It might be time to reconsider your vacation plans. More than two years after the pandemic shut down the cruise line industry, many passengers are eager to set sail again. While the all-inclusive getaways are tempting, those considering an environmentally conscious holiday should look elsewhere. Cruising, as it turns out, is one of the most irresponsible holidays you can take.
According to a new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), even the most efficient cruise ships emit far more carbon dioxide per passenger than airplanes. ICCT researchers found that just one person aboard a five-night cruise on one of the most efficient cruise ships in the world is responsible for approximately 500 kgCO2. Comparatively, if that same person were to take an airplane and stay five nights in a hotel instead, they would only be responsible for about 235 kgCO2. That means cruise ship passengers are emitting more than twice the amount of CO2 over passengers that fly and stay in a hotel!
Unfortunately, these numbers are unlikely to improve. Despite continued promises from the cruise line industry, the future of sustainable cruises is quite bleak. Greenwashing is rampant in the industry with many cruise lines touting green endeavors that actually do little for the environment. For instance, a majority of cruise ship companies today are investing in liquified natural gas (LNG) powered ships. Running on LNG can reduce direct air pollution emissions, but it also releases unburned methane into the environment. The end result is greater greenhouse emissions overall when compared to ships that use low-sulfur marine gas oil. For cruise ships that can’t burn LNG, scrubbers have become an unfortunate alternative. We have spoken at lengths about how harmful scrubbers are to the environment. Like with LNG, any potential emission reductions are simply negated. Scrubbers may lower sulfur dioxide emissions, but their overall greenhouse emissions remain high over low sulfur fuel alternatives. Even worse, the process of scrubbing contaminates from a ships’ exhaust releases a highly toxic washwater directly into the ocean.
It makes sense then that majority of cruise lines receive poor marks for their efforts to operate sustainably. Each year, Friends of the Earth publishes a cruise ship report card assigning grades A-F to the major cruise lines based on a number of environmental factors. Not surprisingly, most cruise lines get Ds and Fs. Reasons for those low marks include things like dumping minimally treated sewage directly in the water, running engines in port instead of using shore power and avoiding questions regarding their environmental practices. Nearly half of the cruise lines surveyed committed criminal environmental violations, but this often means little to those cruise companies. They simply pay a fine and try not to get caught in the future.
In 2021, the cruise industry welcomed 13.9 million passengers. It is still a far cry from the 29.7 million passengers the cruise lines saw in 2019 pre-pandemic, but that number will only grow. In fact, 25 new cruise ships will be delivered this year alone. If there was ever a time to take a stand against the cruise industry it is now. Unless the cruise lines can figure out how to operate sustainably, they shouldn’t be operating at all. Travelers hoping to set sail on their next getaway will need to think twice. No cruise is worth the damage it inflicts on our environment.