Almost everything you consume, from your weekly supermarket trip to the presents you order online, arrives by cargo ship. Shipping is the engine of the world economy, transporting eleven billion tonnes of goods each year. Despite the clear environmental crisis, shipping emissions have doubled since 1990 to more than one billion tonnes of CO2 – more than aviation, more than all of Germany, or even France, Britain, and Italy combined. As the shipping industry is forecast to grow threefold by 2050, full decarbonisation is urgent to limit catastrophic climate change. To understand whether there are any realistic alternatives to the polluting status quo of the container shipping industry, in 2020, Christiaan De Beukelaer spent 150 days as part of a sailing crew aboard the Avontuur, a century-old two-masted schooner fitted for cargo. This book recounts both this personal odyssey and the journey the shipping industry is embarking on to cut its carbon emissions. It shows that the Avontuur’s mission remains as crucial as ever: the shipping industry needs to cut its use of fossil fuels as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will face excessive global warming and the dire outcomes that will bring. The book explores our path to an uncertain future. It argues that shipping symbolises the kind of economy we’ve built: a gargantuan global machine that delivers the goods at an enormous environmental cost. Merely eliminating carbon emissions or improving efficiency won’t solve the underlying issue. If we can’t make shipping truly sustainable, we can’t solve the climate crisis.
nineteenth century. A range of newly built sailing cargo ships aim to incorporate these
labour-saving innovations. Some major shipping companies aim to build new sailing vessels for
cargotransport, but they remain in various stages of ‘technological
readiness.’ So, despite a history of thousands of years of sail, commercial shipping
has failed to seriously consider this option for decades. Zephyr &
Borée’s Canopée , under construction at the Nepture Marine
Shipyard in Szczecin, Poland, TOWT’s two eighty-metre 1100-tonne vessels
my being a researcher at first. But I
turned out to be as big a weirdo as they were. I managed to throw them off the
Using Captain’s Skyroam internet connection, we were able to
take turns connecting our phones and pulling in our messages and emails. Sail cargo ships
have a strong online presence, for they mostly sell an idea rather than goods. Beyond the
chatter and carefully crafted images, the time and energy spent on making cargotransport
under sail happen can scarcely be captured on Instagram. Our
chains that rely on
Shipping companies expected the global economy – and with it demand
for shipping – to contract as a result of pandemic-induced lockdowns. While they cut
capacity, that contraction didn’t quite materialise. Stuck at home, people consumed
more than ever. Demand for goods and thus cargotransport surged, driving freight rates to
tremendous heights, creating a perfect storm of strained supply chains due to high demand,
low capacity, and a crew change crisis that proved difficult to resolve
considering that Mærsk CEO Skou defended the company’s
expansion of air freight capacity ‘saying it would be customer demand not
Maersk’s push into air freight that would decide how much cargo was transported by aircraft.’ 22
That’s right, while Mærsk claims to be a leader in shipping decarbonisation, it
invests in the most polluting and most difficult to decarbonise means of cargotransport.
The tension between the abstract target of full decarbonisation and the lack
of a clear and realisable pathway also dominated The Economist
labour practices in coffee or banana plantations. Neither
will small sailing vessels decarbonise the shipping industry.
‘Where are we
headed?’, July 18, 2020
These small vessels have helped to get us talking and reading about maritime
cargotransport. We’re talking now; but it’s high time to decide. What action
will we take? I don’t believe it’s as easy as picking one option over another.
Green growth or degrowth? Innovation or tradition? Big or small? Hydrogen
infrastructure that saw the boom in oil-fuelled ships. After the war, they became virtually the only means of maritime cargotransport. The rise of the oil-burning ship and the associated shifts in logistics depended
on military innovations, both technologically and organisationally. 19
How surprised would Alan Villiers and Nakhoda Nejdi be to see the revival of
sailing cargo vessels? In defiance of economic logic and regulatory constraints, long-dead
sailing cargo vessels are now being offered a new life. While the Avontuur and sister
against the climate crisis, against the
culture that drives it.
Embracing wind propulsion for cargotransport is one such alternative. It
can clearly operate without the use of fossil fuels, as it had for thousands of years prior
to the discovery of the steam engine. While windmills have made a comeback as turbines
generating electricity, sailing cargo ships remain a tiny niche.
When Jorne Langelaan, Andreas Lackner, and Arjen van der Veen looked for
investors in 2007, to help them launch the Tres Hombres as a sailing
a lot of work to do.
Growing demand for shipping contrasts starkly with the needed reductions.
This means not only that the impacts of immediate consumption should come down drastically in
rich countries, but also that the ‘invisible’ emissions of industrial
production and cargotransport need to come down significantly. To meet these targets,
changes are required in the way we live, move, and consume.
With fewer than sixty thousand citizens, the Marshall Island’s
domestic regulations, no matter how ambitious
controls were then introduced by the Australian government – boatloads of ‘illegal
people’ would subsequently be intercepted at sea and returned to the port of
departure. Such actions, as Caroline Moorehead notes, had their precedent in
British Palestinian policies of the late Mandate period. She adds that between
September and November 2001, ‘thirteen Indonesian boats filled with asylumseekers tried and failed to reach Australia. Four were intercepted and sent back.
One sank.’ The remaining eight were unseaworthy and their ‘human cargotransported to