The leaders of the world united at the Paris Climate Conference in November 2015 and vowed to try their best to avert the disastrous changes brought on by climate change. However, the climate deal made at the conference conveniently forgot to mention the cargo ships.
Cargo ships add the same amount of pollutants to the environment as the entire population of Germany. The research team from the University College of London collaborated with Kiln, a digital journalism studio to depict the extent of damage to the environment from the shipping industry in the form of a map.
The visualisation shows that at any given time, more than 100,000 ships are at sea delivering goods from one country to the other. The team used data provided by exactEarth, a firm that provides ship tracking services via satellite and land stations. They then compared the ship numbers against the specifications of its make like engine etc. and thus, calculated their carbon emission.
Their study predicts that the rapid increase in population and income will lead to more ship traffic, and thus, the shipping industry might contribute 17 percent to the total greenhouse gas emission by 2050.
Duncan Clark, CEO Kiln jumped at the unique opportunity to visualise the stats so that they are readily understandable. It also provided a new way to look at the data and infer as never before:
“We felt the data was intrinsically interesting, partly because commercial shipping is so crucial to international trade that visualizing it creates a fascinating X-ray of the world economy. In addition, we were attracted to the scale of the dataset. Mapping an entire year of data interactively was something that hadn’t been done before. Just producing visualizations and animations like this can help reveal all sorts of information that you would otherwise have missed. Or it just helps to tell stories, and sort of shed insight and show you where to go looking for extra detail.”
The people in the shipping industry are using the map to their own benefits such as Smith, an oil trader who found a new route taken by the ships from Venezuela to China, something not acknowledged publically.
“Looking at this map, you can see tankers leaving certain ports and going to other ports, and that immediately tells you that maybe something interesting is happening that isn’t declared in the official record.”
The research team hopes to spur the shipping industry regulators into action to control the emission rate of the cargo ships. Some innovative ideas have been put forth to tackle the issue like the algorithms that find out the windiest route for the ship or the use of low-carbon cells etc.
The International Maritime Organization will meet in October and consider enforcing new pollution cuts.