of resources per time. The manifest of concerned scientists can be found at http://www.scientistswarning.org/, which generally is a site to follow if one is interested in anthropogenic influences on Earth.
Lauantai 18.11.2017 klo 12:40 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Twenty five years ago the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" (with the major authors and 1700 scientists' signatures) where they were concerned about population growth, freshwater availability, climate change, extinctions etc. Now, scientists have looked at what has happened in the past 25 years, and concluded that "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: Second Notice" was in order. This article was published on November 13 in Bioscience with William J. Ripple as the first author (in addition to the major authors the article had 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries). Apart from the ozone hole, which is now starting to shrink, all the environmental problems recognized in 1992 have become worse, and are still continuing to be more detrimental. For example, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions has increased in the last year after it had stabilized or even slightly decreased in the previous two years. In the past 25 years, the availability of fresh water has decreased by 25 %, mean global temperature increased by 0.5 degrees C, carbon dioxide emissions have almost doubled, the dead zones in marine areas increased by almost a third, forests decreased by about 5 % and vertebrate species number decreased by about 30 %. Although human population growth has stopped in the developed countries, the same thing has not happened in Africa and most Asian countries, whereby the total world population has increased by almost 40 % with no sign of increase rate to be slowing down. The number of extinctions in vertebrates is probably much smaller than that of invertebrates - for example insect biomass in certain protected areas in Germany has decreased by 75 %. A significant problem is also that despite increased catching effort, the marine fish catches have decreased by about 20 % from the best years. One final note of the gloomy statistics, we consider almost always only deforestration as causing a decrease in carbon dioxide removal. However, because of the prevalence of sea area, almost half of global photosynthetic activity takes place in marine algae. Marine pollution has decreased algal photosynthesis by approximately 10 % in the past 25 years.
Although most of the indices show radical worsening in the state of global environment, the situation with ozone hole indicates that if mankind heeds the warnings, we are able to make the changes required to keep the environment in satisfactory state. The stratospheric ozone layer above Antarctica is now strongest since 1988. If similar united actions were done for the other questions pinpointed by the authors of the Bioscience article, they could also be solved in reasonable fashion. Changes of diet, schooling, improvement of women's situation, discontinuation of fossil fuel use could all be done if we so decided.