We have got a long way to go

Lauantai 21.8.2021 klo 17:48 - Mikko Nikinmaa

To keep temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius, the world needs to become carbon neutral by 2050. This means that the use of fossil fuels must virtually stop by that date. We have a long way to go to achieve it. The world’s energy use is still increasing, and about 85 % of it is produced using fossil fuels. What is even worse for climate is that to cover the increased energy needs also the use of fossil fuels has increased apart from the use of coal, which has decreased. In absolute terms, the total energy production using fossil fuels has increased more than that using renewable sources.

The use of energy per capita is greatest in Canada, out of which about 65 % is produced by fossil fuels. Compared to Canada, the energy use per person in India is only 1/20. However, coal use in both countries is approximately the same. Behind Canada, USA and Australia use most energy per person. And what is worse, in USA about 80 % of energy is produced using fossil fuels and in Australia more than 90 %. Australia leads the world in per capita energy production using coal. Against this, it is disappointing that the present Australian government is not planning to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels. The two countries with greatest dependence on coal energy are China and South Africa. Still, their energy use per person is only one third of that in USA, which means that total energy consumption in China and USA is about the same.

In global energy production Europe, especially the present-day EU is in the class of its own. Most EU countries produce less than 50 % of their energy with fossil fuels. Further, the energy used for a given gross national product is much smaller than in North America, China and Australia. Europe is also the only big economic area with marked decrease in energy consumption per capita. These statistics indicate that Europe is a clear front runner in decreasing the use of fossil fuels.

But even Europe has a long way to go to reach carbon neutrality. And what is worse, there are several political parties, and a lot of voters to them, who do not think that the use of fossil fuels should be restricted. If economic growth requires, we should not do any actions to decrease their use.

It is the people, who do not accept that the world climate is changing despite the wildfires, heat waves, draughts and hurricanes, that we should get convinced about the need for a change in the way we produce energy. Only that way the fossil fuel use could be phased out and climate change be combatted. The scientists are starting to be afraid that the climate of Venus represents what climate change gone awry may have in store for Earth. The thing is that we would have the means needed to prevent further climate change, but the technology is not used, because so many people are so greedy and egoistic.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, energy use, fossil fuels, coal, oil

Why we need to change from intensive to environmentally friendly sgriculture

Torstai 12.11.2020 klo 19:23 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Intensive agriculture has relied heavily on ploughing and harrowing, fertilization and the use of pesticides. As a result, it has been possible to increase yields so much that whereas in 1960’s one was considering 5 billion humans to be maximum for feeding, there are now about 7.8 billion of us. Further, the absolute number of starving people has decreased, as the world population has increased beyond 5 billion. A success story? I am afraid not, only a temporary solution, which is currently being reversed: all the aspects of intensive agriculture are beginning to show their downsides. All of them indicate that intensive agriculture as carried out today is not sustainable.

First, soil fertility throughout the world is decreasing. The decrease happens fastest in tropical soils, but also the temperate, long-cultivated soils have recently started to show signs of becoming exhausted. The major reason for the loss of fertility is the fact that present agricultural practises are based on having fields without plant cover for a long period of time. Land without plant cover loses the most fertile topsoil as a result of leaching: if the land were covered with plants, much less soil would be lost when it rains or winds blow. Also, native land is a carbon dioxide sink, but ploughing and harrowing makes it a carbon dioxide source. It would certainly be possible to change agricultural practises to plant-cover requiring ones. To stop the decrease of soil fertility, that should be done. It should also be done, as the soil lost from fields ends up in rivers, lakes and the sea, causing their eutrophication.

To maintain soil fertility, artificial fertilizers have increasingly been used. Mineral phosphate deposits are overused, and much of the fertilization ends up in the aquatic environment contributing to eutrophication of water. To decrease flow of fertilizers into rivers and lakes, protective zones with plant cover are required. However, a much better alternative would be agriculture, which does not involve ploughing and harrowing.

Finally, the use of pesticides, especially insecticides, in copious amounts has been the landmark of intensive agriculture. Unfortunately, pests have begun to tolerate pesticides better and better, which results in increasing pesticide need to maintain efficacy. And this is not all; three quarters of all food crops require insect pollination, and it has clearly been shown that insect populations throughout the world are decreasing. Although definitive cause-and-effect relationships between insecticide use and decreasing population sizes have not yet been obtained, it is quite reasonable to suppose that it is the case. Instead of increasing use of chemical insecticides and other pesticides, biological control of pests has been advocated for the past fifty years. However, even though it would be much more environmentally friendly than the present chemical-dependent pest control, biological pest control has not become the most important way for controlling pests.

Thus, the very points that have been the cornerstones of increasing yields in intensive agriculture are now causing all sorts of problems ultimately leading reduced yields. There are alternatives to the present-day practises, but they require a complete change of cultivation methodology.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: soil fertility, insecticide, eutrophication, pesticide

Ten billion dollars - a lot of money

Tiistai 18.2.2020 klo 16:33 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The news today told that Jeff Bezos (Amazon) has pledged to give 10 billion dollars to combat climate change. The sum is about 8 % of his estimated wealth. At the moment this is the biggest single donation for climate action, although also Microsoft has started a 1-billion-dollar climate innovation fund and has pledged to remove all of the carbon from the environment that it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975. Another billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, has together with Carl Pope written a book “Climate of Hope”, which gives several suggestions for actions that would help combatting climate change. One of the reasons why Michael Bloomberg is running for US president is that Donald Trump acts against any climate actions, and can be considered to be a servant of the fossil fuel industry. Thus, superrich billionaires take the global climate problem seriously, but the “stable genius”, who is currently the president of USA and has several bankruptcies behind him is a lackey of companies who have known of the climate problems that their products will cause for at least 30 years. However, they have decided that making profits is more important than having viable planet. We have all been shocked by tobacco industry’s immoral behaviour, but the oil industry is, in my opinion, even worse.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, oil industry lobby

Environmental Effects of Shipping

Keskiviikko 15.1.2020 klo 15:44 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Close to 70 % of all trade is transported waterborne. In terms of carbon footprint this way of transport is much better than air or road traffic, but there are still several environmental consequences. In addition to carrying cargo, cruises are becoming more and more popular form of tourism. Currently, cruise ships (including ferries) constitute close to 15 % of the world’s total fleet. The environmental consequences of shipping have been reviewed by Jägerbrand et al. (Science of the Total Environment 695, 133647, 2019).

The first environmental problem is the use of marine heavy fuel oil as a source of energy in ships (and petrol in small boats). While the total fuel consumption is only a very small percentage (less than 0.5 %) of total oil use, the fuel has until recently contained very high sulphur oxide concentrations, so that at the time that European and American land-based industries and power plants have been required to remove sulphur oxides from their smoke because of the acid rain problem of 1970’s and 1980’s the ship fuel use has contributed 10-20 % of the world’s sulphur dioxide emissions. Now that European Union has put an upper limit to the allowed sulphur concentration first in the Baltic anIMG_20170802_0109.jpgd North Sea, because of their heavy shipping, the Finnish shipping companies and industries were screaming that such an increase in the transport costs (low-sulphur fuel oil is more expensive than high-sulphur one or alternatively removing sulphur dioxide from fumes cost). However, the EU directive has been in effect a couple of years now, and has not resulted in serious economic disturbances (this incidence, to me, shows the hypocrisy of environmental thinking of many policy makers, as soon as any imagined expenses are increased because of environmental actions, they cannot be tolerated). The World Maritime Organisation is now putting an upper sulphur limit to all maritime heavy fuel oil. But in the long run, one should be able to go to oil-free shipping. Effective wind turbines are developed, and some ships using them may soon sail in the world’s seas. With the use of oil, there are several types of oil spills. Although the shipwrecks with pronounced oil leakage have decreased, most harmful spills are ones in small scale: washing empty oil tanks, using lubricating oils etc. It doesn’t help the seabird losing its insulation and dying of hypothermia knowing that the spill was small.

Another traditional big problem has been the use of antifouling paints on ships. They are used to prevent the growth of organisms on ships, both barnacles and algae. The growth of organisms on ship hulls can increase fuel consumption more than 10 %. Because very different types of organisms are tergeted, the toxic agents must kill all forms of life. Tributyltin (TBT) chloride was initially the common toxic agent, because it was very toxic, but considered to break down in weeks. However, it was noticed in 1980’s that TBT caused imposex (females developed male penis and became infertile) in molluscs near boat harbours. This led to a complete ban of the compound, but it persist in anoxic sediments for tens of years, and there are consequently still toxic TBT concentrations in narrow and shallow shipping routes. The next generation of antifouling paints has used copper ion as the toxic compound. To increase the paint’s toxicity to photosynthetic organisms, herbicides such as diuron are added. Presently, it appears that leaching from the ship paints is the major source of copper in aquatic environment. Further, the problem that cannot be avoided is that antifouling paints must kill everything.

Another problem with ships is that their waste has been disposed to sea with “out of sight out of mind” mentality. This has included both toilet wastewater and solid waste. While in most cases the waste load is very small in comparison to the waste coming from land, the increased cruising activity in Arctic and Antarctic has made the waste from ships a major cause of pollution in these vulnerable areas. The problem could be solved simply by storing all the wastes onboard until visiting the next harbour. Shipping is also a major reason for the introduction of invasive alien species, largely when the tanks with ballast water are emptied. Filtration of water entering or leaving the tanks could suffice to prevent the introduction.

Ships also affect the coasts: the waves generated will erode coastal areas, and the sediments of shallow shipping routes will be affected. Little can be done to avoid this except to site-planning of the harbour. Since most of the harbours have established sites, their location cannot really be affected. Finally, shipping generates noise. In the aquatic environment noise travels much longer than in air, and may disturb the communication of fish and marine mammals. Again, little can be done to reduce noise as long as present type motors are the norm – sailing ships would be much quieter.

In conclusion, many of the environmental effects of shipping could be solved with modest expenses. In this, as in many other cases, applying environment-friendly solutions is more a question of will than of not being able to. One point about goods transport is that we should reduce it by changing to production nearby instead of production thousands of kilometers away to be environmentally friendly.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: antifouling paints, oil pollution, invasive alien species, waste management

Aquatic Oil Pollution ? many-sided problem, until oil use is stopped

Torstai 18.7.2019 klo 11:44 - Mikko Nikinmaa


With oil spills, the usual picture in the news is a bird covered with oil. The contaminated bird loses its ability to regulate temperature in water and slowly dies because of heat loss. Although this is a significant problem during oil spills, it is probably not the most important one. As the most important one I would place the effect of oil contamination on mainly unicellular marine algae. Marine algae account for almost half of global photosynthesis, thus being the most important carbon dioxide sinks of the world. Largely because of oil pollution, it has been estimated that the algal carbon dioxide sink has decreased by 20 %. This negative effect is greater than would be caused, if deforestation of Amazon rain forest would increase manyfold. Oil pollution also influences fish. Effects are largely age-dependent and associated mainly with cardiac function. It appears that the toxicity of oil increases with increasing pressure. This is significant, as oil is drilled at deeper depths than earlier. In addition, dispersants, changing oil to small droplets, which are dispersed in the water column, increase the toxicity of oil spill to fish and other aquatic organisms, mostly by increasing the surface area of oil in contact with the (respiratory) surface of organisms. As a consequence, the uptake of toxic components of oil, and thereby their toxic effects, are increased. In contrast, the dispersants in the concentrations used appear to cause little toxicity. It is quite clear that as long as oil is used in significant amounts in fuels and energy production, the problems persist. Further, the socalled biofuels or biodiesels are exactly as bad for aquatic life as fossil oil. Therefore, in terms of combatting climate change, using biofuel is exactly the same as using fossil oil, if the use of fossil fuel is coupled with forestation.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: aquatic toxicology, oil spill, water pollution, fish kills

Environmental Hypocricy

Sunnuntai 15.10.2017 klo 17:39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

A very important export sector of Finland has been and is forestry. Norway has become rich on its oil. Both countries are now saying that they are in the forefront in combatting climate change. In many ways they are, but there is also some hypocricy associated with the claims and actions of both Finnish and Norwegian governments.

Let's start with Norway. Much of its present wealth is based of selling oil, which it is also presently selling as much as it can. Also, exploration of new oil fields in vulnerable arctic areas is done with quite high priority. So getting - and remaining - rich by selling a major cause of climate change is OK, and with the profits obtained one can have massive domestic tax  support for electric cars, so that the emissions of carbon dioxide from Norway decrease. Isn't this somewhat hypocritical - getting funds from fossil fuel sales to support reductions in domestic use of fossil fuels?

Then to Finland.It would actually be possible to separate the forest growth, which is estimated quite reliably, and which forms a carbon dioxide sink, from the cutting of forests. The use of wood for different purposes can also be estimated fairly accurately from year to year. If and when the wood is used for energy production, it produces carbon dioxide just as coal or oil. By separating forest growth, carbon dioxide sink, from forest use, carbon dioxide producer, one could actually have a good handle of net forestry effects on climate change. It could also direct the wood production towards products with longer life length than presently, because in such a way the amount of carbon dioxide per time would be reduced. Instead of going towards this direction, the government of Finland is saying that forestry is sustainable and Finland should be allowed to increase its allowed cutting, since forestry in Finland is at least carbon dioxide neutral, without having to decrease carbon dioxide production elsewhere. Isn't this hypocritical, since wood cutting is necessarily associated with increased carbon dioxide production?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, oil

Electric Cars - UK Decision

Keskiviikko 26.7.2017 klo 14:53 - Mikko Nikinmaa

UK made a decision that after 2040 cars using conventional fuel are not allowed. All new cars must be fully electric. France has already earlier made a similar decision. These decisions are made to enable the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. In this light the policy of Finland seems quite old-fashioned: the big investments that are needed for biofuel factories are not really profitable if most countries decide on a rapid phase-out of conventional motors.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, oil

Electric Cars - not just for the sake of the use of fossil fuels

Tiistai 6.6.2017 klo 13:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When one is advocating the transition from gasoline-using cars to electric cars, one normally only speaks of climate change, and decreased use of oil. Naturally the eletric cars will only diminish climate change, if the electricity is produced with renewable resources (and at least in short term, renewable energy excluding wood-burning). However, there is at least one other significant point associated with electric cars.

Much of the pollution of the seas is caused by oil spills, either deliberate or accidental. If the need of gasoline in the cars and other vehicles of the world decreased, the oil pollution would be drastically decreased. The water pollution aspect also speaks against changing oil to biodiesel. The product would still have to be transported, and accidents would still happen. For a bird that is affected by the spill it does not make any difference if the spill is of fossil oil or biodiesel. So, in fact, all inventions, which enable diminished use of oil or biodiesel in heavy vehicles, are a very important part of trying to limit marine pollution.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, water pollution, oil spills

Pollinators, agriculture and insecticides

Lauantai 8.4.2017 klo 13:28 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The production of virtually all vegetable oils depends on plants, which need to be pollinated by bees and other insects. Similarly apples, cherries and most berries are produced only if insects pollinate the plants effectively. Thus, to a large part agricultural production needs insects such as bees. Against this background it is very surprising that especially farmer lobbying groups are strongly against banning of some insecticides such as neonicotinoids - if bees die, much of agriculture becomes impossible.

As such, it should not be a surprise that bees are killed by insecticides: they are as much insects as the harmful insect pests. If insecticides kill the latter, they also kill bees. To my knowledge nobody has been able to produce an insecticide which would kill pests and not harm the beneficial pollinators. With regard to the neonicotinoids, the problem is the following: the seeds are often treated with them, whereby the insecticide is released out of the growing plant, and kills the insects that would be disturbing plant growth. When the plants flower, the insecticide producers have estimated that the excreted amount of neonicotinoid is small enough not to be lethal to pollinators. Some recent results suggest that this is not the case. However, since it is clear that time of plant growth is a significant factor in affecting insectiside excretion, it is to my mind quite surprising that it has not been studied in detail, how the excretion depends on time. Another poorly known question is how long the excreted neonicotinoid remains poisonous in soil. Also this point would need time-course studies. Since such studies are for direct importance to agriculture, funding them should be done by diverting a small amount of agricultural subsidies to toxicological research needed for profitable future cultivation of oil plants.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: neonicotinoids, vegetable oil, bees

Another Sad Day for the Environment

Keskiviikko 25.1.2017 klo 10:08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The first of my blogs was titled "Sad Days for the Environment", where the fears that the new US president's actions could mean were expressed. Now that Donald Trump has stepped to the office, the fears have already, unfortunately, turned to reality. It seems that the steps taken by President Obama's administration to curb the new oil transport pipelines, exploring oil, etc. are upheaved. However, what is even more fearful is that, if I have understood correctly, employees of EPA are now (temporarily??) prohibited from updating public via press or social media. So only the fantastic desicions the president makes regarding the environment  can be made public, and there cannot be any disagreeing views within the government.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: EPA, oil transport