Dear EarthTalk: I've heard that hybrid engine technology is now being used to power boats. What's happening with that?
—D. Smith, Portland, ME
With concerns about climate change and the fate of the world's imperiled oceans and waterways at an all time high, it makes sense that the boating industry would be looking into greener ways to try to do their part and to attract some of those increasing numbers of environmentally conscious customers.
Americans spend 500 million hours zipping around in recreational boats each year. But until recently the engines on these boats were held to much lower efficiency standards than their automotive counterparts. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new more stringent emissions standards for marine engines—both in-board and outboard—that will go into effect in 2010. In fact, several hybrid boats are already on the market, boasting emission ratings well below the new standards.
The 24-foot Endeavor Green Electric Hybrid can run all day on an electric charge that costs only 11 cents and generates no emissions, kicking into a small diesel generator only if the boat's eight batteries run dry. And when owners can charge the batteries via solar or wind power, the boats have a zero carbon footprint. Florida-based Craig Catamaran Corp. last year launched a hybrid version of its compact catamaran-style speedboat. The sporty little two-seater, which is light enough to be towed by a Mini Cooper or Smart Car, can run for eight hours on less than a gallon of gas, and costs less than $6,000 all in.
For those looking for a larger, more luxurious ride, the 25-foot Frauscher hybrid might be just the ticket. The speedy $155,000 Austrian-built pleasure boat combines an electric engine with a 256 horsepower Steyr diesel motor to allow for emissions-free harbor cruising or high octane speeding across open water.
If you're not quite ready to take the plunge on a hybrid boat yourself, check out one in action on your next visit to San Francisco. The recently retrofitted Hornblower ferry to Alcatraz and Angel islands is powered by several alternative energy sources, including a hybrid diesel-electric system powered by solar cells and wind turbines right on deck. Alcatraz Cruises, the private company that runs the service claims the Hornblower is the first hybrid ferry boat in the country. The 64-foot vessel has an advanced power management system that regulates when and how the different power sources are used so it can make best use of its energy and minimize emissions. Passengers can see many of the technological advancements on the vessel, making for not only a fun and scenic but educational ride.
In another development, the U.S. Navy has reportedly contracted with Solomon Technologies, makers of the famous Zodiac line of rugged inflatable boats, to create a series of hybrid boats where fuel efficiency and stealthy (quiet) passage is of paramount importance. Recreationists, pacifists and Greenpeace anti-whaling activists alike may get the chance to check one out soon, too, as Solomon is already looking into incorporating hybrid technologies into its recreational and commercial product lines as well.
Dear EarthTalk: Hunting seems to be a real controversy among environmental advocates. Can you set the record straight: Is hunting good or bad for the environment?
—Bill Davis, New York, NY
Like so many hot button issues, the answer to this question depends upon who you ask. On the one hand, some say, nothing could be more natural than hunting, and indeed just about every animal species—including humans—has been either predator or prey at some point in its evolution. And, ironic as it sounds, since humans have wiped out many animal predators, some see hunting as a natural way to cull the herds of prey animals that, as a result, now reproduce beyond the environment's carrying capacity.
On the other hand, many environmental and animal advocates see hunting as barbaric, arguing that it is morally wrong to kill animals, regardless of practical considerations. According to Glenn Kirk of the California-based The Animals Voice, hunting "causes immense suffering to individual wild animals
" and is "gratuitously cruel because unlike natural predation hunters kill for pleasure
" He adds that, despite hunters" claims that hunting keeps wildlife populations in balance, hunters" license fees are used to "manipulate a few game [target] species into overpopulation at the expense of a much larger number of non-game species, resulting in the loss of biological diversity, genetic integrity and ecological balance."
Beyond moral issues, others contend that hunting is not practical. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the vast majority of hunted species—such as waterfowl, upland birds, mourning doves, squirrels and raccoons—"provide minimal sustenance and do not require population control."
Author Gary E. Varner suggests in his book, In Nature's Interests, that some types of hunting may be morally justifiable while others may not be. Hunting "designed to secure the aggregate welfare of the target species, the integrity of its ecosystem, or both"—what Varner terms "therapeutic hunting"—is defensible, while subsistence and sport hunting—both of which only benefit human beings—is not.
Regardless of one's individual stance, fewer Americans hunt today than in recent history. Data gathered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for its most recent (2006) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, show that only five percent of Americans—some 12.5 million individuals—consider themselves hunters today, down from nine percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1996.
Public support for hunting, however, is on the rise. A 2007 survey by Responsive Management Inc., a social research firm specializing in natural resource issues, found that 78 percent of Americans support hunting today versus 73 percent in 1995. Eighty percent of respondents agreed that "hunting has a legitimate place in modern society," and the percent of Americans indicating disapproval of hunting declined from 22 percent in 1995 to 16 percent in 2007.
Perhaps matching the trend among the public, green leaders are increasingly advocating for cooperation between hunters and environmental groups: After all, both lament urban sprawl and habitat destruction.
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