The Age of Shipping
Container ships move around 90% of the world's cargo. If the tag on your shirt doesn't match the place where you live, chances are it came to you via container ship. These enormous ocean-going vessels, the largest of which are longer than the Empire State Building is tall, are the cheapest and most environmentally friendly way we have to ship massive amounts of cargo. Without container ships, the globalized economy wouldn't exist. Meanwhile the amount of cargo we're shipping across the world has tripled since 2000.
And that may be a problem. Though container ships are cleaner than planes or trucks for transporting cargo, they're not clean. They cause environmental damage, and emit gases that lead to disability and death in ports and coastal areas — especially in Asia.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations body charged with regulating the shipping industry, has made progress in pushing for more efficient and less polluting ships. The newest container ships emit less pollutants per kilogram of cargo shipped (when fully loaded) than ever before, but the improvements are far from enough to offset the increase in shipping. IMO research shows pollutants will continue to increase for the foreseeable future unless something is done.
As shipping reaches unprecedented levels worldwide, the open question is whether the IMO and the international community have the will to contain the environmental fallout.
All values are in TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) = number of standard 6x2.4x2.6 meter containers.