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

Mass extinctions - why they matter even to people who do not care about environment?

Sunnuntai 28.6.2020 klo 20:13 - Mikko Nikinmaa

In a recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (USA) Caballos et al. wrote an article “Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction” (PNAS 117(24): 13596-13602, 2020). It is a clear account about how many terrestrial vertebrates are on the brink of extension. While the message of human role in extinctions is very clear, the present extinction rate being about 1000 times greater than the background rate, it is very difficult to get people who do not care of the environment to realize that it also matters to them. One of the salient points of the article is that the disappearance of one species affects the well-being of other species.

People, who don’t care of the environment, usually care about themselves. Only few people have been against Covid-19 restrictions. What they often do not realize that the Covid-19 pandemic is associated with the extinction wave. One of the biggest reasons for extinctions is the fact that increasing proportion of land goes to human use because of our population growth. As a result, the remaining wild animals come in closer contact to humans and tame animals than earlier. This increases the likelihood of animal micro-organisms reaching humans and consequently zoonosis (i.e. diseases transmitted from animals to humans). It is no wonder that the number of diseases transmitted from animals to man has drastically increased in 2000’s: MERS, SARS, Ebola, Chicken flu, Swine flu and now Covid-19. Even if one does not care about environment, one should care about one’s health.

Also people, who do not care of the environment, must eat, and they IMG_20170807_0146.jpgmay like blueberry pie. About three quarters of all our food plants require insect pollination. Currently pollinating insect populations are decreasing drastically, and the worst scenarios suggest that we cannot eat blueberry pies within 50 years, because of lack of pollination. There are two reasons for the decreasing insect populations. The first is the heavy use of insecticides, and the second the reduced land area for insect refuges (i.e. land areas, which are not in heavy agricultural or other human use). Again, the increasing human populations exert the most important pressures, and to enable sustainable agriculture, one should be able to stop population growth.

While Caballos et al. article did not consider aquatic animals, they are also suffering from extinctions. The worst scenarios suggest that overfishing causes extinction of most important commercial fish species before 2100. In addition to overfishing, aquatic pollution causes the extinctions. Thus, the problem affecting the diets of people not caring of the environment, is caused by mass extinctions.

The mass extinctions themselves are the result of growth ideology. To be able to have reasonably good life for everyone, we should be able to abolish inequality.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: land use, insecticide, agriculture, population 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

Reaching another tipping point: insect declines and food production

Lauantai 9.5.2020 klo 18:11 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Three quarters of the plant food we eat requires pollination. Intensive agriculture has been able to increase yields partly with the help of heavy insecticide use.

The two above sentences are in direct contradiction, as pollinators are insects. Harmful insects and beneficial insects are equally killed by insecticides. For a long period of intensive agriculture the negative effects of insecticides on pollinators were not seen, as adequate areas remained outside intensive agriculture to enable effectiveIMG_4119.jpg reproduction. However, it now seems that we have reached a tipping point, where increased intensive agriculture with heavy insecticide use decreases yields. Tipping point means that any further increase in insecticide use results in catastrophic decline of insect populations, whereby pollination  is reduced and consequently agricultural production decreases markedly. This conclusion is based on the observations that insect populations have already decreased in size, and that an increasing proportion of land must be used for agricultural production to feed the ever-increasing human population. Because of this, the insecticide-free refuges for pollinators are disappearing with increasing frequency.

The media discussion at the moment concentrates mainly on neonicotinoids, but actually the type of insecticide does not matter much, because they all have a negative impact on bee and bumblebee populations. In addition to the direct effects of insecticides on bees, it is possible that the recent serious outbreaks of viruses in bee colonies are affected by insecticides reducing the efficiency of insect immune system.

The declines of pollinator populations and consecutive reduction of yields of agricultural products are another symptom of the overuse of the planet, the other notable ones being coronavirus pandemic and climate change. For climate change the reasons are overconsumption in rich countries, inequal distribution of wealth and population growth, for the other two mainly population growth. Because human population has increased beyond sustainability, major efforts should be directed towards population control. It should be done in a way that it is not seen as rich countries again imposing colonial rule. Maybe shifts in wealth distribution could help?

 

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: insecticide, agricultural production, population growth

Coronavirus has significant associations with air pollution

Perjantai 24.4.2020 klo 16:48 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The incidence of coronavirus infections has been lowest in islands or island-like areas (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Finland, Iceland, Alaska). Generally, they are sparsely populated and not important for through-traffic. However, both Taiwan and South Korea have high population densities. The low number of coronavirus infections in South Korea has usually been explained with early onset of restrictions and early start of intensive testing. That interpretation is not entirely convincing, since early onset intensive testing has also been done in places with high counts of coronavirus infections. Further, significant differences in coronavirus-induced mortalities occur between areas with high numbers of coronavirus infections.

Two articles published in the Science of the Total Environment have now, in my opinion, completely clarified both these outstanding issues. Both the incidence of infections and the lethality of infections is increased by air pollution. Especially nitrogen dioxide but probably also ozone and particulate matter increase both the incidence of coronavirus infections and the mortality caused by them (Zhu et al. Science of the Total Environment 727 (2020) 138704; Ogen Science of the Total Environment 726 (2020) 138605). In every sparsely populated place also the nitrogen dioxide level is low, but it is quite low also in Taiwan and South Korea, since the pollution does not stagnate in the area. In contrast, the polluted air remains in Lombardia and Madrid area, where coronavirus cases and mortalities abound. Also, Paris, London and New York area likely have high nitrogen dioxide level – and all have high number of coronavirus mortalities. In contrast, at least partially the low coronavirus mortality in Germany associates with relatively low nitrogen dioxide levels even in the densely populated areas.

Thus, air pollution, to a large extent because of car traffic, has significant connections with coronavirus infections. They are symptoms of the same problem, our overuse of the planet. Population bomb, talked much of in 1960-1970’s, increases the likelihood of future pandemics. An Indian author pointed out that because of the decreasing space for wild animals, their interactions with man may cause the birth of next pandemic in India ( S. Minhas, Could India be the origin of next COVID-19 like epidemic?, Science of the Total Environment (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138918)

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, pandemics, car traffic

Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change are Different Facets of the Same Problem: the Overuse of the Earth

Perjantai 17.4.2020 klo 19:29 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change are both different aspects of the same problem: our overuse of the Earth. Further, neither problem can be solved thinking nationally: both viruses and pollutants cross national borders with no problems. Even if hermetic closure helps to limit the spread of the current Coronavirus, without solving the problem with the overuse of the Earth there will be a next virus attacking man in the future. It is not by accident that there have been several worries about pandemics in 21st century, Ebola, SARS, swine flu, at the same time that clear Climate Change signs have been seen. Hitherto international cooperation has enabled us to avoid the worst possible outcome of the diseases, but this time it appears that the ongoing surge of nationalism has meant that instead of thinking what would be the best way to combat Coronavirus globally, one has resorted to national solutions.

The overuse of the Earth can be divided into three components, which all must be addressed in order to avoid future pandemics and combat climate change. The three components are population growth, excessive consumption by the rich and inequal wealth distribution. Quite often when one discusses with some climate activists, they claim that including population growth is virtually racism, as it “blames” the world’s poorest, who have caused little of the climate problem. On the other hand, some people from rich areas maintain that the climate problem is solely caused by population growth, as the use of fossil fuels in for example Europe has decreased for the past 30 years. Both are wrong, because they come together as a result of wealth inequality.

The reason why population growth is an ultimate problem for both Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change is manyfold. There are now about eight billion people living on the earth. The sheer number of people inevitably leads to increasing portion of the Earth to be used for human habitation and food production. Agricultural practices have led to land deterioration – loss of fertility and erosion, which increasing amount of land is needed to feed people, and this need is compounded by the population growth. As a result, natural habitats are changed to human use, which means both that the carbon dioxide sinks of forests decrease and that animal biodiversity gets smaller. Also, wild animals have less space and must increasingly be in close proximity to humans and domestic animals. At present, the total biomass of humans exceeds that of wild animals and the biomass of farm animals is far greater. Further, humans everywhere like to eat meat, and in most places the only way to get meat unspoiled to the customers is to have animals alive until someone buys their meat. The animals, which are sold are often wild homeothermic animals, birds and mammals. Zoonosis – a disease transmitted from animals to man – is a bacterium or virus of birds or mammals, which mutates enough to enable transmission to humans. The vegetarians naturally point out that if eating meat were stopped, both the possibility of zoonoses would disappear and climate change be reduced. Zoonosis risk would decrease markedly, but not disappear, since wild animals would still be in close contact with humans because of the diminishing area of natural environment. IMG_20170807_0153.jpgClimate Change would be combatted, as the carbon footprint of meat production is much larger than if vegetarian diet is used. One must remember, though, that eating fish or shellfish or terrestrial poikilotherms has only slightly higher carbon footprint than vegetarian diet. Also, there are currently no known transmission of microbial pathogens from poikilothermic animals to humans.

Although rich countries at present are decreasing their carbon dioxide emissions, the present use of Earth’s resources is severalfold compared to poor areas. Further, to reduce costs, a lot of the cultivation of plants in poor areas are done to produce goods for rich nations. The cotton and avocado cultivation uses most of the water in arid areas and is almost exclusively done for export to rich nations, and the sales do not benefit the local population. Also, the rich nations export much of their wastes like plastics and metals to poor countries, where they somehow disappear (and are found in, e.g. plastic waste gyres of the oceans); the companies from rich countries make profits on products (e.g. clothes) manufactured in poor countries with virtually no pollution control. In conclusion, we in rich nations owe a lot of our wealth to the poor areas. Consequently, we cannot say that they would not be allowed to want to have similar standard of living as we do.

This leads to the final part of the problem, wealth inequality. Correcting that is needed both to reduce the risk of future pandemics and to combat climate change. We in rich nations could easily decrease our resource use and consumption, as the present Coronavirus lockdowns indicate. The decrease could be transferred as wealth to poor areas, and the technological progress used to help everyone. If we continue with our greedy economic globalism or resort to nationalistic policies the humankind, even we rich, goes under either because of another pandemic or climate change.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, wealth inequality, biodiversity, zoonosis

Young climate activists - why they should always include African, Asian or South American individuals

Sunnuntai 26.1.2020 klo 17:30 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Young climate activists were allowed to take part in Davos Economic Forum. However, it appears that the message of requirement for huge conceptual changes in the economic thinking throughout the world is still not taken seriously. When discussing economy, world leaders seem to forget the environment when one has to decide between healthy environment and economic growth. It is completely forgotten that a functional economy requires healthy environment, and that limitless growth is not possible in a planet with limits.

Notably, American Press (AP) initially left a young black African climate activist Vanessa Nakate out of a group photo showing young climate activists attending the Davos meeting. The other activists were young white Europeans. This omission may be more serious than mere reading of the news item suggests. It prompted questions about racism, but in a way more worrying is that the only representant of activists outside the traditional industrialized countries was left out, intentionally or non-intentionally. The problem with this is that the environmental problems involve the whole globe.

As pointed out by Vanessa Nakate, the climate problem is largely caused by the massive energy consumption (mainly using fossil fuels) of traditional industrialized countries. However, presently African, Asian and South American countriesIMG_20170728_0057.jpg are increasing their energy consumption (also mainly using fossil fuels), and without a strong contribution to climate actions from the traditional Third World countries, effective actions cannot be done. This is required, as China is already emitting most carbon dioxide in the world, and countries like India and Brazil are rapidly climbing in the statistics. An increase of energy production in those countries should be environmentally clean, which is presently not the case: while the energy consumption utilizing fossil fuels has decreased in Europe for the past 20 years, it has markedly increased in Asian and African countries. Although the use of energy per person is much lower in those countries than in traditionally industrialized countries, the new energy should be produced without fossil fuels if one tries to combat climate change. And this cannot be achieved without active movement against climate change.

There is also another environmental problem, which mainly concerns the traditional Third World countries. The marked increase in human population has occurred outside the traditional industrialized countries, where population increase is close to 0. Biodiversity loss, decreased fertility of land, deforestation and such like would be of concern even if we could solve the climate problem. The overconsumption and excessive fossil fuel use, and overpopulation are thus questions that require concerted action from people at all corners of the world. In view of this, intentional or non-intentional omission of a climate activist from Africa is an unfortunate incidence. (BTW, all the young activists are female, where are all the young men).

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, population growth, industrialized countries, third world

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

From Concrete to Wood in Building: Combatting Climate Change

Keskiviikko 18.12.2019 klo 14:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Another indication of the climate change is the observation that Australia experienced the hottest day ever. Despite this and a multitude of other signs, the backward-looking politicians like the Australian prime minister thwart any actions to combat climate change. President Trump lists as one of his major achievements “cancellation of the unfair and costly Paris Climate Agreement”.

The discussion about climate change has concentrated on coal and oil use in energy production and on eating meat. Also flying and rain forests have attracted much media attention. It is seldom mentioned that the size of the human populIMG_20170809_0038.jpgation is a problem, and actually makes the populistic solution of going back to the past impossible. In the past that the backward-looking leaders want to return to, there were two-three billion people, now we are about eight billion. With two-three billion people, limits to growth had not been reached, now they have. The importance of unicellular algae of the ocean in generating the oxygen balance by photosynthesis is often not acknowledged. Yet, almost half of the oxygen-generating photosynthesis is carried out by these small algae. Finally, one of the important carbon dioxide sources is concrete building – it accounts close to ten percent of the present carbon dioxide emissions.

Thus, one should stop building using concrete and steel. Most of the carbon dioxide emissions are due to cement production, an indispensable component of concrete. Making brick or stone houses would already be much better than concrete. However, the pest alternative would be wooden houses. Technologies are already available, which enable building multi-store houses. Further, the probability of burning of wooden houses is much reduced from 19th century, when whole cities could burn. In a wooden house the carbon would be stored for its entire life length, up to several hundred years. Thus, if all new buildings were wood-based, the carbon footprint of building sector would decrease for 10 % of world total to 0. This would be a huge win in combatting climate change, and could be reached with the presently available techniques. In view of this, one must ask: why is it not done?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: carbon footprint, population growth, Paris Climate Agreement, temperature

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

World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency

Tiistai 26.11.2019 klo 12:40 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Among the 11000 other scientists, I was among the signatories in the article authored by William Ripple et al. It was published in BioScience in early November, and attracted pronounced media coverage. Since the article is open access, here is a link to the published paper. Please, read it (and if you know anybody who doubts anthroponic effects on climate, get them to read it): https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate chhange, population growth, fossil fuels, biodiversity

One Earth - Multidisciplinary Journals Emphasize the Earth's Limits

Maanantai 4.11.2019 klo 18:13 - Mikko Nikinmaa

 It is increasingly becoming apparent that the Earth has limits, as warned by scientists already in the 1970’s. The Club of Rome gave out the report Limits to Growth in 1974. Even before that the worries about the impact of increasing human population had been expressed (Paul R. Ehrlich, Population Bomb, 1968). However, marked media attention of the limits of the Earth has first been gained in the last couple of years because of climate change. The scientific world is now having new multidisciplinary journals. Cell Press (Elsevier) has started the journal One Earth, which in the editorial of inaugural issue says the following:

“Climate change is not the only grand challenge we face. One_Earth.jpgFood security, water scarcity, rapid urbanization, mass migration, environmental pollution, biodiversity loss, and societal inequalities are all intricately woven into the tapestry of environmental change. These are wicked problems, intertwined and related to societal, economic, political, and behavioral dynamics and not simply physical systems.”

Springer-Nature has plans of starting a similar journal. Common to the new initiatives is that they see the need to combine humanistic, social and economic studies to what has earlier only been the mandate of environmental scientists.  There is, indeed, a huge need for this, as the outset of economic theories and politics is continuation of growth. To change the outset to sustainability in the world with limits is needed, if we want to have a peaceful and orderly change to sustainable life. All too often one hears that “there are many opinions about climate change”, even though virtually all scientists studying climate-related phenomena agree on the topic. The different opinions are often those of people, who are focussing on one question they are familiar with, without noticing that the uncertainties caused by the phenomenon have been taken into account in the climate research. What is really worrying is that many of the problems have been known by fossil fuel industry for decades, but have been hidden in order to make big profits. Regardless, even if there were no climate change, the planet has limits, and the other challenges mentioned above remain.

What has long remained within the circles of environmental scientists, should now be discussed and implemented in economic theories and politics. Hopefully the multidisciplinary journals will be read by humanistic, social and economic scientists, and politicians. There are still possibilities to change attitudes from growth to sustainability, but it cannot be done without political and economic leaders.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, environmental pollution, sustainabbility, growth

Overuse of the Earth is the Problem: Climate Change is just a Symptom

Perjantai 1.11.2019 klo 18:38 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Climate change is a question that has filled the media because of its potential effects on all aspects of life on the Earth. In the coverage of climate change, it has become THE PROBLEM. If we can solve it, life can continue with small disturbances. In view of this, different technological solutions to combat carbon dioxide increase have been offered. Mainly they concentrate on stopping the use of fossil fuels, changing the food preferences, removing carbon dioxide from the air and stopping overconsumption. The good neIMG_20170801_0087.jpgws is that there are technological and societal solutions for stopping climate change without a need for drastic changes in everyday life – it only needs some adjustments. The worrisome problem is that there appears no sign of change in attitudes of economic leaders. In the recent report of World Economic Forum environmental questions were not even mentioned as factors to be taken into account, when considering economic development.

The bad news is that even if the presently gravest symptom of Earth’s overuse, the climate change, can be stopped as a result of technological advancements, that does not stop the real problem: the overuse of Earth. There are two major components of this, population growth and consumption growth. Population growth demands more food production, and the increasing population in the presently poor areas will want to improve their living standards closer to, e.g., Europe. However, the food production with present agricultural methods has decreased the fertile soil by 50-70 %. Also, the present type of food production requires insecticides, herbicides and other pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. Already with the present population the pesticide use causes decrease of beneficial insect populations, which are required for the growth of berries, fruits and many oil-producing plants. So one would need to revert to environmentally friendly agricultural production. The problem is that consequently the production will decrease and will be unable to feed the presently increasing population. Because the fertility of land decreases, also new areas need to be taken to agriculture. This is difficult, since most of arable land is already in use. The increasing population also needs more space, and consequently habitation takes agricultural land and forest. As a result biodiversity decreases.

With regard to consumption, it is difficult to decrease environmental pollution even if recycling and water treatment technologies are effective. There are always people, who do not follow good practises, and developing areas do not see the treatment of wastes and water purification as priorities. Consequently, environmental pollution continues to increase throughout the world. Both aquatic and terrestrial organisms will be affected.

Thus, one can say that even if there were no climate change, other drastic symptoms of Earth’s overuse would be in the news. The basic problem is that limitless growth is the basis of economy in a planet which clearly has limits.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: biodiversity, environmental pollution, population growth, agriculture

Good News - the Number of Children in the World Is Decreasing

Lauantai 5.10.2019 klo 16:18 - Mikko Nikinmaa

First, I need to point out that I like children, and the future of mankind depends on an adequate number of children. However, population growth is the root of all environmental and climate problems we have. It was quite shocking to see, for example, a picture where world population change and change of energy consumption were both included. The two figures could have been superimposed. This is because during recent years the energy consumption in areas with high energy use has decreased, but in developing countries every additional person increases the (per person small) energy consumption.

In view of this, the recent report that the number of children has decreased in every part of the world is really something positive. This opinion is opposite to the worry that the proponents of continuous growth preach. According to them the population needs to grow in order to guarantee future well-being. However, isn’t the outset behind limitless growth untenable? For continuing until eternity, it would require that there are no limits in the earth’s resources. The climate change, environmental pollution, erosion and decrease of suitable agricultural land, overfishing, and biodiversity loss all indicate that we have reached the limits of the earth. Since it is largely caused by increasing human population, any decrease and even stop of population growth is welcome.

It is even more welcome that population is starting to shrink in industriIMG_20170803_0028.jpgalized countries. This is because every person in, e.g., Europe uses a given amount of resources 5-10 times faster than a person in Asia or Africa. Thus, a modest population increase in Africa and a small population decrease in Europe will mean an overall decrease in resource use. However, the closer the gross national product in African countries gets to that of European and North American countries, the smaller the possible effect is.   

In view of the above considerations we need to start thinking in global (environmental) terms. Putting walls between nations and thinking nationalistically is the worst we can do – since none of the environmental problems and their consequences follow national boundaries. It is further important to note that even if population growth already decreases, without additional measures the world population increases another hundred years. Because of this, the two measures which are the most effective means of decreasing birth rate, improving education and women’s status, should be in the centre of any developmental aid. One cannot and must not accept patriarchal aspects of culture: people should be treated equal regardless of their gender, colour, ethnicity or disability.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: population growth, resource use, climate change

World Scientists' Warning on Climate Emergency

Torstai 1.8.2019 klo 10:38 - William J. Ripple et al.

This is not written by me, but the real writers wanted it to be shared as widely as possible

Mikko Nikinmaa

World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency (Condensed Version) 

William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, xxxx scientist signatories from xxx countries 

We scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any great existential threat. In this paper, we present a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years. Results show greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, with increasingly damaging effects. With few exceptions, we are largely failing to address this predicament. The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity. We suggest six critical and interrelated steps that governments and the rest of humanity can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change, covering 1) Energy, 2) Short-lived pollutants, 3) Nature, 4) Food, 5) Economy, and 6) Population. Mitigating and adapting to climate change entails transformations in the ways we govern, manage, feed, and fulfill material and energy requirements. We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. The Pope issued an encyclical on climate change. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change. As scientists, we urge widespread use of our vital signs and anticipate that graphical indicators will better allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities to alleviate climate change. The good news is that such transformative change, with social and ecological justice, promises greater human wellbeing in the long-run than business as usual. We believe that prospects will be greatest if policy makers and the rest of humanity promptly respond to our warning and declaration of a climate emergency, and act to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.

 

William J. Ripple email: scientistswarning@oregonstate.edu

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, environmental economics, population growth

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

We don't have a plan B

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.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, resource utilization, biodiversity, population growth

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

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

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