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Damn Lies

& Statistics

CONTENTS


HIGH-LEVEL INFLUENCE

FURTHER REINFORCEMENT

REALITY CHECK

MORE NONSENSE

CONCLUSION


HIGH-LEVEL INFLUENCE


Imagine the scene. It’s November 2022. You’re a high-ranking governmental delegate at the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. You represent a Mediterranean nation, and answer directly to the Minister of State. Within broad pre-set limits, you have free reign to negotiate and agree to tabled proposals. Over your morning cappuccino at a harbourside café, you peruse a report prepared by a diligent civil servant. Incredibly, it seems as if ‘superyachts’ are responsible for more greenhouse gases even than private jets. Who knew? And there are tens of thousands of such jets around the world. Something must be done.


The civil servant points to a report by Oxfam, a highly respect international NGO, entitled Carbon billionaires The investment emissions of the world’s richest people. It states: “Another study drew on public records to estimate that in 2018 emissions from the private yachts, planes, helicopters and mansions of 20 billionaires generated on average about 8,194 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2e).


FURTHER REINFORCEMENT


Oxfam’s report credits an academic paper as its source: “B. Barros and R. Wilk. (2021). The outsized carbon footprints of the super-rich ”. Ever diligent, your civil servant has already found this paper online. It’s by Professor Richard Wilk and PhD candidate Beatriz Barros, no less. They claim “Among the many possessions of billionaires, large “superyachts” are by far the largest producers of greenhouse gases. Three-quarters of the billionaires in our sample owned a yacht with an average length of 276 feet (84 meters), and their average carbon equivalent emissions were 7,018 tons per year.


Wow – these superyachts are huge, with a carbon footprint to match. You ask the civil servant how many billionaires there are in the world. She taps away on her laptop and replies that Forbes’ 36th Annual World’s Billionaires List: Facts And Figures 2022 states that there are now 2,668 billionaires in the world. Oh my goodness – if that’s the output from just 20, how much CO2 are 2,668 yachts going to produce? I mean, they must nearly all have one – right?


But how respected is Barros & Wilk’s paper? The civil servant Googles. She finds a Financial Times article entitled Superyachts aim to go green – but at what cost? in which it’s says “Research by anthropologists Beatriz Barros and Richard Wilk of Indiana University into the carbon footprints of the super-rich found that yachts contributed an outsized share of the carbon emissions of the billionaires who own them — far more than their private jets or mansions.”


The FT. Well that’s that then. As politicians, we must act – and fast. We must tax these superyachts out of existence. You finish your cappuccino and head over to the conference venue with a purposeful stride.


REALITY CHECK


But dig a little deeper, and you’ll also find that Wilk & Barros’s sample comprised just twenty billionaires. That’s right. Twenty. They even admit that, “This is not in any way a representative sample of billionaires.” Indeed not.


Moreover, their “average” yacht with a length of 84 metres is likely to have a gross tonnage of, say 2,500. In fact, the actual average gross tonnage of all 30+ metres yachts sold in 2021 was just 440 (source: SuperYacht Times, The State of Yachting 2022).


As it was outside the scope of their studies, Wilk & Barros calculated fuel consumption using a 2018 paper by Luisa Menano de Figueiredo, The Yacht of 2030 – which looked, according to Wilk & Barros, at the cruising records of just ten yachts. Wilk & Barros do not explain their methodology. Had they looked more closely at de Figueiredo’s paper, in fact just eight yachts (not ten) were tracked, for a 90-day period, while in the Caribbean – as this was all the AIS data available. And de Figueiredo’s paper only concerned motor vessels – not sailing yachts.


MORE NONSENSE


Indeed, a misleading body of academic literature is starting to build. Respected academics Lynch, Long, Stretesky & Barrett, from the University of South Florida, Oklahoma State University, Northumbria University and Eastern Michigan University respectively stated in their 2019 academic paper Measuring the Ecological Impact of the Wealthy: Excessive Consumption, Ecological Disorganization, Green Crime, and Justice that “Specifically, we draw attention to assessing aspects of ecological footprints of super yachts, super homes, luxury vehicles, and private jets. Taken together, the construction and use of these items in the United States alone is likely to create a CO2 footprint that exceeds those from entire nations. These results are not necessarily surprising but suggest that excessive consumption practices of the wealthy may need to be reinterpreted as criminal when they disrupt the normal regeneration and reproduction of ecosystems by generating excessive ecological disorganization.” Strong stuff. 


Specifically, this paper states “From available data, we estimated that an average (71 meter) SY uses about 107,000 gallons gasoline/year and produces 2.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.” As set out above, 71 metres is, of course, way above average. And specific data sources aren’t given – as one might expect. Instead, there’s a list of references at the end. The only one relating to yachts is given as “Mathew, Jerin. 2015. “True Cost of Owning a Super Yacht.” International Business Times, May 15. Retrieved April 19, 2019 (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/true-cost-owning-super-yacht-1498302).” This is a short report publicising a fun, marketing infographic produced by an insurance company. That infographic states that a 71-metre yacht will consume (exactly) 500 litres of diesel per hour, and the owner will spend precisely $400,000 on fuel. Not a cent more and not a cent less. Etc. General sources are listed at the bottom of the infographic, including Wikipedia and superyachtfan.com. A fun piece of marketing, but hardly data to form a foundation for erudite scholarship.



More recently, a paper by Wang, Maidment, Boccolini and Wright, of Solent University in the UK, stated in their paper Life cycle assessment of alternative marine fuels for super yacht that, "There is little argument that, with an estimated average cost of US$275 million only the wealthiest individuals in the world can afford to purchase and operate a superyacht (Alicia, 2015)." An estimate which is inaccurate by a factor of, say, ten - at least - by which has been recycled without question or fact-checking.


CONCLUSION


It’s easy to dismiss such works as politically motivated tirades by joyless, virtue-signalling lecturers, with a jaundiced worldview. Yet the figures generated are taken at face-value not only by climate activists but by respected journalists. As owners, we need to collect accurate data, and present it clearly, alongside information about our many and various yacht-based climate research and conservation initiatives.

Thank you to all our Members who provided perspectives for this white paper.

The media is full of data about the carbon footprint of large yachts. This data is taken as gospel by campaign groups. After all, the journalists refer to published, peer-reviewed academic papers. And these are clever people, right? Well it appears not. Or least their political jaundice means that they’re not fussed about fact-checking. If we’re not careful, policy makers may regard such research as correct and unchallengeable.

23 November 2022

Last revised

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minutes

5

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23 November 2022

Last revised

The media is full of data about the carbon footprint of large yachts. This data is taken as gospel by campaign groups. After all, the journalists refer to published, peer-reviewed academic papers. And these are clever people, right? Well it appears not. Or least their political jaundice means that they’re not fussed about fact-checking. If we’re not careful, policy makers may regard such research as correct and unchallengeable.

There is a growing body of misleading academic literature on the ecological impact of luxury items. Yet the figures generated by such studies are taken at face value by climate activists and journalists. A recent academic report suggests that 'superyachts' emit more greenhouse gases than private jets, concluding with a call for action. The report, in turn, refers to a study by academics Barros and Wilk, claiming that superyachts owned by billionaires have significant carbon footprints. However, the sample size of the study is small and not representative, and the average yacht size mentioned is much larger than reality, and fuel consumption calculations are based on limited data. We, as onwers, need to be collecting accurate data and provide clear information about yacht-based climate impact.

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