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The Air We Breathe: The Environmental Costs of Transporting Goods Around the Globe PDF Print E-mail
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Premier Gordon Campbell heralded the Gateway Plan saying: British Columbia is Canada’s gateway to the Pacific. Last year, $81 billion worth of goods and 22 million tourists passed through our ports and airports, along our highways and railways and across our bridges and borders. To sustain the success of our economy and communities, we need an effective and integrated transportation network.

The province has committed $1.1 billion over three years in direct provincial investment to a program that will:

* Improve safety and reliability for travellers and businesses.
* Expand B.C. as Canada?s trade gateway to the world, through improved ports, airports and border crossings.
* Revitalize B.C.?s economy through a more efficient, cost-effective and competitive transportation system.
* Support B.C.?s communities and their resource industries, tourism and businesses.
* Free up the movement of goods in B.C.
* Expand our transportation infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population.
* Provide needed investment with no new public debt.

Download the entire Transportation Plan for B.C. (3.8MB).

I recalled environmental costs of shipping that Joel Makower of Grist brought to light when he wrote:

Ships routinely exchange ballast water while in port as cargo is loaded or unloaded. The water pumped out of the ship is alive with organisms from ports previously visited. One analysis of ballast water from foreign ships entering Canada found as many as 12,392 marine creatures per cubic meter. The survivors often invade their adopted homes, sometimes wreaking havoc; the zebra mussel fouling the Great Lakes is just one example.

We all know that planes, trains, and automobiles use gobs of fuel and spew mega-gobs of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere — and that makes freight transport a particularly dirty business.

The environmental impacts of shipping goods hither and yon are significant but relatively obscure, the true costs hidden amid complex shipping tariffs and product price tags. Businesses that rely on products being moved from one place to another have been able to do little to change the performance of truck, rail, and marine cargo companies. Moreover, cargo companies haven’t been on most environmental activists’ radar screens.

But that’s changing. The growing focus on climate and energy — along with such evergreen issues as biodiversity and air and water pollution — have brought shipping’s environmental impacts into the fast lane. Activists are starting to wage campaigns against dirty shippers. And a handful of companies, including some of the world’s largest freight haulers, are beginning to take action.

Of course, ground and air freight have impacts, too. Truck and rail represent about 17 percent of all transport-related climate emissions. Over the past four decades, freight-truck vehicle-miles have increased more than 50 percent, while fuel efficiency has grown only about 12 percent. Overall, the 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel used by truck and rail companies each year produce more than 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, aircraft transport boasts greater fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions per ton-mile than any other mode of transport. And their emissions’ negative impacts are amplified due to the high altitude where they occur.

According to the study of the 2005 emissions inventory of ocean-going ship emissions released February 2007, international marine traffic is British Columbia’s second-largest industrial source of greenhouse gas. This was the first authoritative study in 7 years and showed commercial vessels plying British Columbia’s south coast are collectively emitting 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and significant volumes of nine other contaminants and greenhouse gasses.

A Guardian story claimed shipping produces 2.5 times the amount of emissions that airlines create. And if it is a question between carbon emission levels for shipping cargo by ship or by plane then the numbers indicate ships are the better choice.

Treehugger reported and now Sami Grover, Carrboro, NC, USA has an intestesting update.

Interestingly, New Scientist takes a slightly different angle on why aviation is getting so much stick, while shipping remains relatively untouched by protests. Aside from the fact that aviation is set to grow faster than shipping, NS also points out that the aviation industry is easier to pressure than the shipping industry. While many airlines are recognized high-profile brands, it?s a fairly safe bet that most consumers could not name too many freight ship operators or manufacturers.

According to Catherine Brahic, New Scientist Online environment reporter:

… there could be another reason, speculates Timothy Herzog of the World Resources Institute, which gets credit from me for generating large amounts of useful statistics on the environment. Tim points out that the airline industry is much more high profile than the shipping industry, despite the fact that shipping is underpins global trade. While we have to board the plane ourself when we go on holiday, it’s easy to forget about the ships that brought us those pineapples from Africa and DVD players from Asia. …

The automobile is B.C.’s greatest source of greenhouse gas at 41 per cent or 4.3 million tonnes per year but plans to expand Canada’s top port could soon bring the B.C. marine sector close to the automobile.

Karen Wristen, executive director of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, says a tripling of marine traffic — and the emissions that would create — could be just a few years away. The B.C. government’s Gateway plan includes a third berth and a second terminal at Deltaport container port.

The Senate Commitee on Transport and Communications began public hearings in Vancouver on March 13th as part of a study on Canada’s Ports and containerized freight traffic. Two days into the hearing the Committee was told that Canada’s Pacific gateway is currently creaking under the strains of growth, during hearings this week in Vancouver.

The Deltaport container terminal, for example, was put into “meltdown mode” early last November with a backlog of freight that it still hasn’t been able to clear because railways haven’t been able to deliver enough rail cars to handle the freight.

The committee will hold further hearings seeking direction on how to improve Canada’s containerized trade in Halifax and Ottawa before reporting back to the Senate in the fall.

It’s much easier to put pressure on the airline industry to make emissions cuts. But will our Premier’s California Dreamin help put the focus on shipping too?

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