The world paid close attention recently to the plight of the Ever Given, a 1,300-foot, 220,000-ton container ship that had been blocking traffic in the Suez Canal and is finally free.
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Market analysts and economists are calculating the cumulative fallout on the global economic market, believed to be in billions of U.S. dollars. The stalled ship held up as much as $10 billion of cargo a day.
The cascading effects of a huge freight ship, laden with, oil, natural gas, pulp for making toilet paper, coffee, furniture, and other commodities delayed for several days is not possible to estimate immediately.
But much more than one isolated incident of one large cargo ship is the greater global catastrophe caused by the accumulation of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases that has been happening in the Earth’s atmosphere for decades.
The effects on human health, mortality, plant and animal extinction, and migration of human populations need as much attention. The accumulation of these gases due to global warming is destroying the quality of the air to breathe, the water to drink, and the food to eat.
As a scientist and a trained fellow of a non-profit organization that advocates for a clean and safe environment, I have been a climate advocate since 2017. Research shows that shipping routes and deliberate business choices directly affect climate change.
Because of the Suez Canal block, ships might have taken the longer route around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions. This incident might be a call to rethink the current way of doing business. International shipping and aviation produce roughly 2% to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is exempt from the Paris Climate Accord.
Instead of relying on global manufacturing and shipping of products, perhaps companies could invest in local or domestic manufacturers so that production is smarter for the economy and better for domestic employment.
From Port of Shanghai, China to Port of Vancouver, Canada, ships travel an average distance of approximately  20,000 nautical miles. Long journeys from origin to end user are also open to weather and climate conditions, and attacks.
Traffic on the oceans from container ships is not the only threat to the environment. Oil spills have raised environmental concerns for decades. Tankers and rigs have spilled their content in the oceans causing oil slicks, marine life damage, and shoreline and wildlife damage, not estimated in dollar values.
Many U.S. oil spills have had lasting repercussions that go beyond local environmental and economic effects, including the 1969 well blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara, Cal.; the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska; and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
More recent spills in various locations from other sources, including pipelines and rail transportation, have received attention from policymakers. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was set up in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill off Alaska. Other rules include the 1994 National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.
The impacts of an oil spill depend on the size of the spill, the rate of the spill, the type of oil spilled, and the location of the spill. Depending on timing and location, even a relatively minor spill can cause significant harm to individual organisms and entire populations. Oil spills can cause impacts over a range of time scales, from days to years, or even decades for certain spills.
But no amount of dollars can bring back extinct animals or plants. They are irreplaceable.
To be sure, businesses save money by taking their manufacturing jobs abroad by using and exploiting cheap foreign labor, often with unregulated human rights violations in developing countries, or using child labor.
States such as California, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana offer subsidies for companies to move their operations there. But subsidies aren’t blank checks from the government. They usually take the form of tax breaks, regulatory loopholes, or anything else that gives a particular industry an advantage.
The estimates for the U.S. run from around $20 billion to as much as $650 billion a year in tax breaks, to entice businesses. But many of these businesses like Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Merck, and others are sought after to operate in tax haven countries like Luxembourg, Switzerland, Mauritius, Cayman Islands, and others.
Such bottlenecks as seen in the Suez Canal could be avoided if businesses manufactured closer to home. That would provide a boost to local economy and jobs for locals.
Profit cannot be the only driving force behind decisions that affect people directly or indirectly. Business owners, elected officials, and policymakers must use their values and conscience when making decisions that drastically impact climate change.
In his 2021 book The New Climate War, Dr. Michael E Mann, writes, “The most powerful and wealthiest special interest that has ever existed (is) the fossil fuel industry.” He writes that what they have done “is the most villainous act in the history of human civilization because it is about the short-term interests of a small number of plutocrats over the long-term welfare of this planet and the people who live on it.”
About the Contributor:
Jayashree Prasad-Sinha is Climate Reality leader of the Climate Reality Project and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project