The evils of international trade

This one looks like it\’s going to run and run:

TOXIC emissions from ships are killing prematurely an estimated 39,000 people a year across Europe, with Britain among the worst-affected countries, research has shown.

Won\’t the greenies be happy, yet another stick to beat international trade over the head with. However:

Such findings were reinforced this month by research from Stockholm University’s applied environmental sciences department published in Atmospheric Environment, an academic journal. Its figures suggest that particulates and other airborne pollutants from all sources caused about 546,000 premature deaths across Europe each year.

Ah, such international trade accounts for less than 5% of the total problem.

But let\’s look at the numbers a little more dispassionately.

39,000 prematuire deaths out of 500 million people. 0.008% of the population. Hmm, do the benefits to the 99.992% of the population outweigh the clearly serious costs of death to the 0.008%? Your call is as good as anyone else\’s quite frankly.

But what can we do about it? Well, there are two pollutants. Particularates and SOx. Now, to deal with only the SOx we\’d need to get the ships using the same low sulphur fuel that trucks do. How much would this cost?

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.

And from the article we get a number of 289 million tonnes a year used. $60 billion a year just to clean up the SOx….remember, we\’ve done nothing about particularates as yet. That\’s a global figure so we need to raise the deaths from being among 500 million to the global level. Multiply by 12 as a rough guess.

Half a million people.

So, is it worth spending $60 billion to dave 500,000 lives? Each year, that is, both the costs and the lives.

When we look at road safety we use £100,000 per life saved per year as our guide. So $60 billion to clean up the SOx and £50 billion in the value of the lives saved.

Perhaps we do in fact do this then.

Except, well, we\’ve got one missing thing here. We don\’t know how many of the deaths are due to particularates (which our $60 billion does nothing about) and how many SOx is responsible for.

And until we do know that split we\’re not sure that we do indeed want to go ahead with this plan.

3 thoughts on “The evils of international trade”

  1. “Figures suggested”… “Figures suggested”… “Figures suggested”…

    Sounds like a standard data-dredged, epidimiological, load of bollocks.

  2. I’m a little confused how we know how many deaths were premature. How do we know how long they would otherwise have lived?

    I’m also confused about how we establish causality.

    And how do we know that the alternative courses of action would have had no impact on mortality? If we spend $60bn on switching to low-sulphur fuel, that’s $60bn that’s not going to be spent on other things (unless that switch has some magical stimulative effect).

    It’s not even as simple as that, because the figures quoted assume a static, aggregative economy, when it is actually dynamic and marginal. What, for instance, will be the impact of increasing the demand for and value of low-sulphur fuel and sweet crude and reducing the demand for and value of high-sulphur fuel and sour crude? They don’t have a magic wand to change one factor without affecting thousands of others, yet they calculate and pontificate as though they do.

    I really do hate these “scientists” and “journalists” who pronounce on estimations and projections as though they were certainties. They either don’t understand economics and statistics or are ignoring them in pursuit of a political agenda.

  3. [Sorry, meant to point out that it’s “particulates” not “particularates”. Wouldn’t have commented, but you repeated the mistake 3 times, so I assume it’s a misunderstanding, not a typo.]

    Tim adds: Indeed, me being wrong. Not that this is unusual of course….

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