Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Listen to the slaves, they know. 

I have for a long time been a proponent of Venezuela trying to follow the East Asian model of economic development which relies very heavily on being able to export to other, more developed, countries.

In all the long discussions on this one objection has been consistently raised by a comments section critic named Slave Revolt - namely that international trade is an econological disaster due to all the pollution transporting goods between countries creates. He therefore asserted that Chavez is correct in trying to base Venezuela's development on meeting Venezuela's own internal needs rather than on exporting to others.

I have never heard of international trade itself being a significant source of pollution. Also, I have been so sold on the Korean model of development for so long I am not particularly welcoming of objections to it. Finally, the person raising this objection is just another scribe in a lowly blog comments section - so why should I take the objection seriously and even bother to look into it.

Well, not making myself look like a complete idiot and ignoramus would have been a good reason to look into it. Or maybe just to be a little less arrogant in my views would have been another good reason. Or failing all that, just learning the facts of this case would have been a good idea for someone who claims to run a "fact based blog".

But no, I never doubted myself, never doubted the insignificance of SR's assertions, and never looked into his statements at all. Instead it took this from the front page of today's Wall Street Journal to smack me upside the head with reality:

Ships Draw Fire For Rising Role In Air Pollution
By Bruce Stanley

As air pollution rises on the global political agenda, pressure is mounting on a largely hidden and proliferating source of dangerous emissions: the shipping industry.

The corpuscles of the global economy, ships carry more than 90% of the world's merchandise by volume, and the tonnage of cargo sent by ships has tripled since 1970. Yet the fuel propelling them is cheap and dirty and produces an especially noxious exhaust.

Ships release more sulfur dioxide, a sooty pollutant associated with acid rain, than all of the world's cars, trucks and buses combined, according to a March study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. That study also found that ships produced an estimated 27% of the world's smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions in 2005. Only six countries in the world emitted more greenhouse gases -- which trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the globe -- than was produced collectively in 2001 by all ships larger than 100 tons, according to the study and United Nations statistics.


One big culprit is the industry's favorite fuel. Most ships rely on residual fuel oil, also known as bunker fuel, to power their huge engines. Bunker is a tar like substance left over from the refining of petroleum. It often contains toxic heavy metals such as lead and vanadium....

It is also cheap. A recent spot price for intermediate-grade bunker fuel traded in Singapore averaged $404.50 a metric ton, less than two-thirds the rate of marine gas oil, a distillate similar to what diesel trucks use.

"Ship owners have had a very cheap fuel that's packed with energy, and the refiners have an outlet for their waste product", says Ian Adams, secretary-general of the International Bunker Association....

That synergy has come at a cost. This month, a peer-reviewed study in the American Chemical Society's journal of Environmental Science & Technology estimated that underregulated air pollution from ships is causing 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung-cancer dealths annually, mostly along trade routes in Asia and Europe.

At current rates of growth, oceangoing ships will generate 53% of the particulates, 46% of the nitrogen oxides and more than 94% of the sulfur oxides emitted by all forms of transportation in the U.S. by 2030, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. That compares with levels for the same pollutants in 2001 of 17%, 12% and 49%, respectively, according to the EPA.

Now, you think the solution is to simply build better, more efficient ships? Nope, that won't work.

Yet the ravenous appetite of consumers for imported goods is growing so fast that marginal cuts in emissions would likely make no difference. Even a 30% decrease in carbon emissions from ships could be offsett by the expanding size of the world's fleet, says Russell Long, vice president of environmental group Friends of the Earth, a respected authority on the subject.

A U.N. study concluded that a 10% reduction in sailing speeds could cut ships' carbon-dioxide output by 23%. But slower speeds would likely prompt shipping lines to deploy more ships to satisfy their customers. "By adding vessels, you'd burn more fuel and generate more pollution, and the benefit of going slower might be canceled out," says Stanley Shen, a spokesman for Orient Overseas (International) Ltd., a shipping concern based in Hong Kong.

Much of the rest of the article is even more depressing and no real solutions are offered. Well, other than this one at the end of the article:

SkySails of Hamburg, Germany, is already marketing a "towing kite propulsion systems" - large parasials - that it claims can reduce a ship's fuel cost by as much as 35%. The first commercial cargo ship to be equipped with SkySails parasails will enter service in December.

Well, there is an opportunity for Venezuela - they can set up co-ops to make sails for all the sailing ships the world is going to go back to using!!

All I can say is ignorance was bliss. The solution to Venezuela's problems was a lot more obvious when they could simply concentrate on building up export industries as South Korea did.

Of course, that idea is not dead - the alternatives still have their old flaws too. But it is on life support. And I've learned that maybe I should take some of the information from the comments section a bit more seriously. After all, that you are just a slave doesn't mean you don't know anything, obviously.


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