Flying should be taxed as other forms of transport

Perjantai 18.8.2023 klo 17.49 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Flying is estimated to cause several percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Its influence on climate is much worse than the emissions, because the gases are emitted at high altitudes. One would consequently think that because there is a sore need to combat climate change, steps would be taken to diminish the effects of flight traffic on climate change. Two such steps have commonly reached the news. First, the possibility of passengers to pay extra to compensate for flying. The compensation is them used to pay either the protection of forests or planting trees. The funds obtained by the compensations are currently so small that it can be said to have only conscience-cleaning effect. Second, an increasing proportion of the fuel, kerosine, is made from biowaste or plant material instead of being fossil fuel. However, the so-called biofuel does not decrease the production of carbon dioxide in the flights, it only decreases the use of fossil fuel. It appears that electric airplanes will at most be responsible for short distance flights in the near future. For long distance travel one needs to ask the traveller if the present-day speed is really necessary. If not, zeppelin-like aircraft could replace a lot of the airplanes and fuel consumption would decrease radically.

However, the biggest change that should be made is that air traffic should be taxed as other traffic forms. Today fuel of airplanes is completely free of taxation throughout the world. As a consequence, air traffic is subsidised, e.g., in Finland approximately 20 times more per customer than environmentally friendly train traffic. And this is true at a time when politicians say that they are trying to get people to diminish travelling, if it has large carbon footprint. Yet they do not use the tax instrument, which would also make fairer to use different ways of transport. It is quite certain that all the nation states say that this cannot be done, since that would generate unfair competition in favour of countries that do not tax their flights or maintain tax level low. However, this is what EU is for. The European Union, which is also otherwise front runner in climate questions, could decide that all European flights would have a common fuel tax. One could try to get a world wide agreement; it should be relatively easy, if climate change is taken seriously.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, carbon footprint, fossil fuels, air traffic

Whale strandings - what causes them?

Keskiviikko 22.2.2023 klo 16.00 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The stranding of whales almost invariably result in the death of the animals before they can be returned to water. This is because when whales start to dry, their temperature increases since the surrounding water is not there to cool the body. The body temperature increases until it is lethal. To limit the temperature rise, stranded whales are flushed with water. During the recent past whale strandings have become more and more common. They are one of the symptoms of disturbances in oceanic environments, and may have various reasons. Regardless of the ultimate reason, it is possible that the whales make a decision to commit suicide because of the environmental stress. This can happen, as whales have very complex brains, and appear capable of conscious choices, as, e.g., commit suicide.

However, many of the strandings take place to injured whales. One of the biggest causes of whale injuries is a collision with ship. Because of the injury, the whale may not be able to swim properly and is washed ashore. Also, whales use sea currents to help them in swimming. As a result of climate change, the direction and strength of the currents may have changed so that when the whale thinks that it is swimming normally using the help of the current, it ends up stranded. By far the most important disturbance to whales is noise pollution. This is because long-distance acoustic communication is a major feature of whale life. If acoustic communication is disturbed enough, the whale may decide to commit suicide.

Sounds travel long distances in water. As a result, whales can communicate with their mates tens of kilometres away. This is the way they find partners for reproduction, inform of good food sources etc. Ships and motorboats make a lot of noise in the oceans. The noise levels may disturb whale communication. And the sea traffic has become more intensive and noisier in the recent past disturbing the whales more and more.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: noise pollution, climate change, ship traffic

Air pollution increases stroke risk

Perjantai 7.10.2022 klo 13.44 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Today, only climate change effects of fossil fuel burning get attention. While climate change is undoubtedly the ultimate stress, it does not seem to reach the minds and be accepted by many people even today when the heat waves, hurricanes, floods and wildfires all testify that climate change is happening. The people with the highest percentage of climate sceptics are also the most susceptible to stroke: overweight, with low education, not exercising and driving a lot. They are not likely to be worried about something that may happen to the next generation or to other people as long as they can live their comfortable life.

But they may get stroke! That is something they are worried about when they drive to work in the congested highways of towns with high nitrogen oxide and elevated small particle levels. In a recent article in Neurology, Tian et al. (DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000201316) showed quite conclusively that this kind of air pollution increases stroke risk. Earlier studies have shown that air pollution causes all sorts of lung-related problems. Thus, there is quite clear evidence that fossil fuel use should be stopped even if one is only worried about one’s own health and wouldn’t care at all of the well being of future generations.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, fossil fuels, climate sceptics, nitrogen oxide, traffic

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),

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

Ecotourism - can tourism ever be ecological?

Keskiviikko 18.1.2017 klo 12.30 - Mikko Nikinmaa

During recent years something under the name ecotourism has been the most rapidly increasing trend in tourism. The name has been used of all kinds of trips when the destination has been outside the normal tourist attractions and the object has been to visit some nature site. Thus, in many cases for example cruises to Greenland and Antarctica are advertised as ecotourism. In those instances it is easy to say that the travel is far from being ecological. In the easily disturbed Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems such cruises are already one of the biggest causes behind environmental contamination.

Similarly, safari tours to see the big game in South Africa are named ecotourism. While every effort can be made to diminish the disturbance caused to the animals, the mere approach is more or less the same as the reason for creating zoos. Actually, in my opinion the major difference is that when zoos were founded, a normal person could not travel to the places where the animals live in their natural environment, whereas with affordable air traffic it is possible today.

Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education". There are two things that make ecotourism, in my opinion, impossible. The first is that the sites can be reached only by, e.g. air or boat transport (and local car transport) which generate fossil fuel pollution. The second is that if a nature site becomes popular, environment will be necessarily affected.

There are, however, a couple of very good things which result from nature tourism (note that I use this word pair instead of ecotourism). The incentive for governments to save the habitats with tourist interests increases. The local people can get the financial benefits from the tourists.

In any case we are not talking about ecotourism, because tourism cannot be ecological, but nature tourism, which can have beneficial effects in addition to the negative environmental effects that tourism necessarily causes.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: air traffic, transport, environmental effects