The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The invention of the shipping container has changed the world. Previously ships were unloaded by stevedores bit-by-bit: Casks of wine, crates of goods, etc etc. Now a universal container can be loaded onto ship, train, or truck with relative ease. This has resulted in such phenomena as a) Garments in the Garment District of NYC can be made cheaper in China and shipped there than they can be made down the block, and b) containers washing off of ships and then onto shore, so (for example) 30,000 hockey gloves wash up on the coast of Oregon.

Supercontainer shipping is the most efficient form of transportation in the world. Every now and then I'll get some causehead environment-weenie saying to me "You're using fossil fuels to ship bikes to Africa, maaan!". The thing is, the carbon footprint of a single container from the U.S. to Africa is equivalent to YOUR exhaling carbon dioxide for two weeks. That's how efficient these ships are. I tell the weenies, "If you'd like to reduce your own carbon footprint, just kill yourself and I'll ship you to Africa- it will produce less carbon than you are by living."

Add to this the extreme imbalance of trade from the developing world to the consuming world. This means containers pile up in the U.S., so shipping them back is drastically reduced in price. This creates an interesting problem whereby it is more expensive to ship a container across the U.S. than it is to ship one from the U.S. to Africa.

I ran up against this problem recently while trying to get bikes off the Nevada Ranch that Burning Man LLC owns. This year the hippies left 1500 bikes in the desert. We gave some to the Kiwanis and some to the Paiute Indian tribe, but we still have a big pile of them. BM asked me to get rid of them. I obtained a quote:

$4290 / 20' - ocean frt Oakland to Tema, Ghana
$6235 / 40' - ocean frt

$6056.25 - trucking for 2 roundtrips if you need cntr dropped OR
$3093.75 - trucking for live load, with 1 hr free for loading. It would
be additional $65 / hr thereafter

What this means is that a forty-foot container full of bikes costs $6235 to ship from Oakland to Ghana. Not bad. It'll take six months- the boat will go to Japan, then Hong Kong, then India, etc etc- but it'll get there for about $12 a bike (500 in a container). But shipping the container from Reno to Oakland will cost $6000! "Live load" means the teamster sits there and waits while we load the container. Even so, we're talking $3100.

That's roughly $10/mile for the 300 miles Reno to Oakland, and $0.78/mile for the 7600 miles from Oakland to Ghana! And I'm talking as the crow flies, not actual miles! That ship's gonna go around Cape Horn.

Ten times as cheap. Talk about economy of scale.


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