Adventures in the Shipping Industry

Finally! There’s someone out there who is just as excited about shipping as I am.

Today, Rose George, a British journalist and author, releases what I think will be the blockbuster of the summer – Ninety Percent of Everythingzeroing in on the overlooked world of freight shipping. Or, what Ms. George refers to as “the foundation of our civilization.” I couldn’t agree more. Photo Credit: Amazon

Besides the fact that this book looks at the world of freight as a grand adventure full of perils and twists, I’m excited because now the mainstream can look at shipping and freight in terms of environmental effects.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the TV’s we watch get from wherever they were created into our lives. I, however, do.  And now so does Ms. George.

Our growing demand for products at competitive prices has put a ton of pressure on the freight industry. This demand has in turn driven up global freight emissions – to the tune of nearly three billion metric tons of heat-trapping carbon emissions each year. That’s equal to over 700 coal plants.

Looking at just the shipping industry, according to this book, if you added shipping to the list of the world's most carbon polluting countries, shipping would come in sixth place. This is despite the fact that shipping is the most carbon-efficient way to move products long distances.

The shipping industry often points to this last fact, but the kicker of the environmental impact of these ships is their direct impact on human health. These vessels run on low grade “residual fuel” or “bunker fuel.” This fuel contains sulfur levels 1,800 times greater than U.S. law allows for other diesel engines. These ships are also a significant source of smog-forming oxides of nitrogen.

Dr. Elena Craft, a health scientist with EDF, has noted that “the dangerous air pollution from these floating smokestacks is a threat to tens of millions of Americans who live and work along our coastlines.”

It is because of this impact that the U.S. established an Emission Control Area (ECA) within 200 nautical miles of U.S. coastlines. Within the ECA, large ocean-going ships must now use cleaner fuel and — starting in 2016 — achieve an 80 percent reduction in smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

This ECA provides the strongest clean air standards available under international law for ships, slashing ozone-forming and particulate pollution from oceangoing vessels and saving up to 14,000 lives a year by 2020 and 30,000 lives by 2030.

I agree with Elena’s sentiment that “America has the ingenuity to meet these vitally important clean air standards and protect human health and the environment from the serious impacts associated with shipping pollution.”

The shipping industry is a true marvel of modern society. It enables all of us to obtain a higher standard of living because it fosters international trade. It also has a significant environmental footprint.

Our demand for global goods isn’t going to diminish. So, we need to find a way to address the freight industry’s environmental impact.  At EDF we’re doing what we do best. We’re actively supporting the development and enforcement of the emission control areas; piloting innovative programs to clean-up our nation’s ports; and we are working with some of the largest companies relying on freight to find ways to reduce emissions throughout their operations.

I’m excited to buy Rose George’s new book today and get a peek inside the fascinating system.  And, it’s the freight system, of course, that I’m relying on to get the book to my local bookstore.

For more cocktail party tidbits from Ninety Percent of Everything, check out these 10 fascinating facts.