Saving the planet with private jets and bunker fuel

The theme this week, if there has been a theme, is climate change and the tech behind it.

Well, not the tech behind climate change, exactly. More the tech that’s trying to stop it.

However, I couldn’t get to the end of the week without pointing out some delicious climate change hypocrisy.

The story I am going to share with you is the epitome of “virtue signalling” by a bunch of self-righteous celebs.

It’s not that their cause isn’t a just one. It’s that they are so self-involved they can’t see the irony in their actions. In the end, you just have to laugh.

If you’re not familiar with virtue signalling, here’s an explainer I wrote on it back in May:

Virtue signalling is when people express opinions (they most likely don’t really hold) they believe will make others think they are a good person.

It usually takes place in a public forum, say on social media or through a news interview or article.

For example an Oscar winner may state how much they hate Donald Trump in their speech. Or a company director may tweet about helping out in a homeless shelter. Or a politician may wear a “this is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt.

Virtue signalling, like a lot of the trends we see online, stems not from selflessness, but from selfishness.

It’s all about drawing attention to the fact you have righteous views and really care about the world.

But the key there is the “drawing attention” part. It is essentially an approval-seeking behaviour. The only reason people do it is to win adulation. And that’s why most of the time it comes across as hollow.

Most people see straight through this kind of behaviour.

Think of how much it makes you cringe when you see a politician on a news report putting a stint in at a factory and trying to have some “banter” with the workers.

Everyone watching that report can feel how awkward the whole situation is for everyone involved.

But virtue signalling is on the rise. It’s a good way for different tribes of people to show which tribe they belong to and which tribes they oppose.

So, what exactly is this story?

Virtue-signalling celebs fly 114 private jets into Google climate change conference

That’s right, the world’s top celeb activists have just attended a climate change conference put on by Google in Sicily, and they used 114 private jets to get there.

Oh, the irony.

The attendees included Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry, Naomi Campbell, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom, Stella McCartney, Harry Styles, Nick Jonas, Bradley Cooper, Sacha Baron Cohen, Noel Gallagher, Woody Harrelson, Lars Ulrich, Bono, Matthew McConaughey and Bill Gates.

(To be fair, Bill Gates does a heck of a lot of good – more than all the other attendees combined – with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so I guess we can let him off.)

Tom Cruise and even Barack Obama are rumoured to be there as well.

Oh, and Coldplay is playing for them all.

From The Daily Mail:

Prince Harry gave a barefoot speech at a secretive Google Camp climate change conference in Italy according to reports, in front of an A-List crowd who flew in on 114 private jets.

The Duke of Sussex is said to have given a passionate speech about saving the planet while being watched by Naomi Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio, among other celebrities and power brokers.

It comes just a day after he revealed his determination to be kind to the planet by having no more than two children in an article with environmentalist Dr Jane Goodall in the edition of Vogue guest-edited by his wife Meghan.

Tech giants and celebrities flocked to Sicily to show off their green credentials for the camp that focuses on global warming – but many failed to leave their private jets at home.

More than 110 fuel-guzzling planes are scheduled to land at Palermo, the nearest airport, between now and August 4, reports Giornale di Sicilia.

The problem with this kind of thing is it erodes the all the messages environmental agencies put out about “reducing the world’s carbon footprint”.

Why should we, the public, stop taking our one holiday abroad year, as we’re told to by these celebs, when they fly week-in week-out around the world on their incredibly inefficient private jets?

Events like this are the epitome of virtue signalling. And as I said, you really just have to laugh… otherwise your head might explode.

However, it’s not all hypocrisy and cynicism today.

I actually have a very good-news story.

Bunker fuel is being banned – and that will do more to save the planet than most people will ever know

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have seen my article earlier this year about bunker fuel. If not, here’s a recap.

A single container ship produces more pollution than all the cars in the UK

Container ships run on the dregs of crude oil.

When all the higher quality fuels like petrol, diesel and kerosene have been extracted, you’re left with a black, tarry mess called bunker fuel. This is what container ships burn.

As you may expect, bunker fuel is incredibly polluting.

Back in 2009, confidential data was released showing one container ship produces as much pollution as 50 million cars.

To put that into perspective, there are only 31.3 million cars in the entire of the UK.

It’s estimated there are around 1.4 billion cars in the world. So 28 cargo ships produce as much pollution as all the cars in the world.

So, if cargo ships changed to a cleaner fuel, it would – in theory at least – have a bigger effect on pollution than replacing every petrol and diesel car in the world with electric ones.

That should be a pretty big story, right?

Well, it turns out, bunker fuel is being outlawed next year.

From Reuters:

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will prohibit ships from using fuels with sulfur content above 0.5 percent from Jan. 1, 2020, compared with 3.5 percent today, unless they are equipped with so-called scrubbers to clean up sulfur emissions.

Ships found in breach of the new rules will face fines or the risk of impoundment by IMO member states.

The shipping and oil-refining industries are scrambling to prepare for the shift and have made large investments to comply with the new standards since they were set in 2016.

Oil companies expect a jump in demand for cleaner distillates, mainly diesel, at the expense of fuel oil that would become largely redundant.

Last week, Washington said it backed a phase-in of the 2020 rules to protect consumers from any price spikes in heating and trucking fuels, although it did not seek a delay.

Apparently shipping companies have pushed back against this overhaul, but the IMO has stuck to its guns.

That story is actually from back in October last year. You’d have thought it would have been bigger news, given its gravity. But I guess it didn’t have enough celebrity endorsement to gain column inches.

Since then there have been further developments, however. With Iceland “mulling” an outright ban on heavy fuels.

From Shippingwatch in May this year:

According to an Icelandic news outlet, the country’s ministry for the environment wants to ban heavy fuel oil by introducing a sulfur cap of 0.1 percent in the country’s own waters.

And in June, the IMO sent out a press release (with a nice pun) confirming the bunker fuel ban is coming into place from 1 January 2020.

From the IMO:

New requirements for ships to cut sulphur oxide emissions enter into effect on 1 January 2020, marking a sea change in fuel used by ships, globally, which will significantly reduce air pollution from ships with positive benefits for human health and the environment.

IMO has been preparing ahead of the implementation date. From 1 January 2020, under IMO’s MARPOL convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, the sulphur content of fuel oil used by ships operating outside designated emission control areas shall not exceed 0.50% – representing an 80% cut from the current 3.50% limit.   

So there you have it. Some private-jet-powered climate change activism by a bunch of virtue signalling celebs, and some real, concrete, planet-saving regulations coming into force in January.

It’s just a shame no one is talking about the latter. But I guess that doesn’t really matter, because in the end only our actions count.

See you around,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

PS If you ever want to write in to Exponential Investor in the future, don’t use harry@southbankresearch.com. You should now send your comments, questions and responses to nick@southbankresearch.com.

Category: Energy

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