Category Archives: Plane Dependence

Talking Surface Travel with KPFA

I was on KPFA’s Terra Verde show hosted by Adam Greenfield last Friday. talking about surface travel, the Arco/BP protests, and what regular people can do in the face of environmental collapse.  Listen here:

http://kpfa.org/archive/id/62134

If anyone finds out what the past tense of ‘dive’ is, please let me know ;)

The Sky is Not For Sale

PROTESTERS DISRUPT SAN FRANCISCO CARBON TRADE CONFERENCE- ONE ARRESTED

THEIR RALLYING CRY: *THE SKY IS NOT FOR SALE!*

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2010

Contact: Joshua Hart- joshuanoahhart [at] gmail.com

San Francisco- A new direct action group calling themselves “Offset This!” today disrupted the “Navigating the American Carbon World” conference taking place at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco to protest carbon trading and offsets, false solutions that distract attention from the urgent need to reduce our carbon emissions.

More than a dozen sessions were disrupted by protesters calling for real and immediate cuts to carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  One protester was arrested after causing a ruckus during the plenary session. The activists condemn the conference agenda as a distraction to the urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels and explore real solutions to the climate crisis. One of the largest carbon trading events in the country, the conference draws hundreds of bankers, speculators, fossil fuel companies, and mainstream environmental organizations who are working together to promote carbon markets.

Far from promoting a fringe opinion, the group opposing the conference finds itself in agreement with renowned climatologist James Hansen, who (as a private citizen), issued a statement of support for a protest against the same conference organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice on April 15.

“Cap-and-trade with offsets will have little effect on business-as-usual– indeed, with the help of “offsets”, it is designed to perpetuate business-as-usual.  It not only fails to put us on a path towards ending our fossil fuel addiction, but squanders the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous “tipping points”, said Dr. Hansen

“The same corporations and individuals that brought us to the brink of financial collapse now want us to trust them to set up a market to protect the climate.   The stakes are too high to allow this to happen.  Nature- unlike the federal government- doesn’t do bailouts,” said Carling Sothoron, a local community activist.

In an ironic twist, the Marriott has been hosting the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine at the same time as the Carbon Trading Conference.  “There’s never been a better time to harness the best minds in addiction research to help treat those who are hooked on obscene profits from the fossil fuel economy,” said Joshua Hart, a professional transportation planner who was arrested at the conference.  “Denial is one of the most common symptoms of addiction, and this conference is in serious denial, believing that we can somehow ‘offset’ our emissions somewhere else rather than reduce them here at home.”

Carbon trading markets in Europe have been plagued by scandals, reported abuses and even outright fraud. It was reported by Reuters on April 13 that Spanish Police have busted a multi-million dollar carbon trading fraud ring. There is also evidence that large polluters have been increasing their emissions in order to be awarded free credits with which to sell when they subsequently “reduce” their emissions.

“Cap and trade may enrich the few but it is a demonstrably ineffectual approach toward averting climate disasters for young people.  Protesters drawing attention to this injustice deserve our gratitude” said James Hansen (speaking as an individual).

Photos and videos of the protests, and interviews available upon request.


###

Navigating a Recovery from Carbon Addiction

By sheer coincidence (or perhaps divine intervention) the “Navigating the American Carbon World” Conference — a schmooze-fest of oil executives, bankers, offset dealers, and green(wash) groups flown in to- essentially- carve up and sell the sky, perpetuating our addiction to fossil fuels- is- at this moment sharing the San Francisco Marriott Marquis with (are you ready for this?)—– the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

So, at the protest today organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice- West , we thought, why not merge the conferences? Get the psychiatrists to treat the carbon trading carbon addicts. The real victims, the ones in denial, who believe we can just ‘offset’ the damage like a papal indulgence to guilty pleasures- and we know where that leads.

White man sell sky

Denial- a common symptom of addiction- is widespread. We bury our heads in the sand against the looming climate devastation and energy crash- Can our system’s habit be treated by the latest in addiction therapy before it’s too late? Right now we’ve got the top addiction experts in the world sharing the same hotel as the Shell executives, the Bank of Americas that fund them, and the Terrapasses who pardon the sin– there’s really never been a better opportunity to admit we have a problem and enter recovery.

So we’ve created a public open letter to the American Society for Addiction Medicine, calling upon them to treat our friends the fossil fuel addicts at the carbon trading conference.  Sign our letter today!   We’ve never needed a shrink like we do today.

The Panel discussing how corporations can green(wash) themselves.

So last night at a cocktail party at 111 Minna for conference attendees put on by Brighter Planet, an offset company looking to open up west coast markets, I posed the question to Patty, the Executive Director of Brighter Planet who was on the panel…

“given that the carbon trading and offsetting industry are increasingly in disrepute over a number of scandals and abuses, such as the multi-million euro carbon trade scam uncovered on Tuesday by the Spanish authorities and given that James Hansen, one of the world’s most respected atmospheric scientists is now saying that carbon trading and offsets ‘are designed to perpetuate business-as-usual and squander the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous ‘tipping points’.’

Given all that, what is Brighter Planet doing to transition away from the sale of offsets?”

They didn’t like that question. I mean they REALLY didn’t like that question. The moderator tried to rip the microphone out of my hands, and got all flustered.

The nonplussed

Much hostility from the audience, including the drunk carbon traders on the floor who were rudely yelling over the panel discussion. This guy Trevor from Barclays capital became agitated and walked away when I offered to sell him “Cheatneutral infidelity offsets.” Maybe he has guilt issues around his fossil fuel cheating. Who knows.

Then today during the MCJ Demo on the first day of the conference, people unfurled a large banner in the middle of 4th St., temporarily blocking traffic, gave speeches and street theatre,  and disrupted the conference a number of times inside including an announcement on a live mic at the luncheon that “history will spit” on those who delay emissions reductions.

Anyway, no doubt more fun tomorrow at the Offset This! protest outside the Marriott Marquis- 4th and Market- at 8am tomorrow (friday).   We’re headed for climate chaos, and we have a message for the bankers, oil executives, greenwash groups, and politicians who profit from delaying the inevitable weaning:

The Sky is NOT FOR SALE.



Shopping Won’t Save Us: Report from the Alt. Green Festival


The Alternate Green Festival on Saturday was a big hit- we had speakers, live music, dancing, banner making- we even had a special ops “Greenwash Team” go inside to separate the wheat from the chaff. Thanks to Paul Freedman for bringing his pedal powered sound system and blender, to Chris Carlsson for speaking the truth as he always does, to Janel Sterbentz our video journalist, and for everyone else who made the day what it was!

Needless to say, the Green Festival was not happy with us. They censored me from their Facebook page- they even had security escort me off the property because they didn’t like my sign that said “Shopping won’t save us.” Is this how they treat their speakers usually?

What is so threatening about all this to a festival purporting to be environmentally friendly? Are they afraid of the truth getting out there- that much (but certainly not all) of what goes on inside the festival is greenwashing and actually environmentally destructive in its own right? You would think that veterans of the past struggles for clean air and water would understand the importance of protest, and ensure that the festival is a free speech zone. However, sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Just like the Johann Hari article that came out in the Nation recently, I suspect a lot of what ‘drives’ the Green Festival is the wrong kind of green. It’s like a beast that has escaped control of the organizations that spawned it, ‘Green’ America and Global Exchange.

Anyway, to their credit they did hold a debate about carbon offsets, where Gopal Dayaneni and I debated Scott Porter and Tiffany Potter, two representatives of the carbon trading industry (video of Scott still being located):

Carbon Offsetting Debate Part I: Joshua Hart

Carbon Offset Debate Part 2:

Carbon Offsetting Debate Part 3: Gopal Dayaneni

Now, on to the Carbon Trading Conference scheduled for San Francisco this week! I guess I’ll have to become an oil company executive to afford the $745 registration fee, though!

Alternate Green Festival This Saturday

There is more to preserving life on planet Earth than hemp jewelry! Now that the Green Festival is happening twice a year in SF, we think it’s time to ask some serious questions about the message that the festival is sending to the wider society- namely that if everyone drove a Prius, put solar panels on their home, and offset their annual flights to Thailand, that we could “save the planet.” The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

How did the term “environmentally friendly” come to mean “slightly less environmentally destructive”? The truth is that human beings have the ability to be truly “friendly” to the environment, crafting a new reciprocal relationship with nature rather than the current exploitative one, based on wisdom from indigenous cultures we’ve nearly wiped out.

What would such a modern world that prioritizes environmental health and human welfare actually look like? How do we get there from here?

Though many of the individuals who put on the festival are well intentioned, trying to “green” a fundamentally destructive culture can only perpetuate the damage and delay real solutions.

Promoting false solutions like “green” cars and carbon offsets is counterproductive to the cause. With the threat of climate catastrophe looming, it really is all or nothing if we want to avoid dangerous tipping points. Nature-unlike the federal government- doesn’t do bailouts

We want to create a space outside the “Green” Festival where ideas about real solutions can be shared, music is made, dancing is encouraged, and a culture of resistance is nourished. Come and bring your ideas (to voice, or printed on leaflets). Bring instruments, signs, and other fun stuff. The space will be welcome to all.

At 6pm, the people will enter the festival to attend a debate about carbon offsets, and whether green capitalism is a real solution or a distraction and oxymoron.

Note that this event is not sponsored or condoned by either Global Exchange or “Green” America.

It will be what you make it!

Saturday April 10th 2010 12-6pm (speakers and music from 4-6pm)
Out in front of the Green Festival
635 8th Street @ Brannan

Guardian Article from last November

Blog post from Cheatneutral action at the Green fest

More info about carbon trading debate

Alternate Green Fest Facebook page

Fossil Fuels Make You Weak

It’s no secret that the more fossil fuels you consume, the more likely you are to be weak and obese.  If you live a typical western lifestyle, you need to make a concerted effort to exercise and many people simply don’t have the time, what with working long hours to afford those cars and airline tickets.  Sedentary lifestyles are proven to make you unhappy anyway, and the state of modern aviation and road transportation can’t help much. So we take prozac in an attempt to correct what industrial capitalist social norms have taken away from us.

From personal experience, I am much happier since I sold my car in 1999, and I can’t say that in the last four years I’ve missed flying at all.  Bigger and faster isn’t always better as it turns out.

This culture tells us that using human energy for practical ends is regressive, outdated, even laughable.  It’s what poor, unsuccessful, or indigenous and uncivilized people do.  A whole host of devices are now available to allow you to avoid any physical exertion whatsoever- think electric can openers- ridiculous for all but the physically challenged.

The thing is- fossil fuels also make us psychologically weak.   When you become accustomed to high speed travel, the use of any other method seems impossibly difficult and strenuous.  The next time (god forbid) that you find yourself in a car or a plane, think about making the trip by a slower means.   If you’re in a car driving a couple of miles, think about walking or cycling that same distance.   Sitting still in the shell of metal and glass, your muscles cold- it can seem as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest.  No wonder it takes quite a bit to encourage people to take up cycling.

Of course the reality of physical activity is quite different- once you warm up your muscles and get going, the endorphins flood through your system, rewarding your brain centers for doing what our bodies evolved to do (and to require).  It feels wonderful and you can cover distances you never thought achievable.

The sensation of being propelled through space while you just sit there somehow makes any other mode seem not just slower but a lot slower.  For example, most people I’ve spoken with massively overestimate the time it takes to cross the Atlantic by ship, sometimes guessing several months. In fact, it can take as short as five days.

When I took a cargo ship across the Atlantic in 2006, I was expecting to experience how incredibly vast the planet was, compared to my past experiences in a jumbo jet.   But somehow the planet seemed smaller, distances more achievable, the scale of Earth comprehensible in a way that British Airways never allowed.

The truth is that cheap, long distance travel has eroded the diversity of human cultures and species on the planet.   It has also made us weak and dependent, eroding the strength we were all born with.  It’s time to kick the habit.  It’s time to take the power back.

Shades of Green: Guardian Takes the Green Festival to Task


The media loves a good conflict. So in a way it is no surprise that the Guardian (the San Francisco Bay one) has picked up on a growing level of dissatisfaction with the consumerist Green Festival, set to return to San Francisco in April 2010. In their article published December 16th, they covered our Cheatneutral shenanigans and also got some great quotes by the activist and author of Endgame, Derrick Jensen. I totally agree with what Jensen is saying here:

“Where is the overtly revolutionary material?” Jensen asked. “Where is the acknowledgement that capitalism needs to come down, or the discussion of the psychopathology of those in power? They talk only of alternative economies, but look what happened to every alternative economy — they get taken over and consumed by mainstream culture.”

It is this undercurrent of docility and powerlessness that permeates the Green Festival that is troubling. The assumption that buying a hemp necklace or a new water filtration system is somehow enough to halt the downward spiral. This is not a problem that requires tweaks, but a complete system overhaul. And increasingly, the Green Festival is looking like the greenwashed arm of that very system.

One thing is for sure. Carbon offset companies are vultures who are growing immensely wealthy by peddling a lie- that you can continue your extravagent western lifestyle and be ‘green’ at the same time. Here in the Bay Area it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a “Terrapass” bumper sticker claiming “I clean up after my car.” These companies are guilty of false advertising and preventing real and lasting social change that is badly needed to respond to the threat of climate catastrophe.

If you don’t believe me, check out the blog of the Terrapass corporation, particularly their naive and ill-informed post praising Obama for his performance at Copenhagen.

Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to a 2010 of disobedience and confronting false solutions.

I’m off to the woods.

Copenhagen, The Shame of a Generation? Not if This Generation has Anything to Say About It!

As our representatives at the Copenhagen Conference descend to a new low, drafting secret agreements that exclude the developing world,  there seems to be a new peak of energy, creativity and determination being demonstrated by people through art, music, film, and simply putting their bodies on the line to demand climate justice.  Check it out below.  Do send in more examples and I will add them.

By the way, what’s up with Canada?   My Canadian friends have begin talking about moving to the US in protest.  O dear.   It’s all about the tar sands it seems.

Survival of the Fattest

If one piece of art can sum up what is happening at Copenhagen, it’s the one above. Jens Galschiot’s sculpture Survival of the Fattest depicts the developed world, represented by an obese goddess of justice, tipping the scales of justice as she gets a free ride on the back of the developing world, represented by a thin African man.

The inscription reads: “I’m sitting on the back of a man. He is sinking under the burden. I would do anything to help him. Except stepping down from his back.”

The Story of Cap and Trade

Annie Leonard brings her simple, no nonsense, and populist style to the seemingly complex issue of cap and trade, which forms the basis of U.S. climate legislation, and is (dubiously) supported by a number of mainstream environmental organizations like the NRDC.  Find out “why you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it…”

Having a Good Time…

A great song and hilarious video by Theo Bard, addressing the entitlement of consumption.  Theo was arrested for blocking a coal train around the time he wrote this song.   I love it: “if you’re having a good time everything will be fine…”

Become the Bike Bloc

This lot has energy and a creative plan to harness human power to resist false solutions at Copenhagen.  Their mysterious large device, pioneered with Bristol cycle engineering prowess, is being assembled at an ultra secret location in Denmark to prepare for actions on the 16th.

The Great Climate Swoop

In October, hundreds of people converged on the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal burning power station in Nottinghamshire, England with one single goal- to shut the mother down.  This is one of an increasing number of direct actions directed at the source of greenhouse gases.  I was speaking with a friend who was there, and he said he saw the mass action as having been successful, even though the plant remained operational.   “At least now it’s pretty clear that they can’t build a coal fired power station without spending millions of pounds on barbed wire and electric fences in order to defend it against their own people…”  Rumors are that there will be an attempt to reclaim the negotiations on Dec. 16th.  I wonder how fast the water cannons will come out.

I don’t believe in global warming

This is a good one- hits the nail on the head “If I believed in global warming then all I would think about is global warming.” (as opposed to more important things like sex, presumably) Welcome to Planet Earth circa 2010.

Polar Bear

Produced by Plane Stupid, this is clearly a response to those cuddly and friendly appeals by environmental organisations to ‘save the cute polar bears.’  This video reminds us that climate change caused by aviation means a grizzly and sad end to these beautiful creatures, as seen in tragic new photographs of a polar bear eating its own cub. (Warning this is reality.  And yes even more graphic than the video)

Rap News: Lord Monckton Rap Battles Al Gore

The Australian outfit Juice Media have created quite the stir with their spot on, tuned in rap news- the presenter Robert Foster lays down the lyrics: “it’s tempting to cry victim when the system tries to curb behaviors, but are we the victims, or are we the perpetrators?

Carbon Offsets or Car Ban, Off Streets? A Tussle over the Meaning of Green

In the days leading up to Copenhagen, it seems that everyone has been talking about false market based climate ‘solutions’ such as carbon offsetting and trading. A couple of weeks ago, I cycled over to the Green Festival in San Francisco, put on by the non-profits Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), to find out why carbon offsetting continues to be promoted as a solution, despite evidence that it can actually worsen emissions, and provide psychological cover for carbon-heavy lifestyles.

With this in mind, I put on a suit and tie, bought a half dozen helium heart balloons, tied them onto the back of my bike and coasted into downtown, red balloons flailing wildly in the wind as I flew down the Post St. hill.  The romantic descent was only quelled somewhat by a sudden waft of urine as I navigated around garbage trucks through the Tenderloin.   Luckily the balloons were hard to miss, and (I hoped) would act as airbags in case of assault by four wheeled death monster– an idea actually in development according to the blog Copenhagenize.

Why was I doing such a thing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in November when I could have been out riding on beautiful Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the Pacific Ocean?  Screw nature.  Forget love.  I was heading to the Green Festival obsessed with profit.  Yes that’s right.  My mission was to gauge American consumer interest in an innovative new product created by 3 young entrepreneurs in the hills of mid Wales.

CheatNeutral.com, the company created by Christian Hunt, Alex Randall and Beth Stratford, promises to ‘offset’ your indiscretions by channeling your fee to another couple so as to “buy” their fidelity.   The idea is that the overall ‘heartbreak, pain, and jealousy in the atmosphere’ would thereby remain stable.   Romantic candlelit interludes and carnal pleasure fests alike- quantified and fed into the capitalist system, a privatisation of the most private areas of your life.

According to Operations Director Beth Stratford, Cheatneutral is one of a growing number of ‘guilt management tools’ now being marketed to assist in the rationalisation of a whole range of immoral and selfish acts.

But would San Francisco, the sex positive playground of the West, the home of the polyamorous burning man hipster, the Lusty Lady and the Barbary Coast take the bait, buy the snake oil and pay to break their partner’s heart?  Or would it click that carbon offsetting is a dangerous distraction from the changes in behaviour that are now essential if we are to avert a future catastrophic crumbling of civilisation?  Perhaps both.

Eager to find out, the new San Francisco marketing director for Cheatneutral.com strolled into the giant hall with hundreds of exhibitors flown in from around the country, thousands of attendees from the Bay Area and the vibe of a giant Whole Foods Market.  My mission: to separate the sneaky cheaters from the loyal and faithful- to see whether the Green festival is really green– or just greenwash.

I handed out Cheatneutral Flyers, and explained the valuable service that we offered.   Past stalls with hemp dresses, organic lotions, yerba mate beer, and assorted green sundry, I plied the trade, and neither the humour (nor the serious message) seemed to be lost on people, besides a few who started inquiring about prices and who I had to hurriedly explain that it was actually a joke.

Walking down the hallway, I ran into none other than Gavin Newsom the San Francisco mayor who has had his share of embarrassing extramarital affairs.   A moment like this only comes along every so often.  I strode up to him, his handlers visibly nervous at the approach of this suited man with a walrus moustache grasping a bunch of heart balloons.  “Mayor Newsom, I’d like to tell you about our company.   We’re Cheatneutral.com and we’re proud to be able to offset your sexual indiscretions for a small fee.”   He looked confused for a minute, then smiled broadly.  Apparently, he has been waiting for just such a service.  He accepted the flyer, then continued down the hall, the gallons of product in his coiffed hair leaving a slime in his wake that would rival the Exxon Valdez.

I approached the booth of a company called “Brighter Planet” who sell carbon offsets- even allowing you to earn them for every dollar you charge to your credit card!  Talk about missing the point.

Here are the chilling words from their website:

“At Brighter Planet, we’re proud to be pioneers of a new environmentalism: one that is accessible to everyone, fits easily with one’s lifestyle, and is fun to share. We invite you to sign up and join our growing community!”

I had a genial conversation with the guys from the company- one of them couldn’t stop laughing, while as soon as I started taking pictures he became very huffy and kicked me out of their booth.    I guess it’s hard to admit that you are making a living by lying to people, making them feel green when they’re really not.

The day ended with a rap and ride by Fossil Fool, with his phenomenal new pedal powered mobile sound system:

“Don’t be greenin’ it if you ain’t meanin’ it

Only hurts the movement for those who believe in it…”

The Low Down on Offsetting
Offsetting isn’t going to deliver us a stable climate any more than clicking your heels together and saying “there’s no place like home”.  Offsets and other carbon trading measures simply allow the global rich to continue their unequal, immoral, and selfish appropriation of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Offsetting and other false solutions to the climate crisis need to be stamped out and ridiculed at every opportunity.

Put simply, carbon heavy behavior like excessive consumption, driving and flying need to become so socially repugnant that if you choose to engage in them you will lose your friends and everyone will hate you.  Period.  Full Stop.  It cannot be overstated the dramatic and tectonic- yet potentially sudden changes that this will require.

Guys who speed around in fancy cars must be deprived of the sex that presumably results from this primal macho display.  Nothing like starving Africans and flooded homes to extinguish a girl’s appetite.  But don’t worry we at Cheatneutral will compensate you for your flaccid moments with our Offset Project Program.™

Joking aside, bottom line is that we need to make this into a battle for individual hearts and minds- and that inevitably means behaviour shift as well.   For too long we have been afraid of confronting each other’s oil addictions, discouraged by green organisations petrified of “offending the motorist” or being seen as too marginal.

Yet a major intervention, with all the family and friends round, sitting us down, smiling, and telling us that things can’t go on like this, is now what we desperately need.  That for our own lives and happiness we should move back into the neighbourhood where we live, stop working so much so we can buy stuff we don’t need, get acquainted with our neighbours and ride a bicycle.  Doesn’t sound that bad to me.

A climate friendly world would be a better world- but not for corporate greed (photo: Ecotopia)

The implications of the science are far more radical and marginal (by today’s standards) than even the most rabid hairshirt hippie ever dreamed up in a haze of cannabis laced idealism.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to be translating into personal limits.

We need to put the science of climate change first- not our heavily ad-influenced assumptions about personal mobility and Victorian attitudes about our relationship with the natural world.  Let’s figure out how much damage we’ve done, what it’s going to take to limit the worst of it, how much carbon all six billion of us can safely continue to emit, and restructure our societies to allow that to happen.

I’m talking- if not cold turkey- then a pretty cool bird.   Using fuel simply to meet basic human needs, and to assemble infrastructure we will need over the long term, before the resource becomes unaffordable and out of reach.  A pre-planned soft landing, lifting our heads out of the thick tar sands of oil addiction and see the forest for the trees (don’t get excited Green America- trees won’t offset the Alberta tar sands!).

As I understand the science there may not be even enough atmospheric space left for the global south to meet their basic needs like food, water, clothing and shelter and for us in the North to meet our own, without taking unacceptable risks to our safety (sorry, Donald Trump, your flight to the Bahamas is not a basic need).

The battle is not so much political or economic as moral.   We are not powerless automatons, a society destined to perish in our own effluent just because some asshole in a suit wants to sell us the latest product.   Presumably we all have free will and determine our own course in life- the effects of propaganda aside.

If we don’t buy their shit, and don’t buy into their insane growth-at-any-cost worldview, then their climate-wrecking machine will grind to a halt just as surely as a car without oil will sputter.

Anyone who’s been watching ongoing international climate negotiations can say it with confidence.   Copenhagen will not yield a safe, sensible plan for climate stability.  Governments and the corporations propping them up cannot be trusted it seems with such a basic function as protecting life on planet Earth.

It’s time to drop the pretense that the plane and the car aren’t selfish symbols of a 20th century level of unprecedented personal mobility that we can no longer afford- personally, culturally, or globally.  We can no more neutralise the billions of tons of carbon that we are responsible for ejecting into the atmosphere as offset that selfish and ill-advised cheat that tore apart our lover’s heart.  Love is not for sale.   Neither is the atmosphere.

The credit for the title of this post goes to Zach Houston, who I found in a corner typing poems for people on an old manual typewriter at the Green Festival.  Cheatneutral inspired a poem:

the car ban off streets
will be the only true
beauty is not even
having to travel
because we can
already be
there by
thinking
green
growth can
some how
hold out
against
predatory
marketeering
of sarcastic
surface fix
for sale:
nature, used

The Not-so-Shiny Jewel: An Investigation into the Environmental Impacts of the Cruise Industry

An endangered fin whale was impaled on the bow of a Princess cruise ship in Vancouver in July, raising the issue of the tragic impacts of large ships on marine mammals

An endangered fin whale was impaled on the bow of a Princess cruise ship in Vancouver in July, highlighting the damage that large ships cause to marine mammals

Norwegian Cruise Lines tried to charge me $55 for the “Behind the Scenes” tour of the Jewel, but when I mentioned that I wrote a ‘travel blog’, they made an exception and let me join the tour free of charge.

The tour included meeting the captain on the bridge, touring the laundry room, garbage and recycling area, theatre, galley, and food storage facilities and gave me a deeper insight into the inner workings of the ship.  Even though I’m sure they made sure everything was ‘ship shape’ in advance, I was still able to discover some things about the cruise industry that weren’t so pure.

I cover this stuff on my blog not just to take a swipe at Norwegian Cruise Lines, but to increase pressure on the entire industry to prioritise environmental considerations in their operations.   Similar coverage has led to improvements in discharges at sea and recycling among other things.

To be fair to NCL, according to Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Environmental Report Card the company rates among the most environmentally friendly cruise lines, getting a “B-” overall.  Of course this grade is relative, and it is staggering to think that most cruise lines perform worse than the Jewel, given what I saw and heard during my 11 days at sea.

During the tour I had a chance to interview the captain and the environmental officer on board about issues such as whale strikes and carbon emissions, two of the many unsavory aspects of the cruise industry.  Indeed I detected not a little bit of discomfort when I brought up these touchy subjects.

The Captain had some interesting opinions on climate change...

The Captain had some interesting opinions on climate change...

First up was a chance to meet the captain on the bridge.   After a presentation of the instrument and navigation equipment, we had a chance to ask questions.    I asked, “Captain, surely you are aware of the recent unfortunate incident where a cruise ship arrived in Vancouver harbour with a dead endangered whale impaled on its bow.   What do you do to avoid killing or injuring marine mammals while at sea?”  He admitted that radar was powerless to detect whales, and a visual scan of the sea, together with last minute attempts at course changes were all they could do to avoid the carnage.  You can imagine it’s not easy to change the course of a massive ship, and he acknowledged whale strikes were probably quite common and “really unfortunate.”  Even aside from the discharges, emissions, and waste inherent in cruising, there is no doubt that, unseen beneath the waves, the hull of a cruise ship the size of the Jewel is striking and its propellers are mutilating a large number of whales, porpoises, and other marine life. If fishing fleets are equipped with sonar to detect schools of fish, I don’t see why cruise ships can’t use the same technology to detect marine mammals and avoid them.

Where the reality struggles to meet the rhetoric: Port of Halifax

Where the reality struggles to meet the rhetoric: Port of Halifax

I also asked the Captain about carbon emissions, about the fact that the Jewel emits more than one tonne of carbon into the atmosphere every minute. His answers were very revealing.   I asked him what NCL was doing to reduce this major climate impact, and he replied “that it was up to the oil companies to produce fuel with less carbon” and “the government should reduce taxes on fuel” which- to anyone who understands the nature of the climate crisis- represents a significant and dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.   Clearly he was confusing carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide or particulate pollution.  The only thing that would help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide would be to use less fuel, to make the engines and on board energy use more efficient.  Or perhaps use natural gas to power the engines, though they were not built to burn CH4.  And of course lowering taxes on fuel would just reduce any incentive to conserve.

A floating Las Vegas, courtesy of cheap bunker oil...

A floating Las Vegas, courtesy of cheap bunker oil...

The waste of energy on board is staggering.  When in port at Halifax, we were walking back to the ship at night and the Jewel was lit up like a Christmas tree, her smokestacks belching burnt bunker fuel smoke, doing nothing good for the lungs of the residents of Halifax nor the global climate.  Some ports have now installed electrical hook ups so that cruise ships need not run their engines for power while at port, but of course the emissions are just being transferred from the ship’s engines to a power plant, most likely in some deprived neighborhood nearby.

It’s scary that ignorance of the nature of climate change still permeates senior staff of companies like NCL.  In the year 2009 there is no excuse for this.

It’s not just energy that is wasted aboard cruise ships.  According to the environmental officer on board, the Jewel disposes over 2500 gallons of food overboard per day- more than one gallon of food waste per day going to “feed the fishes” as their glib environmental program proclaims.

Roughly one gallon of food per day is tossed overboard for every passenger aboard the Jewel, an incredible waste

Roughly one gallon of food per day is tossed overboard for every passenger aboard the Jewel, an incredible waste

Most of this doesn’t come from plate scrapings but from the inherent waste from ‘freestyle’ buffet dining.  After four hours, everything is thrown away.   This lack of respect for the true value of food is only possible because of bargain basement oil making food production artificially cheap.  The whole enterprise is based on cheap oil and unconstrained carbon emissions.  NCL, like many other industries, has its head buried in the sand, and is particularly vulnerable to rises in oil prices and limits on carbon.  It not only serves the environment for passenger ship companies to make significant changes in their operations to reduce waste, it’s also sensible from an economic perspective.

As far as solid waste is concerned, it appears that NCL does a decent job recycling the ‘easy’ stuff like cans and bottles, but chooses to incinerate quite a bit that could be recycled, like cardboard and paper- even 10% of plastic waste, which leads to some pretty nasty emissions like dioxins.

The chemicals produced on board are pretty shocking too.   They have a huge photography business on board the ship, with staffers snapping photos of you many times during the cruise.  All of these shots are printed out and displayed for sale, whether you buy them or not.   According to the photo staff, only about 2% of the photos are ever bought, with 98% being thrown away.   This causes a huge amount of unnecessary photochemical and paper waste.

When Leah and I were standing in the queue to disembark at Lerwick, we overheard a woman who mentioned that there was a bad smell coming from her drain.   She had reported this to the staff, who came and poured a large amount of bleach in a vain attempt to eliminate the smell.  The outlet of the sinks goes to the grey water systems, and it is very likely that chlorine bleach is making its way directly into the ocean.  I asked the environmental officer about this incident and ‘whether it was NCL policy to dump bleach down the drains.’  He said no it wasn’t and that he would investigate.

Is it the 'end of the line' for seafood within a generation or two if we continue on as we are?

Is it the 'end of the line' for seafood within a generation or two if we continue on as we are?

There is no doubt that our poisoned, over-fished oceans are in serious trouble.  I keep meaning to see the film “End of the Line,” a wake up call about this growing crisis.  According to the film, the oceans will essentially be devoid of most edible fish within about forty years if we continue overfishing and abusing our oceans.  NCL claims to ‘meet or beat’ environmental regulations, but clearly the reality is failing to meet the rhetoric.

The tactics that NCL (and most other cruise lines) use to extract money from their passengers are pretty revolting. It was clear that they depend heavily on the extras charged on board: drinks, gambling, specialty restaurants, shore excursions, and bingo.   Especially Bingo.   A Dutch guy who I met calculated that they take in about $10,000 from retirees hoping to win big, but award only 4 prizes of $250.  A tidy profit of nearly $9000 per game.

I am proud to say that my total onboard bill came to the tidy sum of $0.   I figure I probably cost NCL money.   So, if that’s true, according to Chris Hutt’s comment on my earlier post about being responsible for carbon emissions in direct proportion to how much profit a company makes off of you, does that mean I have a negative carbon footprint?

The 1100 staff aboard the Jewel are paid slave wages and have virtually no job security

The 1100 staff aboard the Jewel are paid slave wages and have virtually no job security

According to the Dutch guy who spoke confidentially with several of the staff, the junior stewards make only about $500/ month (less than $6000/ year) including tips, work at least ten hours per day, and have to share a small cabin with 3 others.   Most are from the Philippines.   Once they finish 10 months with NCL, they have to go to a different company.   This is a fairly obvious way to avoid their employees unionising and demanding better pay and working conditions.   Most cruise ships, including the Jewel, are based in the Bahamas because of the country’s lax labor and environmental standards.

A metaphor for the cruise industry: an apple that we got from the 'Chocaholic Buffet' was beautifully dipped in chocolate, but when we cut it open it was rotten inside.

A metaphor for the cruise industry? An apple that we got from the 'Chocaholic Buffet' was beautifully dipped in chocolate, but when we cut it open it was rotten inside.

Overall, we were more nauseated on board the ship from the conspicuous consumption, waste, and the overt sense of entitlement from many of the passengers than we were from the rough seas.  Yet there remains the possibility of a future of ocean travel that places sustainability at the forefront, that recognizes the growing demand for alternatives to aviation, and provides a higher quality of travel experience, based on respect for local cultures, the ocean environment, and the proud history of seagoing.

It is this promise of a different kind of transatlantic voyage that will keep me using boats to get across the Atlantic, even if they’re not perfect environmentally, to speak out where I see abuse, and encourage others to ramp up pressure on the industry, to bring about the kind of low carbon, high quality voyages that we deserve.

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