Awareness and activism over climate change has to translate to policy and action. But it is not enough for governments to nip at the margins of industrial excess through regulation to deliver us to carbon neutrality by 2045. It is not enough to wait passively for some silver bullet, some technological breakthrough or combination of breakthroughs coming from the private sector to deliver us carbon neutrality by 2045.
Whole sectors of the economy must change in order to meet this goal. We need robust and directed research and development (R&D) to deliver us the world we want in 2045.
Picture 2045, given our hopes and expectations for our own lives as of 2020. We want meaningful lives for ourselves and our offspring. We want to make ethical choices in our consumption habits. We want security and sustainability. All these general goals are the language of the Green New Deal. At a pedestrian level, we want coffee in the morning after a good night’s sleep. We want comfortable, fun, and safe transportation to take care of our personal business of the week. We want to be connected and have reliable information and meaningful entertainment on-demand and at our fingertips. We want to make healthy and ethical choices in what we consume. All of these depend on infrastructure that is patchy in terms of meeting the challenge of 2045 climate neutrality, and on the whole, this patchiness is inadequate.
Consider this: if we are to meet carbon neutrality by 2045, most of the infrastructure we rely on now will necessarily be obsolete. There will be no fossil fuel-burning container ships or airplanes even as inroads are made in developing and deploying electric cars and trucks, and in renewables energizing the electrical grid. Shipping by air and water are integral and growing necessities of global trade, and yet their transformation away from fossil fuel dependency is lagging far behind in terms of R&D.
So where is the push to decarbonize shipping coming from? Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, recently made a pledge to have net zero emissions by 2050 and have carbon neutral vessels that are commercially viable by 2030. They are focusing on biofuels to power their fleet. The problem is that there is no commensurate plan or strategy on how to grow or process the biofuel at a scale the Maersk fleet (or any fleet) requires. Spoiler alert: the amount of biofuel required is huge, and the amount of arable land required to produce it is more than the Earth can now handle sustainably.
The second prong in Maerk’s two-pronged approach to sustainability is in adopting the practice of “slow steaming”. Slow steaming is a commitment to rely more on ocean currents and slower speeds to reduce fuel use. By steaming at 10-15 knots rather than 20-25 knots, fuel use can be reduced by 60%. Customers must simply wait an extra week for trans-Pacific voyages.
10-15 knots is the speed of a clipper ship. Yes, wooden, tall-masted hemp-sails clipper ships.
I wondered if there could be a modern version of a wind-powered container ship that could go this fast. Maybe one that uses modern sails and sailing technology to convey a mid-sized Eimskip-type container ship across the ocean at slow-steaming speeds. The answer is yes.
Maine has a long tradition of shipbuilding. Many famous clippers were built in Maine. Would that we had the wherewithal to build a modern windship? It turns out we do.
Bath Iron Works is perfectly suited for the task. The world of 2045 does not need another warship. It does need a windship.
Who will foot the bill to commission a windship? A Sanders or Warren presidency would pounce on this idea. But Maine can fund it too, independently, through a Decarbonization Savings Bank. Keep the good union jobs in Maine and break free of the war machine dependency that is a recurring drain on taxpayer dollars. We can do better than this race to the bottom with General Dynamics. Dirigo.