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Double the CO2 from ships
October 20, 2007 3:11 PM   Subscribe

What do you know? Just when I thought ships were the way to go, I learned that global emissions of carbon dioxide from shipping are twice the level of aviation, one of the maritime industry's key bodies has said It came out on the BBC News this week.
posted by lamarguerite (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Wouldn't this need to be quantified as per unit of cargo?
posted by Brian B. at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2007


Yeah, "the much greater tonnage carried by each vessel, compared with aircraft, meant that shipping was still a much greener form of transporting freight around the globe. "
posted by twjordan at 3:15 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


These stats make me wonder how whether the doubled emission are for the same amount of service/transport provided though. If you ship 100 tons of stuff for 2x amount of emissions and fly 25 tons of stuff for x amount of emissions, shipping is still the better choice.

But yeah, cutting back on emissions overall would be nice. [/obligatory]
posted by Phire at 3:16 PM on October 20, 2007


This is one of those facts that make you stupider, if you omit the 'per ton shipped' qualifier, as grudgingly noted in the very last paragraph (see bold for why grudingingly):

But Mr Routa argued that the much greater tonnage carried by each vessel, compared with aircraft, meant that shipping was still a much greener form of transporting freight around the globe.
posted by hexatron at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2007


Just because it's more efficient per kG than something that is hillariously inefficient doesn't mean it can not be optimised even further.
posted by public at 3:29 PM on October 20, 2007


Poor reporting here, in that the reporter doesn't give comparable figures for air shipment and notes only the figures for surface shipment. How are we supposed to compare them? The Guardian's piece gives a bit more detail, indicating that there is indeed a large increase in emissions from ships -- but it does not follow that if we then shipped all that material by air, we'd be using less fuel or emitting fewer pollutants.

More than 90 percent of our consumer goods are shipped by water, air and overland shipping being both far more fuel-inefficient and expensive. Air is not 'better' than surface shipment; imagine replacing all the sea transport with air transport. Think about the far greater number of jets needed and the lost fuel efficiency per unit of mass, and it's pretty obvious that shipping is the better choice.

What's the best choice, then? Probably shoving less stuff from overseas into our insatiable consumer maws. The reason transport of goods is increasing is that people are buying it and there's money to be made.
posted by Miko at 3:31 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's the best choice, then? Probably shoving less stuff from overseas into our insatiable consumer maws. The reason transport of goods is increasing is that people are buying it and there's money to be made.

Actually, this also depends on whether the manufacturing or agricultural efficiencies offset the transportation costs. It may be more environmental friendly to eat Spanish olive oil than BC greenhouse grown olive oil. Local isn't necessarily environmental.

As for doing without, dying is also a choice though that too releases carbon.
posted by srboisvert at 3:47 PM on October 20, 2007


At least with ships there are alternatives to fossil fuels: you can use biofuels or even sail.

With planes as they exist now, it is kerosine or nothing.
posted by sindark at 4:14 PM on October 20, 2007


Ooh yeah! Dying releases carbon. We should SOOO outlaw that dying thing. People should stop doing that. Thou shalt not kill. It's bad for the environment.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:30 PM on October 20, 2007


As for doing without, dying is also a choice though that too releases carbon.

Carbon dioxide dammit. 'Carbon' is a completely different chemical with no greenhouse effect.

And anyway, living releases more CO2 then dying.
posted by delmoi at 4:30 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


A selection of other related news this week:

The Future is Drying Up - New York Times, good look at the looming drought "apocalypse" in the Western USA.

Southeast drought hits crisis point - USA Today - ..and in the Eastern USA.

Oceans are 'soaking up less CO2' - BBC - uh oh.

The Amazon burns once again
- Guardian - Amazon destruction picks up speed.

Trillions in spending needed to meet global oil and gas demand, analysis shows - that would build a lot of windmills.

The Meltdown of Greenland - "The rate of melting is just phenomenal. We're adding freshwater to the ocean at a much more rapid rate than predicted."

Boone Pickens says oil on its way to $100 a barrel - Legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens sees the price of oil hitting $100 a barrel perhaps as soon as the fourth quarter but certainly sometime next year, a consequence of daily global production reaching its peak.
posted by stbalbach at 4:41 PM on October 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Bring back the tall ships! Twenty years before the mast! Thirty years behind the times!
posted by Abiezer at 4:44 PM on October 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the "oceans soaking up less CO2" shocked me awake when I was drowsing this morning. I remember this line from Soylent Green -- "The plankton are dying." I vaguely recall reading that if we lose the ocean portion of the biosphere, we are screwed, blued, and tattooed, but we won't know it until it's way too late.
posted by pax digita at 4:49 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dying releases carbon.

Human bodies "carbon neutral", the carbon is taken up from the environment and released back into the environment, there is no net gain. One could make a metaphysical argument that humans are the cause of releasing fossilized carbon, and therefore humans are not carbon neutral, but in the context of your statement that dying should be "SOOO outlawed", humans are carbon neutral.
posted by stbalbach at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2007


At least with ships there are alternatives to fossil fuels: you can use biofuels or even sail.

Funny you should mention it
posted by IndigoJones at 5:26 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


"anyway, living releases more CO2 then dying."

Ooh! That's right! We should SOOOO outlaw that living thing.

"humans are carbon neutral."

Ooh! That's right! We should SOOOO outlaw that being human thing.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:32 PM on October 20, 2007


And what would be the emissions of gigantic helium-filled airships?
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:51 PM on October 20, 2007


Helium is expensive. Better go with hydrogen. No, it's not dangerous to use hydrogen unless you build a giant wooden frame, cover it with cotton cloth and then seal the hydrogen gas in with a compound more commonly known as rocket propellant. Yes, this is actually how the Hindenburg was built. The amazing thing is not that it caught fire, but that it actually floated about for quite some time without catching fire.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 6:01 PM on October 20, 2007


Sindark, some folks are planning on taking to the air without kerosene.
posted by Exchequer at 6:44 PM on October 20, 2007



Funny you should mention it


yes... photoshop is an effective alternative energy source.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2007


[fake-applauds zachminds performance of a retarded boy attempting to be witty.]
posted by five fresh fish at 7:05 PM on October 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Perhaps a useful way of thinking about this is to say, this means a 1% inprovement in the efficency of ships will reduce C02 emmisions as much as a 2% gain in the efficency of aircraft. I don't think anyone is suggesting we should send things via air rather than sea or that aircraft are more efficent at moing freight than ships.
posted by adamt at 7:08 PM on October 20, 2007


Speaking of ships, if the arctic becomes devoid of ice — and that seems inevitable now — what does that do for shipping? Surely there are polar routes that would halve the costs (environmental and economical), eh?

We're rapidly heading to a place where economical is going to become synonymous with environmental.

What I do have to wonder, though, is that if Greenland used to be farmable, then it must have been several degrees warmer than it is now. Which means the arctic on the whole would have been warmer than it is now. Which means there was no arctic ice...

...so, what did those Vikings get up to, seeing as they likely had pretty good access across the north passage, and possibly even the polar passage if the winds and currents aren't too wonky at the pole.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:18 PM on October 20, 2007


if the arctic becomes devoid of ice — and that seems inevitable now — what does that do for shipping?

Maybe we'll get that Northwest Passage after all.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2007


We already have the NW Passage. Real use of it will begin within the next two years. I think we can take it to the bank.

But what about the true polar route? Norway to Alaska?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:38 PM on October 20, 2007


China to East Coast?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:39 PM on October 20, 2007


polar routes, China to East Coast.

Sweet straight shot from Norway to Alaska. And not far from there to the west coast ports.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:43 PM on October 20, 2007


> Just when I thought ships were the way to go

The way to go is to be happy where you are.
posted by jfuller at 7:46 PM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, there is the North East Passage, from Asia to Europe.
posted by stbalbach at 7:56 PM on October 20, 2007


If things get bad enough, I wouldn't be shocked if there was a return to using sails for ships (at least until new clean fuels could be developed).

The other thing I could see would be the return of using canals. I was wondering whether it would be possible to tow a barge along a canal using something like a magnet for propulsion.
posted by drezdn at 8:33 PM on October 20, 2007


We already have the NW Passage.

I meant the Lewis and Clark NW Passage, the one that goes over the Rockies.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:06 PM on October 20, 2007


Heh. The rockies are thousands of feet high. There's not enough water in the world. But an Alaska to Norway cruise line is a very disturbing thought to me. I suppose 20 years from now young people will take it as a given that the only place with ice is the kitchen freezer.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 9:57 PM on October 20, 2007


And what would be the emissions of gigantic helium-filled airships?

Well, one of their principal emissions would be helium, which although it is basically inert and non-toxic, is not a renewable resource* here on Earth. Helium is so light that once released into the atmosphere it rises to the top, where it's eventually lost to space.

Currently, most of our helium comes as a by-product of natural gas extraction, since He tends to 'contaminate' the gas. At one point I think it was just wasted to the atmosphere, but today it's either separated and sold, or pumped back into the ground for storage. There are some other ways of getting it (the other main sources would be directly from radioactive decay or from the very high atmosphere where it tends to end up), but ground extraction is by far the cheapest and least energy-intensive.

There's no real shortage of it right now, but if you started using it in massive quantities for transportation, you'd probably start needing to worry about it in a few generations.

* Well, it's "renewable" in the same sense that fossil fuels are; they regenerate over geologic time periods, but not on a useful human timescale. Most underground helium comes from the decay of naturally radioactive elements, I think. (In contrast to the stuff in the stars, which is older.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:13 PM on October 20, 2007


G'd evenin'. Another interesting story behind the bunker ship (but also the recreational fleet -the Love Boat!) pollution, is who owns it. And therefore who is accountable. This is because ownership, control and registration (usually countries with favorable taxation, Cyprus, Liberia, Greece etc) do not always coincide. And which country has the largest merchant fleet? Or the oldest, or the most polluting?

Moreover, the navigability (I am pretty sure I heard this word somewhere, I didn't just make it up) of the Arctic ocean raises questions of where are the borders of the neighboring countries. Till now, the bottom of the Arctic Ocean was not fully cartographed (unbelievable, you say? -yup), but receding ice lets us do this now. Continental shelf and slope, extent of the maritime continent, rich in oil, new fishing habitats and new sailable(?) routes will give rise to competing interests between countries such as the US, Russia, Canada even Denmark. A couple of days ago CNN had a nice fellow from the US Coast Guard give his opinion on the matter (sorry I cannot find the link now, if anyone does, I am obliged). You gotta love it when officers like that exhibit far better judgment than other (really almost all) higher ups.
posted by carmina at 12:10 AM on October 21, 2007


I think this is actually good news. As far as I know, tanker and container ship design hasn't changed that much in a long time. There are probably a lot of places, like hull design or use of alternative fuels where we can improve efficiency. Since shipping is a such a large part of CO2 release, any small increases in efficiency will help a lot. It won't be cheap, but it isn't a pie in the sky solution either.
posted by afu at 12:32 AM on October 21, 2007


Dear stbalbach, thanks for depressing the crap out of me... :)

Anyhow, my 2 cents: today's ships are instruments of evil. I can't even begin to list all the stories, references and documentaries about how evil they are. While I do agree that ships are most likely the most fuel efficient choice available for shipping stuff from many points A to many points B they're also burdened with great evil:

  • they tend to be very efficient carriers of invasive species (both stuck to the hull and/or trapped in ballast water

  • there is usually no efforts made at all to clean up ships' exhaust fumes which, as a consequence, rank among the most dirty and noxious there are. Areas near large harbors are not areas where you want to live unless you want to wheeze your way to an early death.

  • there is a widespread practice of dumping ship waste somewhere out on the open ocean where noone gives a shit or enforces international law because it's a lot cheaper than dealing with the burdensome environmental laws of some or other nation

  • there is an almost equally widespread habit of making extra cash by (usually illegally) sneaking industrial waste out onto the open sea and dumping it there (if no 3rd world country can be found that'll let you dump anything in someone's backyard)

  • there is virtually no enforcement of existing international law outside of national waters

  • many ships run under the flags of countries that impose no further laws and regulations on them beyond what meager international laws there are

  • the only way to put pressure on shipping companies to clean up their act is by blocking them from entering ports which most countries won't ever do and the few that do do it on occasion only do it in the most horrific cases of publicly revealed ship-related evilness because ocean shipping lines are the main arteries of today's global economy


  • On the bright side: ships may be able to save lots of fuel by deploying one of these fancy new kite-style sails.
    posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:33 AM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


    TeaTimeGromit, I think the Hindenburg's frame was aluminum.
    posted by pax digita at 2:31 AM on October 21, 2007


    Ships however, are not as evil as the could be. There are success stories in improvement in their greenness. Oil tankers suffer buildup of a tarry substance in their holds called 'clingage', that was usually hosed out of the hold with high pressure sea water and then dumped in the ocean. Nowadays tankers usually use their own oil cargo for the hosing instead of sea water and the clingage is just unloaded with the rest of the cargo at the destination. Refineries can still use it.
    The sticking of sealife to the hull is actually something the shipping companies want to avoid, as it is a drag on the ship. One solution has been a toxic paint that makes it unpleasant for life to live there. The same toxicity though can leak into the ocean and effects can be unpleasant. Nowadays the most egregious of those paints has been banned, since new and environmentally mindful solutions exist.
    posted by Catfry at 4:02 AM on October 21, 2007


    It may be more environmental friendly to eat Spanish olive oil than BC greenhouse grown olive oil. Local isn't necessarily environmental.

    Another option (and probably the best one, environmentally and logically) is to not use olive oil. The worst environmental problem in the world is that people feel entitled to have everything that exists or can be made to exist.

    But if you must have something from far away, don't fly it. It takes a lot more energy to keep something in the air than to float it or roll it.
    posted by pracowity at 6:52 AM on October 21, 2007


    Unless it's zeppelin'd, pracowity. That's a great way to airship stuff.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 AM on October 21, 2007


    I agree entirely with pracowity. Adapting to changing conditions will probably mean that we need to change attitudes more than practices. The practices will follow. It will have to become synonymous to 'bad taste' to maintain a lawn in Arizona, or banana trees in British Columbia, having to drive for two hours to get discount products, shipping brands from overseas that you can very well produce locally. As for the olive oil example, there can be other perfectly fine fruit oils produced locally with as much benefit as the olive oil, not the same flavor but certainly similar health benefits.
    posted by carmina at 10:15 AM on October 21, 2007


    Eating local is fashionable but its a complicated problem. Take olive oil for example. Olives grow on trees which are a low carbon crop, unlike seed crops (canola, etc) which require new crops every season with all the fertilizer and tractors. So olive oil from Spain might be less carbon than other oils grown closer. Or if you opt for locally made butter, cows are even worse for the environment. Economies of scale can make shipping across country cheaper (in carbon terms) than many individuals driving to country farmers markets instead of the closer grocery store. No one has really done a deep study and analysis of this but the "eat local" philosophy is a lot more complex than it might seem.
    posted by stbalbach at 10:38 AM on October 21, 2007


    It may be more environmental friendly to eat Spanish olive oil than BC greenhouse grown olive oil. Local isn't necessarily environmental.

    It's a bit of a red herring, but groups with a vested interest in the export marketing are pushing this argument mightily. The bottom line is that people shouldn't grow foods in climates that don't support them well - the resource cost is too high. Eating locally also means eating seasonally and in a way that is appropriate to the climate, or you're not solving any problems. Imported foods that we don't want to do without (coffee, chocolate, olive oil) are still fine choices, butan environmentally responsible ethic means you choose them less often and choose local foods more often.

    People actually have done deep study and analysis of it -- the WorldWatch Institute is the main analyst of the 'food miles' concept. Despite mentions of the few straw-man products, for the most part, making more local food choices has a definite global impact for the positive.
    posted by Miko at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2007


    Great, now Sean Hannity will call Al Gore a hypocrite for purchasing anything that came in on a cargo ship.
    posted by afx114 at 3:56 PM on October 21, 2007


    Unless it's zeppelin'd, pracowity. That's a great way to airship stuff.

    On paper. The space shuttle also used to look good on paper: economical, reusable, fast turnaround, etc. Let me know when someone has a fleet of safe, ecological, economical, dependable freight zeppelins working the world's shipping ports and manufacturing centers.

    Eating locally also means eating seasonally and in a way that is appropriate to the climate

    But people refuse to hear that. They don't want to be told that they just shouldn't be eating tropical fruits in Chicago in February. If you leave it to individual consumers to decide, people will never eat locally again, not unless taxes and the like are used to force up the prices of stupid purchases.
    posted by pracowity at 9:07 PM on October 21, 2007


    I agree somewhat, pracowity. But besides pricing strategies, there a couple of other things that work - making it fashionable is one. Recycling is now considered the only responsible thing to do with certain refuse, and no one thought Americans would be willing to do it thirty years ago. Disregarding for a moment the problems of recycling, it became the respectable thing in the eyes of regular people.

    In addition to applying taxes to stupid purchases (only makes sense, as public money bears the real cost in hidden tax forms today), I'm also in favor of programs to drive down the price of decent purchases to make them more attractive.

    Another method is to avoid the all-or-nothing mentality and talking about a "better choices/more often" model for change. This emphasizes that even if we switched over only 10% of our food budget to locally sourced foods, there would be a noticeable impact in several areas. Fuel use is one, but quality of life and preservation of open space is another. My home state today loses between 6000 and 10,000 acres of farmland per year to development because the farms cannot generate enough income to sustain themselves in the marketplace. The Dept. of Agriculture is now saying that if every household in the state shifted just 10% of their food budget to buying from within the state, we woud have a net farmland loss of zero.

    But yeah, we have been suckled on a culture of convenience and year-round, 24-7 availability of all food. Our choices are limited only by our passing cravings and our personal budgets. People would find it miserable to make a sudden shift. But we weren't even beginning to be aware of these issues just 30 years ago.
    posted by Miko at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2007


    Recycling is now considered the only responsible thing to do with certain refuse, and no one thought Americans would be willing to do it thirty years ago.

    I doubt the wealthy are doing a whole lot of recycling.

    Not unless their hired help are doing it for them.
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:15 PM on October 22, 2007


    Of course they are, it's mandated. Common practice in most households today regardless of income. Our city, for instance, will give you a ticket for unseparated trash.

    A lot of people who are wealthy don't have hired help and couldn't afford it.
    posted by Miko at 7:21 PM on October 22, 2007


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