Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

When it comes to climate change, the view here is that it took a long time to get into the present situation, and it's going to take a long time to fix.

The cruise industry has taken the right approach in its efforts to address the problem, as highlighted last week in a speech by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. vice chairman Adam Goldstein.

In his keynote talk to CLIA's 2019 Cruise360 conference, Goldstein said that the International Maritime Organization has set a goal for a carbon-free maritime environment by the end of the century.

Goldstein was frank in his assessment of where the industry stands today in relation to that goal. "None of us have clue today about how we would realize a carbon-free maritime environment by 2099."

It's an honest response. Cruise ships today mostly run on fossil fuels, either petroleum or, increasingly, natural gas. Unless you're for wiping out a $35-billion-a-year business that employs more than 530,000 people worldwide, we're going to live with that until we come up with something better.

Climate change is top-of-mind for many. Goldstein warned in his speech that the environment is Issue One, Issue Two and Issue Three for many Europeans.

"There is just extraordinary sensitivity throughout the continent of Europe to how all industries, all companies, and even governments are behaving on sustainability," Goldstein said. "It is the first question that comes up anywhere I go there."

The issue, however, isn't whether to address climate change, but how to address it in a measured way that makes progress without damaging the economy or requiring sacrifices that aren't reciprocated by every producer of greenhouse gasses the world over.

Requiring the cruise industry to turn itself inside out while cargo shipping gets a pass isn't fruitful. Requiring the U.S. or EU to take the lead is fair, but to require them to lead without the rest of the world following won't solve the problem.

Better is the cruise industry approach of working through a long-established process at the International Maritime Organization, part of the United Nations, to reach consensus goals that then get buy-in from everyone involved.

And better to set what seem to be unrealistic goals, as a prod towards progress, but keep the timeframe on those goals in the far future, so that, given time, an affordable and practical solution to climate change emerges.

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