Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh, and another thing .... Greenhouse Gases and Black Carbon (UPDATED: w/ Link to NY Times Article)

Observed black carbon - from NASA

This blog has mainly concentrated on the substances in the smoke-stack emissions from ships that are harmful to the public health, directly. These emissions, which include Sulfur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides and Particulate Matter, are created by the burning of extra-dirty diesel (called bunker fuel) and they have been designated by the EPA as likely carcinogens, harmful to children, the elderly, people with lung disease and the most vulnerable in our communities - particularly low-income and minority communities near ports.

These health effects are of great concern to those of us who have become aware of their impact, and the growing acknowledgment of their impacts have been an compelling reason to establish "clean port" practices in cities around the world, where ships currently idle while in port, emitting these dangerous emissions for the duration of their stay. This has been the driving reason for the yet to be realized initiative to establish "shore power" at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, for example, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey states that the "plugging in" of the cruise ships that visit that terminal, which all currently idle while in port, would save the residents of Brooklyn an estimated $9 Million in annual monetized health costs (you know ... cancer, asthma, heart disease, premature mortality, etc.).

There is, however, another good reason to pursue cleaner shipping and "clean port" practices in our ports, and throughout the world.

The ships' contribution to climate change.

It is estimated that by 2050, if unabated, ships will contribute 18% of all man-made CO2. The Friends of the Earth also states that NOx emissions that ships produce could have an equally significant effect on climate change as the CO2.

Another little-known contributor to climate change in which shipping emissions play a large role, is the matter of "black carbon", more commonly known as soot. In 2007, in a petition to the EPA regarding the effects of shipping emissions on climate change (see it here), the organization Earthjustice, supported by Friends of the Earth and others, make the argument that "black carbon" has the potential to be the second greatest contributor to climate change, second only to CO2.

This is because "black carbon" particles are both suspended in the air, as well as falling on ice and snow. In both cases, because of its non-reflective qualities, the particles conduct heat and therefore contribute to warming, as well as, in the case of snow and ice, contributing to melting. It's also thought that with melting Arctic ice and shipping lanes becoming open in those previously unnavigable waterways, the ships will deliver the "black carbon" more directly to the ice and snow, thereby accelerating the damage.

Given these reasons, momentum has been building, world-wide, to acknowledge the contribution of shipping emissions to green house gasses and to assess and address their contribution to climate change.

With that in mind, organizations around the world have been trying to draw attention to the impact of shipping on climate change, as well as trying to share information about ways to mitigate the impact of these emissions.

In that spirit, Sir Richard Branson and partners in the shipping and energy industry have launched a site called "Shipping Efficiency" in an effort to "increase information flows around international shipping's energy efficiency and ultimately help reduce the environmental impacts of the world's shipping fleet."

The site goes on to state -

" enables anyone with access to the internet to tell an efficient, low-emission ship from an less efficient one, for the first time. Using a simple search function, users can pull up an A to G rating for around 60,000 existing ships, including the majority of the world's container ships, tankers, bulk carriers, cargo ships, cruise ships and ferries."

This means that, for instance, if I'm interested in the Grande Nigeria that is berthed at the Red Hook Container Terminal for a couple of days (idling continuously, I might add), I can go to the Shipping Efficiency web site and look up the "rating" of that ship.

As it turns out, that ship gets a "D".

I can also see the other information about that ship's engine size, fuel efficiency, etc., and if I had the skill (which I don't), I could analyze that information and work out how much fuel that ship consumes and how much pollution it creates - not only at sea, but while it's idling at the bottom of our neighborhood's residential streets.

Now, the information on this site is intended to be a tool to allow choice of shipping and to increase the overall efficiency of the world's shipping fleet. But its existence provides acknowledgment of, and insight into, the real impact that shipping has on the health of the planet, as well as the health of it's inhabitants - particularly the residents of port communities.

The point is that there are many ways that shipping can be cleaned up - both at sea and in port. Lower Sulfur fuels can be part of the equation, as their use can help drastically reduce the creation of some of these harmful emissions - including "black carbon" that not only contributes to climate change, but also is a dangerous contributor to cancers and lung disease, including asthma. There are technologies and practices out there that can be used to reduce these emissions and their impacts.

The goal should obviously be to take measures to reduce all of these impacts - on both health and climate. In the case of the ships visiting New York and New Jersey, there are efforts being made to reduce the impact that the ships emissions are having on health. There is program that is supposed to encourage the use of low-Sulfur fuels in the City's waters, as well as a much bigger long-term plan to reduce the sulfur in the fuel of all ships using the continental waters of the U.S. and Canada through an ECA (Emissions Control Area). There are plans to reduce the speed of ships and to encourage "slow steaming" in open waters. These plans are worthy, and, if implemented well, will significantly reduce harmful emissions from ships in our city's air, with flow-on health improvements to our residents.

However, in the short term - and, more importantly in the long term - don't we want to reduce all of these emissions as much as possible?

By plugging a cruise ship into "shore power", by practicing "cold ironing", (even taking into account the effect of the extra power produced by power stations, which is zero if you use hydro-electric generation as is a large proportion of NYPA provided power), you not only virtually eliminate the emissions that are harmful to human health that have been so much a focus of this blog - SOx, NOx and PM - but you also reduce the emission of Greenhouse gasses much more than any use of alternate fuel or low-sulfur diesel would.

Look at that site, Shipping Efficiency. Take a look at how much diesel these ships burn - even when they're in port. When they're idling in port it's equivalent to tens of thousands of cars, or thousands of trucks - idling right on the edge of our residential neighborhoods.

Do we want to burn more of that carbon-based fuel than is necessary? Do we want to import more petroleum products from overseas? Do we want to keep relying on fossil fuels or move to a cleaner energy economy?

So, when it comes to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, or the Brooklyn Container Terminal, or any of the ports of New York and New Jersey, it's time to get a move on in implementing these clean port and shipping practices - especially "cold ironing" - because it's not only about ridding the air and our kids' lungs of these dangerous emissions, it's about ridding the air of the Greenhouse gasses and "black carbon" that threaten our planet's climate.

UPDATE: Dec. 6th. Coincidentally, yesterday, the New York Times did a story on shipping emissions titled, Shipping Faces Calls to Lower Its Carbon Footprint, By JAMES KANTER. The first line of the story reads,

"In an era when industries are competing to shrink their carbon footprints, shipping has charted a slower course."

Please read on .....


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