To the Ministry's main lobby The Ministry Blog
concert setlists

24 December, 2007

Watch the pennies

Reporting a remarkable return to the concept of wind-powered cargo ships, The Register adopts a bizarrely pessimistic tone:

One does note that merchant ships – despite the fact that they carry the vast majority of the world's cargoes – emit only 5 per cent of the human race's carbon output. Anyway, an annual, global economic growth rate of just two per cent – mirrored in rising cargo tonnages – would wipe out a 15 per cent fuel efficiency gain in less than a decade.
This simplistic attitude mystifies me: a downright childish urge for there to be one simple solution to an issue, whether global warming, road safety or journalistic laziness; that we should ignore the huge range of individually minor factors to focus everything we have on tackling the single biggest contributor.

Five percent of anthropogenic carbon production/emission does matter – it's a twentieth of the entire problem. No-one has suggested that kitesurfing cargo ships will save the world alone or that once they're in widespread use we can all tick 'global warming' off our 'to do' lists and relax. That'd just be 5% (more like 1%, really) down, 99% to go, to be achieved by hundreds of different measures, not one glorious panacea.

That's obvious, and no-one would seriously think we should only adopt one measure to tackle all carbon emission, ignoring all others, right? Right? The article goes on:

Even in a world where every ship suddenly had a massive kite achieving 30 per cent efficiencies, that would equate to barely a one per cent worldwide CO2 saving, which would be wiped out by reasonable economic growth in less than 20 years.
So yes, the journalist really is basing his argument on the idea that shipping would be revolutionised in isolation, and all other aspects of human society would continue as if nothing was happening. Those aspects of 'reasonable economic growth' need to be addressed too, not instead.

Ach; I'm ranting, and my despair at journalists' willful reductionism is showing....

Besides, moderation of hundreds of factors, rather than curtailment of one or two, might let people keep the core of their luxurious lifestyles: better to use CFL bulbs, reduce/reuse/recycle and (yes, 'and', not 'or') avoid energy-inefficient cars than to, say, ban recreational air travel outright. A rational 'use less; be careful' is preferable to a dogmatic 'Thou Shalt Not'.

If (if...) the kite scheme is successful, I'll consider us lucky to have dealt with such a large chunk at once, not critical of tweaking minor contributors. Every little counts.

Site Home Tull Tour History Annotated Passion Play
Day in the life... Page design and original graphics © NRT, 2003