Friday, February 15, 2008

Costs of Farms and Shipping.

According to the Farmers Guardian published on August 31st 2007 (but picked-up in the supermarket only yesterday), soaring costs of animal feeds are posing a new threat to the livestock industry. Indeed, the latter is described as being at "breaking point", as a result of food prices not rising in line with rocketing animal feed costs. This was published 6 months ago and the situation has not changed; costs of food in general are escalating too, along with that for fuel which I noted yesterday amounts to £1.02 per litre for petrol (gasoline) and £1.08 for diesel (that's around $8 US a gallon). Supermarkets are now under increasing pressure to pay more for their milk, meat and eggs as concern grows for the ability of livestock farmers to maintain their businesses through the winter.

The price of feed wheat rose to £160 per tonne which is about where it is now, and about double that of 18 months ago. Apparently, feed accounts for about half the cost of pig production, which is a bit like the case for running a business, where salaries comprise the biggest outgoing costs. All animals have to be fed: porcine or human. Bread prices are on the up too, and this is blamed on rising standards of living and more meat consumption in developing countries and the amount of corn that has been taken off the market to produce ethanol as a fuel. This is what I have heard said, at least, but I suspect the root cause is the proximity to peak oil with rising prices for this commodity, underpinning as it does everything, including agriculture. I doubt very much that prices will ever fall, and the signature of the "Oil Dearth Era" is indeed rising prices. The meter is ticking.

In order to import the vast majority of goods, including food, we need ships. Said vessels are often regarded as being highly efficient in terms of fuel consumption/quantity of carriage, certainly as compared with road or air transport, and there is relatively little reference made to shipping in terms of carbon emissions, or at least that I have seen. However, a "leaked report" from the UN, seen by the Guardian newspaper, suggests that the emissions from ships may be three times what has been accounted for them. As noted, shipping is not taken into account by European targets for cutting CO2 emissions in regard to global warming. Nonetheless, it is now estimated that the world's shipping fleet produces 1.12 billion tonnes of CO2, which amounts to 4.5% of all CO2 produced by humans. To make an illustrative comparison, all the world's planes produce a "mere" 650 million tonnes of CO2, or about half that from shipping.

Well, what can we do? I have noted on previous occasions that we can't have it all ways: i.e. continue with a global economy ("village") and cut CO2 emissions. Are we really frying the planet? There is some debate over that question, and probably there are non-anthropogenic forces at work too, according to the geological record which shows that the planet warms-up around every one hundred thousand years or so, but most climate models indicate that we are exacerbating the process. However, since it is also apparent that humankind is using up fossil resources too fast (because there are so many of us), whether it is our will or not, humanity will necessarily curb its CO2 emissions since there will be less available carbon to burn.

By this stage in our development, however, I hope that we are all living peaceably together in localised communities which demand much less in the way of transportation - and that, whether we like it or not, is where we will end up, hopefully as good neighbours, spiritually contented, and all at one... it is the transition from here to then that bothers me though. Personally, I think it would have been better to have been born about 50 years before I was born or 50 years from now: on either side of the energy-crunch that threatens to envelop us.

Related reading.
[1] "True scale of CO2 emissions from shipping revealed", By John Vidal. The Guardian, Wednesday, February 13, 2008.
[2] "Near to breaking point", By Alistair Driver, Farmers Guardian, August 31, 2007.


Anonymous said...

I have a feeling aircraft carry about 10% of the world's stuff, and ships carry about 90% (think of a 8,000 teu container ship compared with a 747 crammed full with, what? 6 containers?).Then surely the CO2 would double, see simple calculation below?

% world trade
aircraft 10% CO2 33%
ships 90% CO2 67%
Now we be fair to aircraft, give them 50% world trade,
Aircraft 50% trade, CO2 167%
Ships 50% trade, CO2 37%
New total CO2 200%!
Moral. Always take Guardian articles with a pinch of commensense.

Brgds Peter Melia

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Nice one, Peter!

Yes, one should always add some salt to Guardian articles. They have never published any of my letters, whereas the "Indy" have! Shame I don't get paid as well as Monbiot for my musings, but then I didn't go to Oxford ... Sussex, instead...