Monday, 15 October 2007

Genealogy and the Environment

October 15 is blog action day for the environment. What's to say! Are genealogists any more culpable than any other group for environmental degradation? Take the environmental issue of our time, global climate change.

There's good news in the latest figures released by Environment Canada. In 2005, for the segments of the economy most reflective of genealogists activities, emissions were down. Residential emissions were down 4.5% from 1990, the base year for the Kyoto Protocol. Emissions from gasoline powered automobiles were down 12.8%. If you drive an SUV or heavier vehicle the picture is not so pretty.

There is one activity on the upswing amongst genealogists that has a poor environmental record ... ocean cruising.

A recent article in The Guardian, Is cruising any greener than flying reveals that "On a typical one-week voyage a cruise ship generates more than 50 tonnes of garbage and a million tonnes of grey (waste) water, 210,000 gallons of sewage and 35,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water." A 2003 study on the cruise ship industry from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives expresses it on a per capita basis ... 10 gallons of sewage and 3.5 kilos of solid waste per passenger per day.

The figure that caught my attention was for emissions of greenhouse gases. According to The Guardian article ... a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43 kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257 kg per passenger mile for a long-haul flight.

To make things tangible, and its not atypical, let's look at a specific cruise. The Millennia Corporation, makers of Legacy Family Tree, is promoting a cruise in Europe next July. The route is a round trip from Dover in England with stops at Copenhagen, Warnemuende, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Tallinn, and Stockholm. That's about 5,500 kilometres. Per passenger the CO2 emission will be 2.4 metric tonnes. Adding to that emissions for the return trans-Atlantic flight, about 11,00 kilometres, means an additional 2.8 metric tonnes per passenger.

That's a total of 5.2 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, or more than the annual per capita emissions for over half the nations in the world. It's more than one quarter of the average per capita annual emissions for Canada for the whole year.

If you enjoy a cruise vacation, but are troubled by the impact, you might consider purchasing offsets. Googling carbon offset will reveal companies that for significantly under $100 will undertake to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects that offset your excess emissions for the cruise and the flight.

I wonder why the cruise line, or organizers, don't include a carbon offset purchase built in to the price. The cost is small compared to the cruise total, and should be even less with a bulk purchase.

Naturally it would be better if we all adopted a more sustainable lifestyle that didn't involve so much fossil fuel use in the first place. That will come through collective action, regulatory and economic incentives, that only governments can put in place. Citizens support is needed to implement them, to counter the power of the fossil fuel lobby. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore should be the last nail in the deniers coffins, and the end of excuses by successive governments for their lack of action.

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