15 April 2009

Another Look at Shipping Emissions

A couple of years ago, it was all about plane flights. Environmentalists were worrying about the environmental impact of all the additional trips people were taking, compared to 30 or 40 years ago, for business as well as for fun, as well as about produce flown from one country to another.

Shipping stuff by sea seemed to be a far better alternative.

Now it turns out that governments have vastly underestimated the health and environmental impacts of shipping. According to recent studies reported in the Guardian, the 90,000 cargo ships plying the world's oceans are a significant source of emissions contributing to global warming, in part because of the size of the ships and their engines and in part because of the low-quality fuel used because shipping is subject to little regulation.

In response to problems with shipping emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules that would require ships to reduce emissions near the US and Canadian coasts. According to the New York Times:
The proposal calls for a 200-mile buffer zone in which shippers would be required to make large reductions in the pollutants they emit. For example, they would have to cut sulfur emissions 98 percent by 2015, by burning cleaner fuel or through a process of “scrubbing” exhaust gas to remove sulfur.
This seems like a good idea on the face of it: protect Americans from death and illness caused by toxic fumes. But the toxins emitted 201 miles out at sea aren't going to disappear. They'll still end up in the air and the water in America as well as elsewhere around the world, though maybe in somewhat less concentrated form than right around port cities.

What, then, is really needed?

One, clean up all the fuel used by all the tankers. And two, reduce shipping by buying less stuff and -- here we go again -- buying things locally grown and produced as much as possible.