That depends on what you mean by “sustainable.” The shipping industry as a whole can certainly be greener, and there are efforts afoot toward that end–for example, the first IMO Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships met in Oslo, Norway in 2008 to discuss how best to reduce the carbon footprint of ships. More efficient ships is only one of the ways to make shipping more sustainable. Eliminating pollution from ballast water discharge is another, addressing a major problem with shipping. In the long term, can shipping ever really be sustainable? Ships are the heavy workhorses of the world’s transportation system, burning heavy fuel oils at a tremendous rate. Unless we go back to sailing vessels, which take a lot longer to get from port to port and are thus not nearly as economical, we’re probably stuck with the basic concept of gas-guzzling tankers until such time as an alternative energy source can be found that has the economic potential to displace fossil fuel usage. Whether that becomes a reality is tied to the usual questions about transportation, and the usual suspects to replace fossil fuels–nuclear power (which has been widely used on ships since the 1950s), solar, wind, or exotic solutions like nuclear fusion reactors (which today don’t exist outside of Star Trek). But, certainly look for the shipping industry in America and the world to pay more attention to its carbon footprint in the years to come.
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