Andrew Craig-Bennett is not happy with Wednesday’s $5bn R&D submission to the IMO by shipowning interests.
“Da mihi castitatem et continentam, sed noli modo!”
The one line in the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430 CE, that everyone knows: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”
It may have been an effective pick-up line for a randy thirtysomething lecturer in rhetoric, in fourth century Turin. It is no way for those who are paid to be the representatives of the shipping industry to conduct themselves in the twenty-first century.
“Moonshot?” More like a clod dropped into a puddle. It just makes a messy little splash and solves nothing.
Not that the European Union, still hankering after “emissions trading”, is any better. Emissions trading is – and we, in shipping, know this very well – far too easy to fiddle. It lends itself to scams, and its consequences are unpredictable – but generally bad for the planet.
The shipowning interest is hopeless, full of venal little people
It is embarrassing to see the paid representatives of our industry capering about like this and congratulating themselves on being ‘clever’. Any fool can see what this is all about – something to hold off the European Union, whose emissions trading plan is equally nonsensical, and lots of lovely cash in the form of that two dollar a ton levy, which will produce a mountain of money for ‘research’, some of which is going to get used by the people who have appointed themselves patrons of that research to expand their own influence. Some of it might – in fact some of it is bound, in one form or another, to stick to the fingers of those allocating the research dosh, because this is shipping, not a kindergarten.
Readers who have some acquaintance with Japanese shipbuilding and shipowning are free to mutter, “speedboat racing levy” at this point. “Research levies” don’t have a good name in our industry.
Research levies don’t have a good name in our industry
All that has been achieved by this squalid little plan has been to convince the mainstream media, and thus to convince most people, that the shipowning interest is hopeless, that it is full of venal little people, and that it will therefore have to be regulated properly, because it cannot organise itself to any effect. Judged by the objectives of those who put it forward, the very people who want to keep regulation out of shipping, it has already failed, and it has only been around for a couple of days.
The world is not going to give us five years to set up a slush fund for ingenious manufacturers, university engineering departments and others to play around with clever ideas, and then ask for some more time. We don’t have five years. to waste playing around looking for bright ideas. By 2030 we need to have 5% of the world fleet – that is a lot of ships – running ‘emissions free’, if we are to keep on target for 2050. Five years is not long enough – in any circumstances short of total war – for promising experimental technologies, like nylon, radar, aircraft carriers, the jet engine and liquid fuelled guided missiles – all of which had existed in experimental form before World War II started and all of which we developed by the time it finished, to be developed.
We don’t have time to come up with new technologies. The good and the great of the shipping industry’s international bodies – headed by the International Chamber of Shipping – are going in for magical thinking, as any engineer, chemist or physicist can tell them. There is no magic bullet.
We have to sort this out using the techniques that are available to us now. That means sailing vessels, nuclear power, green hydrogen (probably as ammonia) and to a very limited extent green methanol. That’s it. Not methane, not (apart from harbour craft) batteries charged by wind power and not the perpetual motion machine. Anything else is magical thinking.