Sunday 23 January 2011

Sustainable stupidity

A Canadian academic flies to New Zealand with 15 Canadian students to lecture New Zealand on how cruise ships are unsustainable.
The cruise ship industry is a brilliant business model, but it would be hard to find a more environmentally destructive form of transport, Canadian academic David Brown says.

Cruise ships used the lowest quality oil for fuel, had limited controls imposed on the dumping of waste at sea and the whole premise of the industry revolved around excessive consumption, he said.
So, David, you'd prefer that low quality oil be used on land where its higher particulate matter and smellier emissions and would actually impose costs on people? If we're going to worry about human waste being dumped from cruise ships on the high seas, should we also be setting up water treatment plants for whales? How much more effluent does a cruise ship generate than a pod of whales and the school of krill it's chasing?
Prof Brown acknowledged the irony of his own air travel, and that of 15 Canadian students taking his course, although he pointed out that all were encouraged to pay for plantings to offset their air travel.

While this was not ideal, returning to sailing ships, rather than flying was not realistic.
During the course, students will explore whether the consequences of the ever-increasing quest for mobility can be managed.
Hasn't there been, like, a whole lot of work done showing that ocean transport is about the lowest carbon cost per mile of any kind of transport? And he's flying people around to complain about cruise ships?!
He noted that of the 19 New Zealand students taking his paper, none was a tourism major, indicating there was wide interest in the subject.
Interesting. If we in Econ flew somebody in to teach a course for us, and none of our majors took it, we might draw some different conclusions. I'm not one who worries about sustainability stuff. But I'd have thought that folks who care a lot about sustainability stuff might have, umm, tried videoconferencing?

Matt Nolan was right. Sustainability just isn't sustainable. Look at the nGram below on use of the term. The bubble's starting to burst.



  1. I'm not sure I get your point, are you saying:

    a) The mode of transport used makes you wrong? (cousin to the the "Al Gore is fat" argument)
    b) Cruise ships are already environmentally friendly?
    c) Whales poop in the sea therefore human pollution of the sea doesn't count?

    Sea transport of cargo on huge ships with small crews is very fuel efficient, but that doesn't necessarily have much to do with how much environmental damage is done by a boat full of people touring around in luxury.

    It is plausible that private cruise ship services could have significant unpaid environmental effects on other people and/or ocean ecosystems, and you haven't really provided any evidence to the contrary.

  2. 1. It's hypocritical to complain about other folks' carbon emissions when you've just flown 16 people to NZ for something that could have instead been done by videoconference.
    2. Cruise ships seem likely to be friendlier than the likely alternative (flying somewhere then renting a car).
    3. If cruise ships dump oil at sea, that would be different. But bits of human and food waste being dumped on the high seas seem really likely to have zero effect other than to feed some tube worms down at the bottom (should it get that low) or provide a bit of fish food.

    It's implausible that cruise ships have non-trivial effects on the high seas. I could buy it for coastal areas, but those tend to be pretty regulated as territorial waters.

  3. Is this an undergrad paper? If so 19 students with no majors, is that sustainable? What did it cost the uni to get this guy out here?

  4. From my perspective as a mariner (cargo) this is flat out BS. The ocean is HUGE and the MARPOL regulations enforce pre-treatment of all human waste. Special (sensitive) areas have even stricter discharge/pre-treatment rules for ALL vessels. The fuel efficiency we achieve is utterly unrivaled by any other mode of transport. He must ignore the other positive knock on effects of these cruisers. I know that in Alaska many coastal areas are strictly out of bounds to logging as it would spoil the view for the cruisers as they skirt the coast. No doubt other destinations also like their coastline to be nice and pretty as well. On net the hot air and wasted paper of this course is a bigger threat to the environment.


  5. @Andy: Totally with you on cargo. We can imagine cruise ships that are less efficient than airplanes though. Suppose that we take a cargo ship and instead of shipping thousands of tonnes of cargo, we have one passenger who travels from Vancouver to Auckland. We compare the fuel costs of shipping him with one person on an airplane hauling 200 people, and the person on the ship will have a higher carbon cost. At some point, things cross.

    I'd figured, though, from the article's critique of effluent at sea, that the cruise ships were dumping untreated sewage on high seas. Which I reckoned wouldn't make any difference. I have no clue what they're on about if it's treated.