Confessions of a Guilty Voyager
Ok, I admit it – when it comes to vacation choices, I am a guilty traveler. Unlike some of my more virtuous friends, leisure time for me doesn’t mean a bike ride to the beach, a hike into the forest or canoeing to a remote island. As often as not in the past decade or so, when it comes time to get away from it all, Mrs. Bee and I have chosen to embark on what many would consider to be one of the least “green” vacation options out there. We are cruise junkies.
There are many reasons why we choose to set sail on these massive floating resorts. There is the mostly inclusive pricing – the upfront cost of a cruise covers most of what we consume onboard. There’s the convenience of unpacking once and having our accommodations travel with us as we venture to new places. For the romantics in us, there’s just nothing quite like sitting on the balcony of our cabin, seeing the moonlight reflecting off of the obsidian black ocean on a clear night. Finally, no small consideration, there’s the relative ease of transport for those of us with physical limitations. For us, getting away (or aweigh!) under our own self-propelled power is really not an option these days.
So why the guilt? Well, aside from my personal tendency to overindulge at the buffet line, it’s because there is no denying that cruise ships burn almost unfathomable amounts of diesel fuel, and that isn’t good for the environment. Now, here at The Hive we avoid discussing politics like the plague, but we also believe in science, and that the issue of human impact on the temperature of our planet is no longer up for partisan debate. Even studies such as this one funded by the oil and gas industries themselves have concluded that this is true.
So how can we justify our choice to cruise? Like so many other aspects of life, it’s complicated.
First, let me say that the cruise industry has gotten better and has taken big steps in the last few years toward cleaning up its act. The propulsion systems on newer vessels are state-of-the-art when it comes to fuel efficiency. Ships no longer discharge waste into the open seas, thanks to strict regulation and some huge fines levied in the past. Most trash is incinerated onboard and the heat used to help power the steam driven engines. Furtive efforts at recycling are taking place and most meals are served not with disposable tableware and paper napkins, but table settings that are washed using water from onboard desalination plants. Most mainstream cruise ships employ at least one full-time environmental officer onboard to oversee these systems and address issues as they come up.
These are all good things, but could the cruise industry do more? Absolutely, and I expect that as the technology becomes cheaper and (perhaps most importantly) lighter, it will. Solar panels to power some of the onboard electrical needs are a possibility. As localized battery power storage becomes more practical cruise lines could partner with ports to retrofit or design terminal buildings as full-time solar power plants. When in port the ships could purchase the stored energy and store it with their own batteries. These batteries couldn’t weight that much more than the diesel fuel they’d be replacing, right?
Speaking of plants, how about creating energy offsets by planting trees to drawdown CO2, perhaps in the less developed countries where most of the cruise companies’ employees are from? And maybe a strong focus on buying from purveyors and vendors who use sustainable practices would have an impact. Heck, taking steps like these and publicizing them might even draw travellers to one line over the other for environmentally conscious (read guilty) cruisers like me!
If this sounds like justification, it may well be. But let’s not forget that when comparing cruising to other vacation options we’re not just talking about comparing transportation modes for a couple of thousand folks, we’re also talking about housing and feeding them, as well as providing the year-round living and work environment for hundreds more. Would other choices for that many people added up really be that much greener?
As for Mrs. Bee and me, we’ll try to do our part by working a little harder at saving home energy year-round, researching our choice of cruise ships and lines for environmental impact, and working from within the cruise fan community to encourage improvements. When the “all aboard!” is called, we’ll be there.
If you’d like to join the conversation, please feel free to leave a comment. Or better yet, start a conversation over in the forums!