We used to ship things in this country
By Dylan Matthews
It sometimes seems like every approach to climate emissions reduction has some unrelated side benefit that on its own would be worthwhile. Taxing gasoline more would cut down car emissions, and also reduce congestion and car accidents. Reducing meat consumption would lead to more sustainable agricultural practices, and also make them more humane. Philip Longman adds another one to the list: domestic shipping. Trucking is a really fast way to move goods across the country, but it's also costly. It's the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., it has a high fatality rate, and it damages highways and especially back roads, and hugely expensive lane expansions on highways would be needed to keep up its current pace of growth. Luckily, the U.S. has enough internal waterways that domestic shipping could do the same job instead, much more cleanly, and potentially more quickly:
A tugboat plying inland waters can typically move a ton of freight more than 51,000 miles before emitting one ton of greenhouse gas. A truck, by contrast, releases nearly three times as much greenhouse gas over the same distance. ... Not only would they save money and fuel; they would even, in some cases, save time. For example, a single truck driver moving a container from Boston to Orlando can make the trip legally in no less than fifty-four hours, given speed limits and mandatory thirteen-hour rest periods each day. By contrast, in just thirty-three hours, a container can be taken by truck from Boston to the port of New London, then placed onto a high-speed coastal freighter and shipped to the port of Charleston, and finally trucked from Charleston to Orlando, according to Stephen P. Flott, founder of SeaBridge, who has testified before Congress in support of the idea and may yet bring it to fruition.
Longman has plenty of suggestions of how to kick marine transport into gear, like reforming the obscure "harbor maintenance tax" and having the Navy pay for merchant marine ships that could be leased by the government in case of emergency. Read the whole thing for more details.
-- Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.
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