The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Cruises can be fun, whether you’re taking in the wonders of the Alaskan wilderness or relaxing under the Caribbean sun. They also can produce adverse environmental effects, including greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Much as the region reaps benefits from the industry — with almost $900 million in economic impact — the Port of Seattle must keep working to set the standard in environmental sustainability as cruising recovers post-pandemic.
Cruising is a major source of environmental pollution and degradation, according to a recent review published in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Combining evidence from more than 200 research papers, the review found these ships emit about three times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than a jet and generate more than a ton of garbage a day.
The data is damning, yet before the spread of COVID-19, cruising showed no signs of slowing down. From 2009 to 2019, the number of passengers worldwide grew from 17.8 million to nearly 30 million. In the two decades since cruises found a base in Seattle, passengers grew from 120,000 to 1.2 million by 2019.
That growth has come with significant economic benefits, which will likely return as the pandemic abates.
While in the city, an average cruise tourist spends $1,547 on lodging, entertainment, food and beverage, transportation and souvenirs, according to the Port of Seattle. In 2019, cruise operations generated more than $14 million in statewide taxes, supported 5,500 jobs and produced $893.6 million in total economic impact.
At a time of uncertainty for the downtown core, cruises will be a key component for economic recovery, said Port of Seattle Commissioner Ryan Calkins. However, he said, just as vital is the port’s commitment to help improve environmental sustainability.
The port’s efforts include working with cruise lines to prevent wastewater discharge in Puget Sound and other state waters, suspending the discharge of wash water from exhaust gas cleaning systems, and connecting all home port cruise ships to shore power on every call by 2030, which will help eliminate all emissions from vessels while at berth.
These are important steps, and port officials are proud of their relationship with the cruise lines and the industry’s compliance with the region’s environmental demands. However, more needs to be done before these floating cities powered by fossil fuels can be labeled anything close to environmentally sustainable.
Responding to environmental backlash, the cruise industry has set a goal of reducing its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a laudable target.
The Port of Seattle must continue to do its part to keep up the pressure and hold the industry accountable. It must not shy away from taking action to help mitigate climate change sooner, rather than later.