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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Return to an Age of Sail, part 2

Bringing back an sailing ships to transport good sounds crazy, doesn't it? Here we are in 2010, and as a society, we can't remember back just 100 or 150 years ago to a time when most goods were shipped using only the wind as power. No carbon emissions, no spilling of oil or fuel into the oceans, no concerns about rising fuel costs.

What's changed since then?

The world population has exploded from just under 2 billion people in 1900, to just around 7 billion today. Because of this, goods and raw materials are being shipped overseas in quantities previously unfathomable. The sailing ships of 1900 couldn't keep up with the demands of the modern least with old-style thinking and old-style architecture.

So let's think outside of the box for a moment? Let's ask "How can we?"

First, why can't the best designers alive today re-architect a new breed of sailing ship? A type of ship that can haul more cargo, sail faster, go into shallower ports, or heck, even have solar collectors onboard, maybe even built into the sails themselves...?

Would these new sailing cargo vessels be able to haul as much as a modern container ship? Maybe, maybe not. I'm not a shipbuilder or architect, so I don't know what is beyond possible with sail. But I think to get ourselves out of the corner we've backed ourselves into, we need to think differently. Old thinking got us where we are today: rampant consumers shipping millions of tons of goods and resources across the world, at a huge cost to the atmosphere and oceans.

One thought: perhaps if we curbed our voracious appetites for new "stuff", sailing ships might be feasible again.

Another: let's throw our prejudices about sailing ships out of the window before looking at the problem. Why can't we design a new type of ship that can haul large quantities of goods? Maybe it has 2 or 3 hulls instead of just one. These new ships don't have to look or sail like the ones of 150 years ago - they can be as different from the Cutty Sark as a modern cargo ship is from The Lynx.

Perhaps we ship smaller quantities of higher-priced or specialty goods via sail, saving container ships for the cheap, mass-produced stuff. Or use sail for the shorter hops within a continent, leaving the longer voyages for the modern, massive cargo ships. Or redesign containers to be lighter and fit into smaller vessels.

I really think it's possible to redesign the way we ship good and resources, but it's going to take time, effort, money, and the willingness of all of us to rethink our approach to many different things. Can we do it? Yes, I think we a society, though, we need to both believe that we can AND see the need for doing it.

If you'd like to read a stunning book on why we should be thinking differently, and why we should be protecting the oceans, I urge you to read Sylvia Earle's The World is Blue. It's been a lifechanging book for me, and I'll be examining it in more depth in upcoming posts.

This post and its photos are copyright Nancy Rynes, 2010.

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