Cargo Ships: Politics, Money and lots of Pollution

Standards for fuel and car emissions have been in place for a long time now.  As happens in most situations the law of diminishing returns is in play.  That means that each additional gain costs more for a smaller gain than the one before.  What normally happens in politics is that an idea gets into the minds and they keep pushing for more and more stringent regulations that have less and less benefit.

One such example right now is the car industry.  Ever increasing requirements for cars have very little return.  The good news is that cars are fuel efficient and generate little pollution.  Of course most new cars in the western world have been like that for at least 10 years.  As I have pointed out before, the next phase of fuels will actually cause more pollution as ethanol percentages increase.

While cars have gotten the worlds attention (and increased the price of cars all the while), what hasn’t gotten the attention is the worlds cargo ships.  On average 10 cars produce 1 kg of SOx/SO2 per year.  On average each cargo ship produces 500 tons per year.  The largest cargo ships produce 10 times that.  Here are the numbers for cargo ships as given by here:


The world’s biggest container ships have 109,000 horsepower engines which weigh 2,300 tons.

Each ship expects to operate 24hrs a day for about 280 days a year

There are 90,000 ocean-going cargo ships

Shipping is responsible for 18-30% of all the world’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 9% of the global sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution.

One large ship can generate about 5,000 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution in a year

70% of all ship emissions are within 400km of land.

85% of all ship pollution is in the northern hemisphere.

Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions


There are roughly 8,333 cars for each cargo ship in the world.  The cars use far more fuel, but far less pollution.  The main reason for the difference in pollution is the fuel that is used.  The cargo ships use a dirty tar like sludge called bunker fuel that was commonly used prior to WWII.  There are no standards for sulfur or other contaminants in that fuel.  As a result they produce far more pollution than they should.

Once again CO2 is given higher priority to actual pollution.  While cars and the fuels they use have been highly regulated to limit pollution for decades, nothing has been done on bunker fuel, yet.  It looks like over the next ten years some standards will be put in place, but that will only be in a few places.  If a similar emphasis had been placed on pollution reduction instead of CO2, this is a problem that would have been solved long ago.

Posted in Cap & Trade by inconvenientskeptic on November 26th, 2010 at 10:50 am.

1 comment

This post has one comment

  1. GregO Dec 2nd 2010

    Inconvenient Skeptic,

    Referring to C02 as a “pollutant” or “poisoning the atmosphere” with C02 is patently ridiculous; but unfortunately such statements are common in our culture of global-warming scare-mongering. Look at the recent EPA endangerment finding that C02:

    Have we lost sight of real poisons and pollutants like neurotoxic mercury compounds, heavy metals, and sulfates?

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