For All Our Sakes, Let’s Hope Shipping Cleans Up Its Act!

Everybody likes to blame the pollution in our cities on our cars. They do emit pollution, especially poorly maintained cars, and there are quite a lot of them, and they make an easy scapegoat. But they are far from the worst offenders. Every since the introduction of the catalytic converter, we have the reality that the riding mower you use you cut your lawn is probably more polluting than the car you drive to work every day.

People who put a little more thought into it blame the trucking industry. Those 18 wheelers are big, burn a lot of gas, and, in olden days, used to emit more fumes than a small mill. But that was yesteryear. Today, these trucks are as clean as the common automobile and, in some cases, cleaner as many shipping giants are experimenting with, and moving to, hybrids.

And airplanes aren’t the problem either. Modern jets take a lot of expensive fuel to run, which airlines don’t want to pay for. Plus, unless the burn is clean, you can’t get the same power.

The real problem are container ships. As per my post back in 2009 where I asked, What’s Worse? The Personal Automobile or 15 container ships, a single giant container ship can emit the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 Million cars in the course of a year. Think about that. There are roughly 250 Million passenger vehicles in the US, which says that it only takes 6 container ships to produce more pollution than all of the vehicles on the road! And there are over 10,000 container ships in the world!

So what brings on this rant again? A recent article over on on how shipping looks to clean up its act. According to the article, some ships are now burning low-sulfur fuel while in port, which can reduce toxic sulfur dioxide emissions by 85%. And this is supposed to be a good thing. First of all, at an 85% reduction, that means the ship could still be as damaging 7.5 Million automobiles. Ouch! Secondly, ships spend most of the time at sea. If they are still burning high-sulfur fuel at sea, then, at least three quarters of the time, they are as polluting as ever, which means the 85% pollution reduction in port, reduces their pollution output by at most 20%.

At least (part of) the IMO (International Maritime Organization) greenhouse gas reduction program comes into effect this year and, for the first time ever, includes CO2 emissions. Maybe now that the industry is forced to do something, we’ll see some progress. Because, as noted by Chew Hwee Hong, a good 95% of (shipping industry green initiatives) is incentivized or is driven by international regulations. Shippers ain’t doing it for themselves!

Think about that next time you needlessly outsource something to China. No matter how many CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs you put in place, the minute that product hits the ship, you’re doing more environmental damage than you’re likely to negate with any lean or sustainable development / production program.