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October 10, 2008

By the Sea


What with recent studies indicating that seafreight is one of the least carbon-intensive modes of transport it's important to keep in mind that carbon emissions aren't the only measure of environmental impact. Freighters burn what's called bunker fuel, also known as Residual Fuel Oil, which should tell you something about what's in it. It's practically a distillate byproduct of gasoline production and has high levels of sulphur dioxide, among other nasty pollutants. No wonder the ginormous Port of Long Beach in Southern California is nicknamed the "Diesel Death Zone."

Now, given my post of yesterday, the cynics out there might assume I'm all in favor of burning bunker fuel to help cool the planet. But they would be wrong. So it's a good thing that we're one step closer to cleaner maritime fuel. The International Maritime Organization just announced stringent new limits on pollution from freighters. And though some writers have speculated that we'd be better off buying products shipped by sea rather than flown by air, it's also true that the international merchant fleet already accounts for 4.5% of worldwide carbon emissions - twice as much as airfreight according to a UN study. That's a lot of carbon.

While we're on the subject of big boats and the damage they wreak, there was another bit of somewhat positive news. The NYT reported yesterday that the National Marine Fisheries Service has finally set speed limits in certain areas off the coast of the northeastern US in order to prevent collisions between ships and the endangered right whale (all 400 of them). Fun fact - it's called the right whale because it was the "right whale" to hunt back in the day given its enormous size and slow speed. Nice, huh? Anyway, the restrictions will expire in 5 years assuming President Obama doesn't extend them.

Photo by jmmcdgll used under CC license

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