Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Biggest Ships Ever

During my last semester as an undergraduate, I took a course in the geography of transport development -- in other words, how the current configuration of transportation networks had developed. To be honest, although I was a geography major, I only took the course because it fit my schedule -- I was just racking up credit hours at that point. (Little was I to know how much that one choice would steer the rest of my life, as getting to know Dr. Starr a bit better was to open the door to everything else I have done in geography.)

During the course, I remembered that as a first-year student on a different campus, I knew a student whose major was transportation, and I could not fathom how that could be an area of study. After a semester with Dr. John Starr, however, I realized that transportation is both a product and a producer of many intersecting geographies.

Of all the developments and technologies we studied -- from canals to the Eisenhower interstates -- one word stands out as most crucial for understanding the ongoing integration of the world space-economy (a.k.a. globalization), and that word is: conTAINerization. I remember my classmate Mike and I competing to see who could best capture Dr. Starr's glee in sounding out the word. RO-RO shipping (roll on - roll off) had revolutionized the transportation by greatly reducing the costs incurred at break-in-bulk points. Once put on a truck, products could move by road, rail, sea, and then rail and road again. Uniformity in containers and investment in the necessary cranes eliminated thousands of jobs for stevedores and others, while greatly decreasing the time required for shipping products.

Combined with strategic decisions being made from Bentonville to Beijing, containerization allowed for the rapid increase in the length of supply chains. As a graduate student teaching economic geography, I drew on an excellent article* about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to illustrate the equally important role of communication and information technologies in enabling extremely long supply chains to reduce costs, even for complex products being created and engineered within short time frames.

Which brings us back to the Danish company Maersk, which is the focus of a very brief article I noticed in the current issue of The Economist. Like many people, I've been seeing the company name for many years, but did not give it much thought until a high-profile piracy incident in 2009. Standard containers now figure very prominently in the coffee trade, as importers and exporters usually try to transact trade by the container, rather than by the bag (a huge difference), and I recall seeing a number of Maersk containers as we made our way from the coffeelands of Matagalpa toward the sea in January of this year.

The amazing thing about this story is that despite the ongoing recession in some countries -- such as the U.S. -- Maersk has been expanding its activities and profits and is expecting enough growth in the near future to sustain TEN new ships, each about 25 percent bigger than the largest ships currently on the water (which are Maersk ships). The new colossi will each hold 18,000 containers. If each container were to be put directly onto a semi-tractor, a single new ship could empty a string of trucks 200 miles long, bumper-to-bumper. The ships will operate between Europe and Asia, in part because a lot of trade is between these regions (empty ships to China; full ships from China) and presumably because they are post-Panamax, which is to say too big to fit through the Panama Canal.

It is perhaps incongruous that such large ships have an environmental benefit. Once loaded and in motion, the marginal costs per mile of transporting containers is relatively low by rail and extremely low by water. Similarly, once loaded, the marginal cost per container of transporting extra containers diminishes with each added one. A ship that combines the latest energy-conserving technologies with enormous size can therefore be seen as a boon to the environment.

The article ends with an interesting observation. Although container ships are currently being built, enough ships have been built in recent years for bulk products such as wheat or coal. What is most interesting is how these bulk ships currently travel: in contrast to container ships laden with consumer goods going out from China to all parts of the globe, bulk ships are steaming toward China laden with the raw materials of the rest of the world, which will go back out to much of that world in a different form ... and in containers!

*Patton, Phil and Mark S. Wexler. 1992. How a ridiculous idea mutated into a marketing star. Smithsonian 23(9).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment and your interest in my blog. I will approve your comment as soon as possible. I had to activate comment moderation because of commercial spam; I welcome debate of any ideas I present, but this will not be a platform for dubious commercial messages.

Blog Ideas

coffee (19) geography (16) climate change (13) musica (9) Texas (8) education (8) Brazil (7) Mexico (7) migration (7) Massachusetts (6) US-Mexico (6) borderlands (6) deBlij04 (6) cultural geography (5) fair trade (5) food (5) geographic education (5) immigration (5) nicaragua (5) Arizona (4) climate justice (4) deBlij05 (4) music (4) politics (4) water (4) Bolivia (3) Boston (3) GEOG332 (3) GEOG381 (3) Managua (3) Obama (3) Safina (3) border (3) cartography (3) drought (3) libraries (3) pesticides (3) trade (3) unemployment (3) Alaska (2) Amazon (2) Bridgewater (2) Canada (2) Chiapas (2) China (2) EarthView (2) Economy (2) Environment (2) GEOG130 (2) Google Maps (2) Government (2) Hawaii (2) India (2) Lexington (2) Maldives (2) NPR (2) National Monuments (2) National Parks (2) Religion (2) Rio Grande (2) Taunton River Wild and Scenic (2) Tex-Mex (2) The View from Lazy Point (2) United States (2) Venezuela (2) africa (2) censorship (2) central america (2) chocolate (2) deBlij07 (2) deforestation (2) education reform (2) employment (2) environmental geography (2) film (2) global warming (2) islands (2) land protection (2) librarians (2) maps (2) organic (2) peak oil (2) refugees (2) sense of place (2) soccer (2) suburban sprawl (2) television (2) water rights (2) whales (2) ACROSS Lexington (1) Accents (1) Adam at Home (1) Alice (1) Alt.Latina (1) American Hustle (1) April (1) Association of american Geographers (1) Audubon (1) Aunt Hatch's Lane (1) BSU (1) Baby Boomers (1) Banda Aceh (1) Bay Circuit Trial (1) Bechtel (1) Beleza Tropical (1) Belize (1) Beloit College (1) Ben Linder Cafe (1) Bet The Farm (1) Bhopal (1) Bikeway (1) Bill Gates (1) Bill Moyers (1) Boeing 777 (1) Brazilian (1) Brazilianization (1) Bridge (1) British Columbia (1) Bus Fare (1) Bush (1) California (1) Cambridge (1) Cape Cod Bay (1) Carl Stafina (1) Catholic (1) Ceuta (1) Chalice (1) Chipko (1) Citgo (1) Climate risks (1) Cochabamba (1) Colonialism (1) Common Core (1) Commuter (1) Computers (1) Cuba (1) Cups and Summits (1) Dallas (1) David Byrne (1) Delaware Valley (1) Dunkin Donuts (1) EPA (1) Earth Day (1) Earth View (1) Easton (1) Elizabeth Warren (1) Emilia Laime (1) English-only (1) Environmental History (1) Ethiopia (1) Euphrates (1) European Union (1) Evo Morales (1) FIFA (1) Fades Out (1) Farms (1) Food Trade (1) Frederick Kaufman (1) French press (1) Fresh Pond Mall (1) GEOG 332 (1) GEOG 441 (1) Garden of Gethsemane (1) Gas wells (1) General Motors (1) Gini Coefficient (1) Girl in the Cafe (1) Google (1) Gordon Hempton (1) Gravina Island Bridge (1) Great Molasses Flood (1) Guy Lombardo (1) Hawks (1) Heart (1) Higher Education (1) History (1) Holyhok Lewisville (1) Homogenous (1) How Food Stopped Being Food (1) Hugo Chavez (1) IMF (1) Iditarod (1) Imperial Valley (1) Income Inequality (1) Indonesia (1) Iraq (1) Irish (1) Japan (1) Junot Diaz (1) Ketchikan (1) Key West (1) Kindergarden Students (1) King Corn (1) Kiribati (1) Latin America (1) Limbaugh (1) Love Canal (1) Luddite (1) M*A*S*H (1) MCAS (1) MacArthur Genius (1) Maersk (1) Malaysia (1) Malaysian Air Flight 370 (1) Manu Chao (1) Map (1) Marblehead (1) Mary Robinson Foundation (1) Maryland (1) Massachusetts Bay Colony (1) Math (1) Maxguide (1) May (1) Maya (1) Mayan (1) Mayan Gold (1) Mbala (1) McDonald's (1) Melilla (1) Mexicans (1) Michael Pollan (1) Michelle Obama (1) Micronesia (1) Military (1) Military Dictatorship (1) Minuteman Trail (1) Mongolia (1) Monsanto (1) Montana (1) Morocco (1) Mount Auburn Cemetery (1) Mozambique (1) Muslim (1) Nantucket (1) National Education Regime (1) Native Americans (1) New Bedford (1) New Hampshire (1) New York City (1) New York Times (1) No Child Left Behind Act (1) Norquist (1) North Africa (1) Nuts (1) Oaxaca (1) Occupeligo (1) Occypy (1) Oklahoma City (1) Oppression (1) PARCC (1) Pakistan (1) Pascal's Wager (1) Peanut (1) Pearson Regime (1) Philadelphia (1) Philippines (1) Pink Unicorns (1) Poland (1) Portuguese (1) Protest (1) Public Education (1) Puebla (1) Puritans (1) Quest University (1) Rachel Carson (1) Reading (1) Republican (1) Retro Report (1) Robert Reich (1) Rock Legend (1) Ronald Reagan (1) Rondonia (1) SEXCoffee (1) Safety (1) Samoza (1) Sandino (1) Sara Vowell (1) Save the Children (1) Scotch (1) Scotland (1) Seinfeld (1) Senegal (1) Sergio Mendes (1) Severin (1) Sharrod (1) Silent Spring (1) Sinatra (1) Slope (1) Somalia (1) Sombra (1) Sonora (1) Sonoran desert (1) Sonoran hot dog (1) South America (1) Spain (1) Stairway to Heaven (1) Storm (1) Suare Inch of Silence (1) Sumatra (1) Swamp (1) Tacloban (1) The Amazon (1) The Amazon Trail (1) Tigris (1) Tucson (1) Tufts (1) U.S Federal Reserve (1) U.S Government (1) U.S. economy (1) USDA (1) USLE Formula (1) Uganda (1) Unfamiliar Fishes (1) Union Carbide (1) Vacation (1) Vexillology (1) Vietnam (1) ViralNova (1) WNYC Data News (1) Wall Street (1) Walsenburg (1) Walt Disney (1) Walt and El Grupo (1) Ward's Berry Farm (1) West (1) Whaling (1) Winter Storm Saturn (1) Wisconsin (1) World Bank (1) Xingu (1) YouTube (1) agriculture (1) anthropocene (1) antitrust (1) aspen (1) aviation (1) banned books (1) bark beetle (1) bean (1) bicycle (1) bicycling (1) bike sharing (1) binary (1) biodiversity (1) bioneers (1) books (1) boston globe (1) cacao (1) cafe (1) campaign (1) campus (1) cantonville (1) cape verde (1) capitals (1) carbon dioxide (1) carbon offsets (1) carioca (1) cash (1) cashews (1) census (1) chemex (1) chemistry (1) chronology (1) churrasco (1) coffee grounds (1) coffee hell (1) coffee prices (1) college (1) compost (1) computerized test (1) congress (1) conservation commission (1) corn (1) corporations (1) countries (1) cubicle (1) deBlij06 (1) deBlij08 (1) death (1) deficit (1) dictatorship (1) distracted learning (1) distraction (1) drug war (1) earth (1) economic diversification (1) economic geography (1) election (1) embargo (1) energy (1) enhanced greenhouse effect (1) environmentalist (1) ethnomusicology (1) exremism (1) failed states (1) farming (1) financial crisis (1) football (1) forestry (1) forro (1) fracking (1) free market (1) free trade (1) fuel economy (1) garden (1) genocide (1) geography education (1) geography games (1) geography of chocolate (1) geography of food (1) geologic time (1) geotechnology (1) gerrymandering (1) global pizza (1) globe (1) green chemistry (1) guatemala (1) high-frutcose (1) home values (1) hospitality (1) housing (1) illegal aliens (1) income (1) interfaith (1) journalism (1) kitchen garden (1) labor (1) language (1) libertarianism (1) library (1) lingusitics (1) little rock (1) llorona; musica (1) maple syrup (1) mapping (1) medical (1) mental maps (1) microstates (1) mining (1) monopoly (1) municipal government (1) nautical (1) neoclassical economics (1) new england (1) newseum (1) newspapers (1) noise pollution (1) pandas (1) petroleum (1) piracy (1) pirates (1) poison ivy (1) police (1) political geography (1) provincial government (1) proxy variables (1) public diplomacy (1) rabbi (1) racism (1) real food cafe (1) remittances (1) resistance (1) respect (1) rigoberta menchu (1) rios montt (1) romance (1) roya (1) runways (1) russia (1) satellites (1) science (1) sea level (1) selva negra (1) sertao (1) sertão (1) sex (1) sex and coffee (1) simple (1) sin (1) solar (1) solar roasting (1) south africa (1) sovereignty (1) species loss (1) sporcle (1) sports (1) state government (1) sustainability (1) taxes (1) tea party (1) teaching (1) textile (1) texting (1) training (1) transect; Mercator (1) travel (1) triple-deckers (1) tsunami (1) utopia (1) vermont (1) vice (1) video (1) wall (1) water resources (1) water vapor (1) whiskey (1) whisky (1) widget (1) wifi (1) wild fire (1) wildlife corridor (1) wto (1)