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So what exactly, I wondered, is the Baltic Dry Index? And is it a good thing, or a bad thing, that it is plunging downwards at the fastest rate since records began etc etc?
These turn out to be two good questions.
The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), I discover, measures the freight rates of raw materials around the world. It’s therefore an important measure of material and energy intensity in the global economy.
We hardly ever see bulk carriers like the monster above, or this one below
– still less think about them. And yet we should: Shipping’s CO2 emissions, and energy intensity, are in the same order of magnitude as those of road and rail – which move much smaller cargoes over much shorter distances.
These high levels of resource intensity place a big question mark over the long term viability of bulk trade in food and raw materials.
A briefing by Global Dashboard recently commented on the shipping industry’s own numbers including the graphs below.
“One of the bits of data posted ” says GD, “compares the CO2 emissions from moving a ton of cargo 1 kilometre with the emissions that would result from moving it instead by rail, road or air. For shipping, the figure is 12.97 grammes of CO2 – as opposed to 17 grammes for rail, 50 for road and 552 for air.
“Presumably, the shipping companies involved think this constitutes a good argument in shipping’s favour. But in fact, the surprise is that shipping’s emissions are so high relative to the other three transport modes, rather than so low”.
This brings us to the Baltic Dry Index and its impressively plunging graphs….
BDI rates have plunged 50 percent this year – in large part, apparently, because iron ore demand from China is plummeting.
Do we want the Baltic Dry Index to recover and shoot upwards again?
If the Berge Stahl stays dockside, and empty, it’s good for the planet – but bad for the global economy in its present form.

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One Comment

  1. DoubtingThomas
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 03:08 | Permalink

    What a poorly researched and stupid article.
    Container ships are not ‘bulk carriers’. They carry prepackaged goods. They are also smaller, on average, than bulk carriers. There is no direct comparison between container/package freighters and dry bulk freighters but i suspect that dry bulk freighters, given their larger hull sizes, to require less energy per ton-mile than container vessels.
    The Berge Stahl transfers iron ore from South America to Rotterdam. It makes ten trips per year. If the processing plants were relocated to South America, it would take many more trips by smaller, less efficient vessels, racking up even greater carbon emissions (not to mention all the exhaust from the additional cranes, forklifts, and hoists needed to unload steel versus ore)
    Finally, ships are a much more adaptable platform for green energy than planes or trucks. Biofuels, wind and solar should be incorporated into the ships of the future; already there is one experimental vessel with a large para-sail used to cut fuel consumption drastically.
    Keeping the Berge Stahl dockside while a thousand environmentalists make a thousand flights to conventions to speak about the evils of transport leave us in a worse postion than if they’d all agree to camp out on the Stahl’s deck during one of its transAtlantic runs.

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