I couldn’t pass up this tease question in an emailed promotion for a conference (in Marseille, if anyone has a spare ticket on the QM2 to offer a humble blogger).
Is Climate Change a challenge or an excellent incentive to facilitate the renaissance of the shipping and maritime industries?
Okay, I’ll bite. My answer is yes. It’s a challenge and it presents a generational opportunity that the maritime sector can’t afford to pass up.
Can climate change actions revitalize the shipping and maritime industries? (Another question posed by the conference organizers.) That not only is a timely question but it is the right question along with some others:
Will the American maritime sector will take proper advantage of the persistent national environmental and energy imperatives? Will the U.S. industry only tinker around the edges of design and technology? Or will it aggressively leverage global climate policy concerns to transform marine transport and services into a new market opportunity? Moreover, will the industry actually try to engage the interest of the US government in such a major transformation?
Marine transportation has some natural advantages. It tends to avoid little things like 10-mile backups on the turnpike. Its carrying capacity makes it the most efficient on a ton mile basis. That efficiency can also mean some comparative environmental benefits, along with some less pleasing emissions.
But as we have seen those pluses are not sufficient to move UPS to adopt coastal water routes or to convince government to integrate marine highways into surface transportation policy. Nor have various studies as to those benefits convinced shippers and other skeptics of Jones Act shipping.
After all, notwithstanding some attractive plans for new marine highway service, the industry has been slow to present concrete evidence that it has the will to leverage climate and energy policy drivers in order to bring about its own “renaissance.” I reach once again for a convenient contrast: the railroads.
The Class Ones could see the time was ripe. They have advertised the public benefits of rail freight , they have leveraged Federal support for the building of “green” locomotives, and they came up with a major bid to Congress, anyone who would listen, for a 25 percent investment tax credit for infrastructure improvements to their systems.
I know none of this is simple stuff for the maritime sector. And of course the economics are daunting to companies that operate on thin margins. But does the industry–especially the US flag stakeholders–have a vision as to what it can be? What the vessels can look like? What cleaner fuels can be burned to make the environmental benefits of marine transport undeniable? What visible improvements can be made to demonstrate that change is taking place to transform 20th century operations into 21st century wow!
As I have noted elsewhere in this blog, give the Sailor and the Secretary good reason to say “cutting edge” when talking about a vessel or a major advance in maritime goods movement.
We are handed an opportunity when Congress debates climate action measures and major reforms to energy policy. Pbea