By Jim Gamble and Dede Shelton
Miami and Alaska are about as far away from each other as you can get in the U.S. But the two locales have much in common.
Now, the COVID pandemic has created time to evaluate some much-needed actions to improve life in both locations and beyond.
Climate change has landed ashore in both states, threatening homes and livelihoods and requiring expensive fixes. As well, Florida and Alaska share the cruise ship industry, a major greenhouse gas emitter.
Many top cruise lines, including Carnival Corporation, are headquartered in Florida. But Alaska is the summer cruise cash cow. By June, cruises to Alaska normally are running full tilt. Close to 1.5 million cruise visitors were expected in Alaska in 2020, which would have been the fifth straight year of record visits.
Instead, Alaska coastal towns are devastated by a cancelled 2020 season—a sober parallel to severe Florida cruise industry layoffs.
The cruise industry expects to bounce back from the COVID crisis. Like so many industries retooling for the post-COVID world, the cruise industry my build back in such a way that helps stave off the climate crisis.
In fact, Carnival Corporation is already under court order to do so.
Carnival is in the midst of a 5-year probation period for criminal violation of environmental laws. Its initial fine was a record $40 million. Another $20 million fine followed after Carnival pleaded guilty to violating probation by dumping waste into sensitive waters.
Carnival Chairman Micky Arison and CEO Arnold Donald were personally required to show up in U.S. District Court to explain Carnival’s poor progress to the overseeing judge.
But Carnival must go further and make real commitments to curb climate change.
Alaska is warming three times faster than lands farther south. Fierce storms now erode shorelines as sea level rises and ice disappears. Millions of dollars have been spent to relocate entire Alaska Native villages.
In low-lying Miami, tens of thousands of people live just a few feet above sea level. High tides regularly flood neighborhoods, even on sunny days. Here, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to raise roads, beef up storm-water pumps, and plant trees.
But we can’t build our way around climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced and, ultimately, eliminated. And cruise companies must help.
Today, most major cruise ships run on one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels—heavy fuel oil. This fuel is so dirty that on land it is classified as hazardous waste. When burned, it releases enormous amounts of toxins, greenhouse gases, and soot. When this soot settles onto northern ice, it accelerates ice melt, intensifying the effects of climate change in the Arctic.
Cruise ship pollution also harms passengers, workers, marine wildlife, and communities in popular ports. The ships pollute the air and they have been caught dumping waste, plastic, and oil into our oceans.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Cruise companies could get off of heavy fuel oil today. Like millions of other businesses around the world, cruise companies could align their environmental policies with the international Paris Climate Agreement’s timeline and targets. Cruise companies could invest in the research and development needed to get zero-emission vessels on the sea rapidly.
Already, Norway has announced that it will require zero emissions from vessels entering its famed Fjords, another top cruise ship destination, by 2026. Smaller, zero-emission cruise ships already operate these waters.
If cruise giants are serious about staying in business, on a livable planet, they need to get their ships off fossil fuels and help bring zero-emission vessels to scale. Floridians, Alaskans, and the world will be better off for it.
Jim Gamble is the Arctic Program Director for Pacific Environment, a global environmental organization dedicated to protecting the Arctic, Pacific Ocean, and Pacific Rim. Dede Shelton is the Executive Director of Hands Across the Sand, a grassroots organization from Seaside, Florida working to stop fossil fuels, embrace clean energy, and protect Floridians, our oceans and the environment.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.