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Behind industry cruise lines

Behind industry cruise lines

As the first kiss of warmth seeps in this spring and the colors return to the world, I bet you are just itching to take a vacation. You’ve seen the images of massive, gleaming ships whisking smiling people away to exotic locations. Why not take a cruise, you think? But there’s a darker side to the cruise industry that you probably don’t know.

Every year, thousands of cruise ships criss-cross the globe, burning highly toxic fuel, producing asthma-causing emissions and dumping sewage directly into the ocean. Most cruise lines only meet federal pollution standards that are decades out of date. Friends of the Earth grades these cruise lines and asks industry leaders for meetings, but we hardly ever hear back. So we wondered, what is the cruise industry saying about their environmental impacts behind closed doors? We decided to find out.

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Fred Felleman (above, and above left) poses with boxes representing 100,000
petition signatures to Carnival Cruise Lines

This month, my colleague, Northwest Consultant Fred Felleman, and I traveled to Florida for Cruise Shipping Miami, the biggest cruise ship convention in North America. Our aims were these: to hear how cruise line executives view their relationship with the environment; to speak with Christine Duffy, the president of Carnival Cruise Lines; and to tell the story of the 100,000 Friends of the Earth activists who want Carnival Cruise Lines to update its antique wastewater treatment systems before taking a cruise.

The first thing we noticed in the Miami Beach convention center was the massive scale of the industry. More than 17 million passengers took cruises on 178 ships in North America alone in 2013, a number that continues to rise.

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Vendors present their destinations and technologies at the Cruise Shipping Miami trade show.

I went to hear the opening panel of cruise CEOs answer questions about the “State of the Global Cruise Industry.” Among the panel presenters was Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world, which owns and runs half the total domestic cruise fleet, including recalcitrant Carnival Cruise Lines. In the belly of the beast, we expected a certain level of cheerleadership, but the fantasy facts and misleading rhetoric we heard — in the promotional video, from Mr. Donald and from his fellow CEOs — were truly mind-boggling. Coincidentally, Mr. Donald even decided to use a grading scale, just like ours, to rank his industry on its environmental mindfulness. You can guess how that went.

“Wherever we go, we have a responsibility to those places we go to.” -Arnold Donald @CruiseShipping @CarnivalCruise #CSM2015

— Kate Colwell (@K8Colwell) March 17, 2015

“The big challenge right now is ensuring that cruising gets communicated effectively.” -Arnold Donald #CSM2015 #Transparency @foe_us

— Kate Colwell (@K8Colwell) March 17, 2015

Compared to landlocked hotels, “we’re a tiny industry.” “We want everybody to cruise.” -Arnold Donald #CSM2015 @CarnivalCruise

— Kate Colwell (@K8Colwell) March 17, 2015

“On the green side, in terms of environmental stewardship, I give us an A+.” -Arnold Donald. Oh really? http://t.co/K4gXpl7QE4 @foe_us

— Kate Colwell (@K8Colwell) March 17, 2015

Arnold Donald says #Carnival has room to improve on communities they impact. He gave his lines a B+ grade overall. #CSM2015

— Kate Colwell (@K8Colwell) March 17, 2015

Although Fred and I had intended to speak with Christine Duffy, we were able to do one better by meeting with her boss, Mr. Donald. So, at the end of the panel, I went up to speak with him, and found he was very politely receptive to our concerns. When confronted with the signatures, via USB drive, of 100,000 concerned customers, Donald seemed surprised to hear that his subsidiary line’s equipment was out of date. When I offered him a chance to discuss with Friends of the Earth to discuss how best to update Carnival Cruise Lines’ sewage treatment equipment, he said he would be happy to set something up with us. Donald shook my hand and accepted the signatures with a smile. We hope this is the beginning of a productive conversation.

That cordial exchange of words and a small informational folder, however, ultimately got me thrown out of the building. I was told that any form of activism was crossing the line, and that I had been invited to the convention in the naïve hope that I would learn something. I like to think the Friends of the Earth learned a lot at the convention, and did some educating too.

At the convention, Fred and I met a Florida resident named Tanya, who is very worried about the air and water quality of her home state, a place where sea level rise threatens the coasts but politicians outlaw even the mention of climate change. Tanya was eager to talk about how she and the 100,000 people who signed our petitions could get more deeply involved in this ongoing fight. Apparently, a meeting of cruise industry professionals is not a space open to differing opinions, but the real world is. What every petition signer and Tanya knows is that every person has a choice.

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Tanya, concerned Florida resident,
stands up for the health of her state.

Consumers can choose to consider environmental impacts when booking cruises. Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card shows consumers which cruise lines are the most environmentally responsible, and which are the gravest offenders when it comes to ocean and air pollution. Every person also has a choice to speak up, and ask industry leaders to do their part to save the ecosystems they want their customers to appreciate.

Cruise lines are not necessarily the enemy. Willful ignorance on the part of industry leaders who know their environmental offenses, have the money to fix them, and choose not to do so, is. To learn how to better protect marine and coastal environments, contact us and we’d be happy to help. It’s never too late to make a difference.

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