Keskiviikko 7.10.2020 klo 11:26 - Mikko Nikinmaa
At least one thing is certain, Earth has finite size. People may disagree on economic policies, but in the end Earth's limits dictate, what the economic thinking must converge to in the end: sustainability. This is because we do not have planet B, C, D etc. to continue economic policies, which do not take Earth's limits into account. For a long time it has been possible to base all the future scenarios on limitless growth. This has been possible, because human population had new areas to live in, because new material resources were always found and because the atmosphere, aquatic environment and unused land absorbed all our wastes and toxic materials without observable damage. Thus, economic theories are based on growth and we depend on population growth to maintain welfare state in European countries.
However, we have now reached tipping point. Economic growth requires increased consumption. Increased consumption requires the use of increased amount of resources, somewhere to dispose of wastes, increased land use to relieve anthropogenic pressures and so on. There are several indications that finite Earth cannot tolerate increased consumption any more. We have climate change, pandemic, biodiversity loss (6th extinction wave) and global pollution - for example about 1/3 of world's children are subjected to chronic lead poisoning. Despite all the indications that we cannot continue in the path of earlier generations, it has become very common to start defending nationalistic values and possessions at the expense of those bloody foreigners, especially in poor areas, who do not do their share, and whose work we in the rich areas can utilize to increase our consumption. This attitude is very short-sighted, as the limits to Earth do not follow national boundaries and no country can be hermetically sealed off from the earth.
People are saying that changing our feeding habits from meat-based to vegetarian diet would change the situation: combat climate change and limit pandemics. Yes, it would improve the situation momentarily, but if the economic theories were still based on limitless growth, after a lag time we would be back to the same problems we presently face. Its length would depend on the time that will be taken for the growth to eat up the environmental benefits that the new habits have given. Because of this, the only way to sustainability is to decrease consumption, where it is possible. It is also necessary to scrap the concept of dependency ratio, because it is completely unsustainable. Maybe this would buy us enough time to achieve, what is an ultimate necessity for sustainability, a reduction of human population.
One would need to develop a sustainability index, which takes into account both the consumption per person and population growth. By doing this, one could relate the actions in rich European and poor African and Asian countries. At present it is quite clear that one child born in USA causes a bigger load to the environment that ten born in Nigeria. Regardless, it is imperative that the consumption in the rich countries is decreased.
I hope that we can get away from the unfortunate truth in the "joke", where an economist says to an environmentalist: "Climate change and environmental distruction are just unfortunate consequences of having a healthy economy."
Perjantai 31.7.2020 klo 16:55 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The first large-scale lead poisoning dates back to Roman times. Many historians are of the opinion that the downfall of Roman empire was partly due to large-scale lead poisoning. The drinking water was lead to Rome and some other big cities in lead aquaducts, with the consequence that some lead dissolved in water and was drunk. The amount of lead this obtained was enough to cause neurotoxicity.
The second time that concerns of common lead poisoning reached news was when car traffic using leaded fuel increased markedly in industrialized countries. This led to quite rapid phasing-out of lead in petrol in 1989’s. Lead was also an important component of paints in, e.g. kitchenware and toys, whereby everyone but especially children were exposed to toxic lead concentrations. Because of this, also lead-containing paints have been banned. As a result of the bans of lead in fuels and paints the lead levels in the blood of children in industrialized, rich countries has decreased to values which do not cause observable toxicity.
The toxicity of lead is especially harmful to children. Lead is primarily a neurotoxicant. It disturbs brain development. If brain development of a child is disturbed, the disturbance persists for the rest of the life. Lead-poisoning decreases the intelligence, increases aggressiveness and generally makes the affected people lethargic. It also decreases the attention time span; it has been estimated that a quarter of ADHD cases would, in fact, be caused by lead poisoning. There are also associations between lead poisoning an hearing acuity, which suggests that lead exposure may cause speech and language handicaps.
Above the level of 5 micrograms per decilitre (µg/dL), lead causes the intelligence, behaviour and learning problems as estimated by the American CDC (Center of Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization), although WHO points out that there is no safe level of exposure. If the 5 µg/dL concentration is taken as the limit, a third of world’s children have exposure, which causes life-long effects. As children in industrialized countries do not normally have these high lead levels in their blood, this is another problem between poor and rich countries.
We in industrialized countries have become aware that resources, such as metals, should be recycled. If this is done responsibly, it helps a lot for making the resource use in the world sustainable. However, many of the recycling companies are not in the business to help the earth but to make money. As a result, the “recycling” is done in poor countries, and no precautions, which would be required in Europe and North America, are followed. Because of this, recycling lead-acid car batteries has become the single most important source of lead exposure for children in poor countries. Thus, one should demand that recycling must be done in the commercial area, where the product is used. In addition to car batteries, lead-containing paints and toys containing lead are still common in poor areas.
A more detailed account of lead problem in children is the report by UNICEF and Pure Earth: The Toxic Truth: Children’s Exposure to Lead Pollution Undermines a Generation of Future Potential, which is available at https://www.unicef.org/reports/toxic-truth-childrens-exposure-to-lead-pollution-2020
Maanantai 13.7.2020 klo 16:28 - Mikko Nikinmaa
As a child, one of my favourite books was a book of wild animals – I read all the stories of antelopes in Africa and looking at the photographs hoped that one day I would be able to go there. Almost every day I went birdwatching: curlews, whinchats, ruffs and ortolan buntings were common. As a scientist I was able to see sea otters, elephant seals,
echidnas, and finally was able to fulfil my childhood dream, see antelopes in Africa. The incredible variety of animal life in different parts of the world is something that I hope our grandchildren and their descendants are able to see. The hopes of a nature lover for a heritage to future generations may be somewhat different from those of economic circles.
As the major reason for nations not taking loans, politicians usually state that we don’t want to leave future generations debt. This has also been stated as a reason why the European Union should not give grants to the hardest hit nations. If the big relief package of the European Union is not accepted, the Union can break up. For the environment this would be a catastrophe, because EU is the only major economic player, which has environmental questions reasonably high in its agenda. The European nations as relatively small individual nations would be forced to accept the conditions that USA and China, and to some extent Russia, Brazil and India, demand. For the environment, this would be terrible news.
We have now come to a situation, where environmental conditions and national debt are choices of our heritage to future generations. If loans are taken in order to invest on actions that improve the future state of environment, I am quite sure that future generations would say: “Please, take loan. It is only money, whereas sustainable environment is much more.” I am also quite sure that they would say: “Please, accept the European Recovery Plan, it is the only way to maintain a responsible environmental player as a major economic factor.”
It is not leaving debt to future generations any more, it is choosing if we give them a liveable environment or no debt. I think debt is better than spoiled Earth.
Keskiviikko 4.9.2019 klo 18:16 - Mikko Nikinmaa
Just recently, the World Bank published a booklet: Quality Unknown. The Invisible Water Crisis. What it basically says is that the water resources throughout the world are so much affected by human actions that it causes a significant slowing down of economic growth. Reading through the booklet, there is naturally no big news to us water researchers, but it is a good summary of the things that are anthropogenic problems in our water resources, and how these problems affect agriculture, industry and our everyday affairs. However, I bring the World Bank document forward, because earlier on economy and environment have always been brought forward as opposites. And virtually in every case that economic and environmental considerations have clashed, the environmental one has lost. The World Bank report gives a sad tale of what the result is. Economic growth is slowing down largely as a result of decisions, which have been taken in order to boost economy. This indicates that economic thinking should be changed so that environment (natural capital) is primary and must be maintained in good condition. All economic actions must be done so that if they harm environmental balance in one dimension, they must improve it in another so that the overall status is not affected. It is the path to sustainability.
The Quality Unknown report can be found at www.worldbank.org, where also the ideals of the World Bank are brought forward. Quickly reading through them, I feel that should be the direction that economic thinking in united world goes to.
Lauantai 29.6.2019 klo 14:02 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The leaders of the scientists warning group are in the process of getting together a major event next summer. It should get worldwide attention. The prospectus of the planned event is below.
Live Aid II – SOS Save the World
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 change. 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.
Lauantai 11.5.2019 klo 18:35 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The Our Planet documentary series by David Attenborough in Netflix (www.ourplanet.com) is incredibly good, and will probably be the most popular pro-environment series that has recently been published. When watching it a couple of things must be remembered. Although climate change is of a huge concern, the short-term solutions alleviating it will not solve the basic problem, which is our overuse of the planet. Climate change is just one symptom stemming from the facts that there are too many people who are overusing Earth's resources. In November 2, 2018 I wrote a blog, where pictures of human population change and the increase of world's carbon dioxide were side by side. And they could be superimposed. Further, although it could be possible to severe the link between human population and carbon dioxide production in the short term, the vicious circle between population growth, resource overuse, pollution and climate change still exists in longer term because of the following.
Human population needs to be fed. The intensive agriculture with artificial fertilization and pesticide use has increased the agricultural production per hectare to 5-10 times the crops obtained before "industrial" agriculture. It has been estimated that without the use if artificial fertilization and pesticides the maximal size of human population would be 2-3 billion. However, Nature presently strikes back. Fertilization pollutes our waters, pesticides kill pollinators and the microalgae of the seas. The results arte that aquatic pollution is decreasing the ability of algae to photosynthetize. The aquatic algae have contributed to 50 of the carbon dioxide sinks of the world. Now it is estimated that carbon dioxide fixation by them has decreased by 20 %. Aquatic pollution thus drives climate change.
Pollinating insects die as a result of insecticide use. Since about 2/3 of all the food plants need pollination by insects, this as such reduces the possibilities of increasing agricultural production by increased insecticide use. As the productivity per hectare cannot be increased, more people means that forests must be cut to obtain agricultural land. At the same time old agricultural land is becoming infertile, and changes in precipitation aggravate the problem. Cutting the forests causes biodiversity loss and since forests are more effective carbon dioxide sinks than agricultural lands, aggravates climate change.
Apart from cutting rainforests, the most pronounced biodiversity losses are caused by overfishing. Most fisheries at the moment are unsustainable, and aquaculture does not help the situation, as most of the fish feed is made from fish. So, the only change that happens is that for human food less preferred species are caught. An additional problem with aquaculture is the use of antibiotics and pesticides, which affect marine life and be one component of generating antibiotic resistance in the environment.
Besides the decrease of marine biodiversity, especially the large amount of plastic waste in the oceans is an anthropogenic problem. Here an important step forward was taken a day or two ago, whem most countries in the world agreed that plastic waste may not be exported. This will generate national recycling of plastics. Notably, Trump's USA did not sign the agreement. The present government of the USA has been very consequent in the anti-environment actions, opposing any actions which could be seen as trying to improve the state of environment. The US government after Trump will have much to do to reverse the anti-environmental actions of the present government.
If it weren't for plastics, it is likely that there would be other tash all over the place. Different materials, which could be recycled are just thrown away. For example, much of the metals could be reused which would much reduce the need for mining and theeby overuse of world's resources.
In conclusion, we would need to find ways both to decrease the human population and the amount of energy and resources used by a unit human. Changes in the first pertain especially to developing countries and in the second to inhabitants of traditional industrialized countries. One cannot think in terms "we will do nothing unless the others do their share", because that is a certain way to go to catastroph.
Tiistai 20.11.2018 klo 15:32 - Mikko Nikinmaa
A huge problem has been generated for most Western countries. China has stopped importing any plastic waste. Exporting plastics for reuse in China has been the way most West European and North American countries have got rid of accumulated plastics. While much of the plastic waste has been reused in plastic toys and such like, some of it has ended up in the huge amount of plastics in the ocean near China. In principle the reuse in, e.g., plastic toys is a good way of getting rid of plastic waste, but one should be able to ascertain that all the waste is going for the intended purpose and not ending up in oceans. One thing is that plastic waste should be clean and uniform. Earlier on one did not care if plastics had toxic components, since they were thrown away anyway (one did not care that the toxicant ended up in the environment). However, recycling of plastics requires that the new products made are not toxic. Also, people sorting the plastics should not be exposed to the toxicants. The need for toxicants in plastics has actually disappeared making large-scale sorting feasible. It can be done more and more automatically - and should be done, if not in China then in the places of origin.
Lauantai 10.11.2018 klo 11:17
Reading the news, two problems are invariably brought forward: population growth in Japan and Europe have completely stopped and economic growth is again slowing down. These are given as negative news, although at the same time the news bring forward that this year the day that the resources of the world that could be used per year if sustainability were the aim was reached earlier than ever. Consequently, both news items about the stop of population growth and and decrease of economic growth are positive news for the Earth, hopefully more of them follow.
As a need for economic growth, it is invariably said that if economic growth does not continue, one cannot continue with the present benefits - but wait a minute, those if us who lived in 1970s lived quite happily then, even though all the economic indicators were much worse than today .- the gross national product was only a fraction of today's and there are many things all of us consume now, which were not needed then: and honestly, do we really need them.
As a need for population growth it is usually said that without it there is not enough working force to pay pensions to retired people (and jobless atc.). Again, wait a minute, at the moment immigration is the most negatively thought-about aspect of life in Europe. Wouldn't it be actually right to welcome immigrants and say that they are needed to make it possible to continue the welfare states of Europe. If this were the attitude, I bet the majority of immigrants would soon assimilate to society. And if immugration were mostly young people and children, taken in with a positive attitude, they wood soon see their new living place as home and try to make the normal habits there their own. The hostile apartheid mentality of the right wing populists generates hate and conflicts, which is good for nobody.
To combat the major environmental problems in the world, we would need to forget nation satates, and think that we are citizens of the world. This does not mean that we would need to forget our identity or that we should not try to convince other people about the points done well in our societies. But - I can say that I am a Finnish World citizen, against inequality, male white domination, environmental distruction etc. However, although my aims are good, I make mistakes - human as I am.
Tiistai 10.7.2018 klo 10:52 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In 1960's-1970's when the environmental movement started, population growth was considered to be maybe the biggest problem for the future of the earth - it was considered that world's agriculture could not feed population exceeding 5 000 000 000. We are now 8 000 000 000. So, the development of agricultural practises has enabled food production far beyond the expectations of late 20th century.
However, that does not mean that there would not be many problems associated with the large population. The increase in agricultural production has been achieved with the help of pronounced pesticide use and artificial (mineral) fertilization. Fertilization in crop production is an important component in eutrophication of waters, which is also caused by the excretion of people and livestock. Water and land is polluted by pesticides and other toxicants. Recently, as a result of waste production of the large human population, the huge plastics problem has been generated. One can also say that the climate change, associated with the large use of fossil fuels, is caused by the large population.
Further, the oceans are overfished, the mineral resources are overexploited etc. In fact, the earth's resources are drastically overused - if the population were much smaller, the overuse were much easier to avoid.
The World Population Day is on July 11. As one aim of the future for world population is to curb population growth. In Europe the population is not increasing any more, and the same could and should be the goal for every other part of the world. The second aim should be to increase recycling: instead of producing new products of virgin materials and at the end of the product's life time throwing it away, everything should be recycled. It would be important for us in Europe to have all the household machines to be made so that they would be repaired instead of being thrown away/replaced when broken down. As a final aim, the whole concept of economy should be changed: economic growth should not be sought for.
As individuals and families/groups we can celebrate World Population Day by decreasing the group's use of resources per time. The manifest of concerned scientists can be found at http://www.scientistswarning.org/, which generally is a site to follow if one is interested in anthropogenic influences on Earth.
Perjantai 9.3.2018 klo 16:42 - Mikko Nikinmaa
To be sustainable, any economic theory needs to take into account the limits set to economies by the global environment. Otherwise any economic actions are just very hard-repayed loan from future generations. As the two worst alternatives are either that a small proportion of mankind can leave this planet, when it becomes uninhabitable, to continue the wasteful way of living in another planet until that is also spoiled or that most people dye and a small proportion continues to live in the spoiled environment.
To avoid these worst-case scenarios, one should actually give the Nobel price in Economics in continuation to economic theories that strive to reconcile economics and environment, as suggested by Ripple at el. in “The Role of Scientists’ Warning in Shifting Policy from Growth to Conservation Economy”, which can in full be viewed at https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy009
"Most helpful for this paradigm shift, both symbolically and pragmatically, would be for the scientist members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to insist that its Economic Sciences Prize Committee give greater weight to awarding prizes for economic theory that accounts for environment–economy interlinkages and feedback loops. If Nobel memorial prizes in economics were given to those drawing attention to economic drivers of environmental degradation and the well-being implications of degraded ecosystems, it would draw attention to problems with mainstream economic theory as well as encourage other economists and natural scientists to collaborate and to do more work in this area."
Economy and environment are not opposite, but there cannot be a functioning economy without healthy environment in the long run.
Maanantai 3.4.2017 klo 13:18 - Mikko Nikinmaa
In these blogs I have earlier been critical of president Trump's actions. However, recent news indicate that he has a brother in Putin. Putin is also of the opinion that man is not responsible of climate change, and said that increased temperature is an opportunity, not a threat to the arctic environment.
It is a pity that the leaders of two major countries live so much in the past. Fifty years ago the situation was not as bad as now, but Putin and Trump cannot see to the future problems, they only see that doing things as in the past would be the way to go forward.
Perjantai 17.3.2017 klo 10:14 - Mikko Nikinmaa
The White House indicated that not a cent would be spent to actions against climate change. It would just be a waste of voters' money. The anti-environment attitude was seen in the budget proposal also otherwise with more than 30 % cuts in the budget of Environmental Protection Agency. The planned cuts would make USA a backward country with regard to environment - the attitudes of leaders in China and even India are far more modern. If Trump budget cuts in environmental actions are carried out, and if the environmental attitudes of the White House become more widespread among American leaders, I pity the young people and children who must live with increasing pollution - the backward situation will not affect only USA but also rest of the world. In 1960's, which appears to be President Trump's "golden age", there was a lot of environment to pollute. Unfortunately, this is not the case any more - sustainable future requires that environment is included in every economic decision. Our children can ask that of us.