Thursday, May 26, 2011
I discovered this morning that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) puts out some interesting statistics, including keeping track of the size of the global shipping fleet. This is an interesting indicator of globalization. The above graph shows those statistics since 1980, broken out by type of ship. The units on the y-axis are billions of deadweight tons, with deadweight being the maximum weight the ship can safely carry, exclusive of the weight of the ship itself.
The other day, several commenters wondered to what extent peak oil would limit globalization (the idea being that since shipping requires oil, less oil would mean less shipping). You can see above that, so far, things don't seem to be working that way. Global shipping capacity sharply increased after about 2005, just as global oil production was more-or-less plateauing:
(data from EIA, graph not zero-scaled). Obviously, oil is being conserved somewhere, since production growth has slowed down. However, it's not being conserved by shipping less. Instead, the rapid growth of China and other developing markets is driving a pronounced expansion in shipping capacity, even in the face of the 2005-2008 oil shock and the great recession.
There has also been a strain of thought in the peak oil community that oil trade would decline much more rapidly than global oil production post peak (exemplified in extreme form by Jeff Brown's export land model). Note the red band in the first graph above, which represents the capacity of oil tankers. If this is any guide, the onset of a plateau in oil production has been associated with increases in oil trade, not decreases.
Update: see this post for more clarification on these issues.