Torstai 22.6.2023 klo 17:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The covid pandemic closed the world for the better part of two years. Travel restrictions, mask mandates, chaos in hospitals…So went 2020-2022. And many people’s scare still persists. However, it is now time to relate the threat of covid to other problems we face, largely because the drastic measures most people were ready accept indicates that strong response to imminent crisis is possible.
The covid pandemic came out of nowhere very rapidly. That is the main reason for the strong response. In the beginning we did not know, how the disease would evolve and if the health care systems would be able to respond to the increasing disease pressure. Now, three years later, we are much wiser, vaccines have been developed, treatments are more effective than in the start and the virus has probably evolved so that new mutants cause less serious infection. Thus, life has normalized and coronavirus does not dominate the news. There have been about 600 000 000 reported cases so far (although the true case load is certainly much higher, maybe 2-3 billion). The reported death toll is approximately 8 000 000, giving 1.3 % mortality.
These numbers are important, as they enable comparisons to deaths caused by air pollution. It is usually said that the reason why government do not respond to pollution as they did to coronavirus is the former being “tomorrow” and the latter “today” problem. Since combatting pollution would mean expenses, economic growth today would be disturbed, thus actions are delayed until there are economic resources to do them. Such “we’ll do things tomorrow” attitude was not possible for covid. However, one must seriously ask, if air pollution is a “tomorrow” problem. Every year it directly causes 10 000 000 deaths, i.e., clearly more than covid has caused during the pandemic. In addition to direct mortality, indirect deaths occur, and asthma cases increase massively. Thus, air pollution is a “today” problem, and by making actions against it, one would also combat climate change. The economic cost of failing to do actions against air pollution is far greater than the funds needed for mitigating air pollution as a result of sick leaves, needs for hospital beds etc. And here, as in the case of climate change, we already have the technology needed for actions against air pollution.We only need to accept that we have a “today” problem, which must be solved. Solving it may initially carry economic costs. However, in the long run the costs will most likely be recovered, and they will certainly be much smaller today than in future. Instead of asking: do we have the economic means to stop air pollution, we should ask: can we avoid economic collapse in future, if we do not stop air pollution today.
Tiistai 28.3.2023 klo 15:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In 1970’s and 80’s rivers were little more than sewage channels, and most waste water was pumped out to lakes and seas virtually uncleaned. If strands started to get littered, the solution was to make sewage pipes longer. A standing “joke” was that Americans built holiday resorts to Central America so that whenever the beach started to suffer from municipal pollution, that resort was left to locals and a new one built elsewhere. The polluted rivers could catch fires and fish deaths were common. In the Baltic Sea at least 70 % of the seals could not reproduce, almost causing extinction of Baltic seals.
One would have thought that humankind would have learnt from the problems of the past. But no. Profit is still the major goal; environmental actions are only done, when immediate financial gain would suffer from not doing them. Admittedly, water purification has been much improved in the industrialized countries in fifty years. In part, however, this has meant that the most polluting industry has been relocated to countries with lax environmental regulation. Some rivers in India have so high antibiotic levels that a patient could get a daily dose of medicine by drinking river water, others in Pakistan have so high effluent load from tanning industry that the water colour shows which dye is used most in the textiles. Even in our Western World, many improvements are not real. When it became clear that chlorinated compounds were highly toxic, they were banned. The chemical industry then started producing new fluorinated compounds. Anyone with reasonable knowledge of chemistry could have predicted that since fluorine and chlorine are sister elements, also fluorinated compounds are very toxic. This conclusion was finally reached, and several fluorinated compounds are banned. The insecticide use all over the world has increased, and one of the problems in their use is, if a sweeping generalization is made, that they are much more toxic to aquatic animals than to insects. Also, an occasional spill of toxic substances to rivers still occurs. Add climate change on top of all that, and the present-day situation emerges. The reason for including climate change is that first, the increase in temperature is a stress, and combined with contaminant-induced stresses can cause mortality, and second, climate change causes marked variations of river flow (because of alternations between heavy rains and dry periods) whereby the contaminant flow, e.g., from agriculture becomes highly pulsatile.
One sees the results in the news items. There have been massive fish mortalities in many shallow European lakes and in sea areas at Australian coast. Gold mining effluents have caused fish mortalities in Amazonas area and in Danube. The river Oder (in Poland) experienced major mass mortality of fish last summer and Murray and Darling rivers (in Australia) just recently. While the ultimate reason of neither is clear, agricultural toxicants together with climate change have likely contributed. About 30000 l of styrene leaked last Friday to a tributary of Delaware river, where Philadelphia obtains its drinking water, making it unsuitable for human use for a few days…These are just a couple of examples, it appears that there is an issue with aquatic pollution more or less every day somewhere in the world.
Maanantai 14.11.2022 klo 14:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Climate change has major effects on fish, especially fish in lakes, since the whole water body can warm up as a result of long-lasting heat waves. Because of the uniform temperature regardless of the depth, fish cannot seek colder temperatures near the bottom. As a consequence, massive fish mortalities occur in shallow lakes of temperate zone every summer nowadays.
The reasons, why fish die as a result of increased temperature can only be understood by studying the functional changes occurring as a result of temperature elevation. Thus, physiological studies should be in the centre of climate change studies. If the reasons for vulnerability to increased temperature are known, it can also be estimated, which measurable responses predict fish mortalities. This as a background, and recognizing that individual variability of fish determines why some die and others remain living, we studied how fish tolerant and intolerant to high temperatures differed from each other. The results of the extensive studies are reported by Anttila et al in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology (//doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpa.2022.111340).
Our results show that for a given age group, heart function is decisive in determining temperature tolerance. The efficiency of heart is markedly different in different individuals, whereby marked individual variability in temperature tolerance occurs. Thus, in predicting the effects of climate change on fish populations, we should not restrict our analysis to the mean response but also to the variability observed. In future it must be evaluated to which extent the thermal tolerance and its variability are heritable, as this will have significant impact on the vulnerability of species to global warming.
Perjantai 13.3.2020 klo 16:01 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The major argument against climate actions has been that such actions cannot be done, as they are too costly. This argument has now been proven wrong. With the spread of coronavirus, most nations have taken measures, which would have been thought to be impossible a month ago. The reason for this is that we are encountering a new threat, consequently with no financial lobby groups, which can be transmitted to anyone. Further, the coronavirus infection can affect rich and poor alike. In the media only the spreading of the virus has been discussed, and it has been said that it can be deadly. However, the danger to different age groups has seldom been given. This is given in the enclosed figure: from the figure it is clear that for people in working age, the mortality is marginal. Probably it is related to the percentage of young people with severe lung problems.
The total coronavirus mortality in the world up to today (Friday, March 13) is maximally similar as is caused every day by air pollution. It is notable that the mortality to coronavirus infection has been higher in China with severe air pollution than in Northern Europe with clean air, for example in Sweden, out of approximately 500 cases, only one has so far died. With the decrease of energy use in China because of the reduced production, the decreased air pollution can be seen even in satellite pictures. This means that probably the death toll caused by air pollution in China has decreased at least as much as it has increased as a result of coronavirus infections. Further, the climate effect of Chinese energy production has decreased markedly in the last couple of months.
In addition to decreased energy production for industry, air traffic and car traffic have markedly decreased. Both have been the aim of climate activists, but without coronavirus bans could hardly have been possible. Distance work when possible helps reducing fuel consumption. The same is true for meetings arranged electronically. Because of problems with component suppliers in different parts of the world (production bans occurring at different times), supply chains are shortened and product components are stored to greater extent than earlier, also leading to decreased transport.
Thus, many of the consequences are in the same direction as what is beneficial for combatting climate change. As one can expect that the coronavirus measures are finished some day, the situation may be similar to aftermaths of other major crises. It has then been typical that innovations increase. Hopefully, any new innovation is sustainable. Also, hopefully one does not return back to situation before the restrictions, but continues the environmentally friendly solutions, where possible. In that way, one could say that Coronavirus Crisis has also had positive effects, especially for combatting climate change.
Tiistai 19.11.2019 klo 18:33 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In last June-July the news were filled with pictures about Caribbean beaches covered with dead and dying algae. In addition to the beaches, the algae covered the water near them. The large amount of beaching algae has become a yearly problem in 2010’s. Although the aesthetic problems in the beaches (sight and smell) are a major nuisance for areas living on tourism, what happens in coastal waters may be even more alarming for ecosystem health. The decaying algae cause high ammonium and sulphide concentrations in water, and a marked reduction in its oxygen concentration. All these changes are harmful enough to be lethal to large numbers of macrofauna. Especially fish are found dead in large numbers. While the results from last July-August are not yet available, Rodriguez-Martinez et al. have reported the situation in 2018 in Marine Pollution Bulletin 146 (2019) 201–205.
It is probable that this problem is yet another consequence of ongoing climate change. This is an example of effects influencing economies drastically, and the problems are not caused by countries suffering from economic problems. For this reason one needs environmental globalism, the nationalistic populism only worsens the situation. Soon the populist will not have a tourist resort to go to, even if he had saved enough money for it by not accepting the need to do any environmental actions.