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Just cruisin’


It’s one of the great aspirational vacations: visiting the major cities of the world while living in luxury aboard a cruise liner. These days, with satellite TV you don’t even have to miss the big game. It’s just a shame about the environmental issues.

Cruise lines are working hard to improve their image. Advanced water purification systems and engines that burn biodiesel are making a dent in their environmental impact, which can be considerable. According to data recently released by cruise line owner Carnival, the carbon footprint of a trip works out to over 400 lbs of carbon per passenger per day.That’s equivalent to burning about 20 gallons of gasoline for every day of your journey. On a per mile basis, this is over three times higher than the carbon footprint of long-distance plane travel.

Somehow I’d assumed that the slower seafaring trip would be more environmentally efficient than the high speed airborne equivalent. But the numbers tell a different story. A popular cruise route is from London, England to Lisbon, Portugal. The chart shows a comparison of the emissions from one traveler using different methods of transportation:

Of course, the comparison isn’t completely fair. Cruise ships are more than just transportation. They’re also entertainment, lodging, dining, and all the other elements of a vacation. If passengers weren’t enjoying these amenities on a ship, they’d be enjoying them on land instead, and still using energy to do so.

Nevertheless, cruises are undeniably carbon intensive. All the more so if you have to fly to meet your boat. We don’t begrudge anybody a fun vacation. But understanding your impact is important, and figuring out ways to reduce your footprint is vital.

More efficient engines and alternative fuels are great steps forward for these ships. I’m sure there are also opportunities for solar energy and more recycling — your suggestions are welcome!

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