The next time you buy groceries, a laptop, or that shiny iThingn+1, take a moment and think about the emissions your purchase just generated.
Sometimes, it’s easy to imagine that perhaps the shiny apple you bought when it’s in season in Upstate New York only had to travel by tractor trailer a few hundred miles. Still, buying local and in season gives you god prices and reduces the emissions your little apple generated. On the other hand, maybe it’s not so easy to see the impact your off-season Chilean apple makes, or any electronics that make their way from far overseas.
For the most part, about 90% of global trade takes place on giant container ships, the least regulated vehicles, regarding emissions and pollution standards. One of the largest octuplet container ships in the world, the Emma Mærsk, for example, has a 114,800 horsepower turbodiesel engine that consumes about 16 tons of fuel per hour. One container ship’s emissions equals that of approximately 50 million vehicles per year.
Part of the problem is the fuel itself. The world’s 90,000+ container ships burn “bunker fuel,” which is basically what’s left over from the refining process after everything usable has been extracted from the raw petroleum. Bunker fuel contains about 2,000 times more sulfur than vehicular diesel fuel, which translates to about 20 million tons of sulfur oxide emissions per year, about 260 times worse than the world’s diesel vehicles.
Oddly enough, there has been very little interest in improving container ships’ fuel economy or emissions. There is barely anything resembling a regulation, and the most anyone has done is make suggestions. Following suggestions is voluntary, and the result is simply millions of tons of emissions that far outstrip the world’s automobile fleet. Is anyone paying attention to this?