Sorry, but I really don\’t believe this

Looking at the numbers used to bolster this scare story about shipping I spot a number that makes me really think quite hard about those very numbers.

OK, I\’m fully willing to agree that shipping tends to use very low grade stuff as bunker fuel. High sulphur stuff especially. I\’m also willing to believe that this is much more polluting, in certain ways, than the fuels we use elsewhere. But I do start to wonder when we start talking about the scale of the problem.

The new study by the Danish government\’s environmental agency adds to this picture. It suggests that shipping emissions cost the Danish health service almost £5bn a year, mainly treating cancers and heart problems.

Seriously? £5 billion a year on the NHS tab would be around 5% of that tab. We may or may not think that a reasonable value for what we get from shipping. But Denmark is a small place. only a few million people, certainly smaller than the  population of London. The Danish health budget in total is, if I\’ve got my zeroes properly lined up, around £10 billion. (admittedly, a 2000 AD number but useful to give an idea of scale and at market not PPP exchange rates.)

Saying that shipping emissions cause half of the health care costs in a rich industrialised country doesn\’t really pass the smell test, does it?

One might think that there\’s a certain air of bullshit about this.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world\’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world\’s 760m cars.

Scary stuff eh? But when you read the details it is as much of one particular pollutant, SOx. Not all pollutants.

The solution proposed is that there should be exclusion zones around Europe, just as the new one around the US. Those who use the high sulphur fuels won\’t be allowed to go into those ports. Sounds more liike a trade protectionist measure to me than anything else. Only the most modern, most expensive, ships will be able to do this, only those belonging to shipping lines from those rich countries.

9 comments on “Sorry, but I really don\’t believe this

  1. just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760m cars.

    Interesting choice of comparison. I am sure that if I had the time I could prove it to be false, but lets just examine the claim.

    Heavy fuel oil is 3.5% sulphur. Gasoline, is by nature a low sulphur fuel. Prior to Euro IV, nobody bothered to desulphurise it. Today in the EU the standard is 10 ppm (0.01% sulphur).
    Modern diesel the stuff that cars (not necessarily trucks) use is also 10ppm, 15ppm in USA.

    Now we are comparing vehicles that even under old specifications emit very little SOx with ones that use the most polluting fuel.

    What’s missing from this calculation?

    Heavy trucks! In the EU they also use 10ppm fuel. In Russia, to pick one example, they use 2000 ppm (2% sulphur) diesel. I am sure the same is true of China, India and many other places.

    Compare trucks worldwide to shipping and there will certainly not be the same eye popping contrast (even if the original one is true).

    On the subject of cost, at the best of times, the differential between heavy fuel oil and and low sulphur diesel is 200 USD per tonne. (At its peak last year it was >600 USD) If they are talking about 1% low sulphur fuel oil thats a more acceptable $20-30 differential.

    All types of ship should be able to use the lower sulphur fuels.

    If there is protectionism involved, it probably has more to do with production of the fuels.

  2. So, are the world’s merchantmen and dockers gasping their way to work, and falling over with cancer?

    Or does the real world not matter compared to computer models and data dredges?

  3. This is reminiscent of, I think it was New Zealand, when they were bringing in their smoking ban, and as propaganda the government declared that smoking was costing the country some ludicrous figure that was, can’t remember, about a quarter of GDP or something.

    What they’d actually done was a survey which asked people a very silly question- “what do you think a human life is worth?” and the survey respondents had averaged out at about a million quid. They then multiplied that by the number of computer-model passive smoking deaths and got a figure so ludicrously high that it was instantly accepted by everyone. Generally, in temperance campaigns (as all health/environment/green campaigns are), the sillier the figure the more believable it is. Nobody knows why this is.

  4. And, remembering our Bastiat, what about what the eye doesn’t see? If we restrict shipping even further (volumes having dropped off a cliff in this recession), will people simply stop wanting the stuff that would have travelled by boat? Or will they look for other ways to get it, more expensively, and quite possibly more pollutingly? Will we try to produce here what can be produced more efficiently abroad (qv Adam Smith’s example of wine-production in Scotland)? Or will we ship some of it by other means?

    Given that these figures are absolute, not relative to volume or value of product carried, do they seriously think that emissions would reduce (other than through the further deterioration of the global economy that would result) if we placed restrictions on shipping?

    Price emissions rationally and leave it to the market. My guess is that shipping would move to lower-sulphur or alternative fuels and the market-shares of the various transport-modes would remain roughly the same.

  5. More likely is that in keeping with just about every announcement made by an “environmental agency”, the figures are complete bollocks.

  6. Ship’s SOx emissions cool the planet.

    One of the reasons for a spike in temperatures in the 1990s was removing sulphur compounds from coal-fired power stations’ effluent in the 1980s.

    Now admittedly warming reduces the death toll, but I wonder if they have merged one set of fake figures with another set and considered the impact on global warming?

  7. Only the most modern, most expensive, ships will be able to do this, only those belonging to shipping lines from those rich countries.

    Such as Maersk Shipping? Yeah, this is protectionism pure and simple.

  8. Its not just environment types, health types are just as bad. Here in Australia one is always hearing 5 million Australians have this disease, 1 in 4 have that one. When you tot it all up, everyone must have at least half a dozen life threatening diseases, including the 1 million who are simultaneously obese and anorexic.

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