To Save the Planet, Build Bigger Ships?
Danish shipping line Maersk is building a fleet of supersized cargo ships that it claims will slash the per-container carbon emissions of shipping on China-Europe routes. The company says that its Triple-E (“economy of scale, energy efficiency and environmentally improved”) ships, each carrying 18,000 20-foot-long containers, will emit half the average amount of carbon dioxide per container compared to other ships. The new boats are so large that only 8 ports (three in Europe, one in Egypt, and four in Asia) can handle them.
Given worldwide demand for bananas and flat-screen televisions, it's no surprise that the carbon impact of the shipping industry will soon be surpassed only by that of cars, housing, agriculture, and industry. For starters, the shipping industry traditionally burns cheap but heavily polluting “bunker” fuel, and today's average cargo ship consumes 200 tons of fuel per day. (The megaships purportedly halve that.) As recently disclosed by the UK's Guardian, a leaked UN study contends that annual emissions of carbon dioxide from the world’s merchant fleet have reached 1.12 billion tons, or nearly 4.5 percent of all global greenhouse-gas emissions. The aviation industry is responsible for about 650 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year.