Friday, May 29, 2009

Protecting the Environment is Such a Downer

A ban on heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic will essentially end tourism in the region, according to a press release from Crystal Cruises. The press release claims that "a proposed ban on the carriage of certain fuel oils on board will effectively prohibit the sailing of most passenger vessels in the Antarctic," but provides no actual evidence to support this claim. As we noted before, the ban would probably impact large ships the most, because their fuel costs are higher. Operators might choose to cancel Antarctic routes rather than raise prices to cover the higher fuel costs, but that's hardly the same as prohibiting the sailing of vessels. The release goes on to highlight the final Antarctic tour that Crystal Cruises plans to make over the Christmas holidays in 2009-2010. It certainly sounds wonderful - and explains why Crystal Cruises might not be able to afford increased fuel costs. To enhance its guests' holiday experience, the ship "will boast more than $100,000 of exquisite seasonal decor. Handcrafted ornaments, elaborately decorated trees and larger-than-life toy soldiers are among the ship's holiday furnishings." These decorations will be accompanied by "[e]xtravagant holiday dinners, parties and entertainment." I bet all those ornaments and all that food weighs an awful lot! Cruise costs start at about $9,000 per person.

By this point, you are no doubt weeping at the injustice that will be done to the world if the International Maritime Organization (IMO) succeeds in formalizing the heavy fuel oil ban, thereby forcing Crystal Cruises to end this delightful trip. Am I really supposed to care that rich people won't be able to enjoy giant toy soldiers with icebergs as a backdrop? After all, it is somewhat reassuring that for once the needs of nature are put before the needs of people trying to make money the easy way. Especially as the toothfish fishery expands in the Ross Sea, I find it remarkably progressive of the IMO to proceed with the ban. The similarities are thus: both Antarctic trips and toothfish are products that are aimed at the relatively well off - even more downscale tours are quite expensive, and toothfish sell for $20 per pound - yet efforts to protect either the Antarctic environment or Antarctic fauna are presented as unfair infringements on freedom by hysterical environmentalists. Now if Antarctica were the only environment in which people could recover from a certain disease, or if toothfish were feeding the world's poor, there might be a legitimate debate here.

But that is certainly not the case. Many of us would love to visit Antarctica, and many of us (even in the ocean conservation community) enjoy seafood, yet neither toothfish fillets nor cruises are required for human life. Most of the time, despite what businesses may argue, environmental protections ultimately benefit humans just as much as they benefit the environment. Humans need healthy oceans with healthy ocean ecosystems more than we need luxury goods. Good for the IMO for doing the right thing, and shame on Crystal Cruises for pretending that the ban is anything other than a move to protect the environment.

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