UK or Bust: The Great Fossil Fuel Burning Beast

Day 20

Time: 5:06pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)

Location: 380 nautical miles SW of Land’s End, Cornwall

Weather: Sunny, 2 metre swells, slight breeze



I made peace with the German engineer crew, and went down to the engine room this afternoon to get acquainted with the beast that is powering us, and our 1000 container cargo, to Antwerp. Holy shit. It is a behemoth. I had to wear ear plugs as well as larger ear protectors (affectionately called Mickey Mouse ears by the crew) before entering the engine room, a cavernous expanse of gleaming steel, whirring motors, dials, switches, and the constant smell and sheen of fuel oil coating almost everything, despite the crew’s best efforts to keep things clean.


I asked the head engineer how much fuel it takes to power us from Montreal to Antwerp, and he told me about 60,000 litres of bunker oil PER DAY, so 9 days x 60,000 litres is about 540,000 litres of bunker oil needed to get 1000 containers and 23 people between North America and Europe. 540,000 litres is roughly 135,000 gallons. Assuming (conservatively) that each gallon equals 25 lbs. of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere when burned, this equals out to 3,375,000 lbs. of carbon for our crossing. That’s 135 gallons of bunker oil, or 3,375 lbs. of carbon dioxide per container.


Also this figure does not include the massive fossil fuel consumption at the ports, getting the containers on and off the ship, and to and from their final destination by road or rail.


The Malaga has six massive fuel tanks, and contains enough fuel for a roundtrip between N. America and Europe, so it only has to refuel in Antwerp. All that fuel most likely comes from places like Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Iran, where it contributes to corruption, political instability, environmental disaster, and human suffering. And that’s not even mentioning the refineries, which are typically located in neighborhoods that are home to low-income, people of color. So fucked up.


It’s pretty clear that the international shipping industry contributes massively to global climate chaos, and our collective dependence on fossil fuel. And it is largely hidden from public view. Yet most of everything we consume, from toothbrushes, to food, electronics, and clothing, passes through the container shipping network, and each item has its own share of the overall massive impact of this power hungry industry.


Think about that the next time you go to the mall or the grocery store. Supporting locally made or grown goods is not just a hip lifestyle- our lives truly depend on it- Planet Earth simply cannot take another fifty years of “free” trade and globalization. Now what we need more than ever is LOCALization.


One glimmer of hope in the intl. shipping industry is that a German company (not NSB, who owns the Malaga) has plans to supplement the oil powered engines with giant sails that would take advantage of trade winds. While not entirely replacing the oil needs of container ships, these gargantuan sails have the potential to significantly reduce the fossil fuel consumption, and thus carbon dioxide emissions, of international shipping. Not enough in and of itself to solve the climate crisis, but a piece in the puzzle to be sure.


Tagay and Prost to that!!! (Cheers in Tagalog and Deutsch)

One response to “UK or Bust: The Great Fossil Fuel Burning Beast

  1. The old Friends of the Earth mantra…”Think Globally, Act locally. Sadly enough people did listen back then either.


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