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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Save the whales?

In the July/August 2010 Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman makes a case for moving freight by ship rather than truck. Put simply, he writes that "we’ll use less oil, emit less carbon, [and] cut highway traffic."

Longman writes that less than 5% of U.S. freight moves by ship, but significant increases would have meaningful consequences:
If only 30 percent of the freight that currently goes by truck went by barge instead, it would result in a reduction in diesel fuel consumption of roughly 4.7 billion gallons. This is equivalent to conserving more than 6 percent of the total end-use energy consumed by U.S. households, including heating, cooling, and lighting.
Later, Longman writes that "10 percent of U.S. gross domestic product [is] involved in freight logistics."

While Longman writes of using all sorts of domestic waterways, including inland lakes and rivers, many of the examples he employs involve coastal and blue water transportation.

I wonder if Longman saw the September issue of the Atlantic Monthly? In the September 2010 issue, Melissa Gaskill had a short piece noting that whales are threatened by the type of ocean traffic Longman promotes:
When a container ship strikes a 60-ton right whale, no one on board usually notices. The whale, however, may die from massive trauma, hemorrhage, and broken bones. Ship propellers slice whales up “like a loaf of bread,” says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

North Atlantic right whales—one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 400 living in the wild—are particularly vulnerable. They feed, breed, and migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, where, as the map at right shows, they encounter increasingly heavy ship traffic.

...According to the New England Aquarium, ship strikes and fishing-gear entanglement until recently were killing the whales faster than they could reproduce.
Gaskill does point out that reducing vessel speed saves whales, though the shipping industry is opposed.

This is one of those cases where one environmental value seems to conflict with another. I've often argued in class, without hard evidence, that environmental organizations believe that "poster animals" like whales help attract attention and resources that make their other missions possible. This is an interesting test of the implications, I suppose.

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