Editorial May 2008 Issue

The Greener Perspective

Just to put things into proper perspective: When it comes to water-bound polluters, sailors are the smallest of small fries. But a search for proper perspective on environmental issues can be maddening. Whenever I dig deeply into the topic, I soon find myself far down a rabbit hole conversing with hatters and griffins.

The surging movement of "green" consumerism is particularly sticky. At the surface, the trend inspires hope. The wider non-sailing marketplace is finally reflecting sailorsí long-held concern for the environment, and manufacturers are responding

Practical Sailor tester Frank Lanier
In 2006, Practical Sailor tester Frank Lanier compared a range of paint removers, several of which contained no volatile organic compounds.
to this development (and some tough legislation) by offering what they deem eco-friendly products. Conveniently, some of the green products actually cost less than the products they replace. Even better, most are far safer to use.

But measuring the environmental impact of any product defies simplification, particularly if you want to gauge the productís carbon footprint, the amount of carbon that is pumped into the atmosphere as a result of the product during its life. Add to this mix an unscrupulous marketer out to make a buck, and the truth becomes even murkier.

"Practically Green: Bottoms and Topsides," a special report beginning on page 16, sifts through past Practical Sailor tests and offers some eco-friendly choices for common maintenance needs. Dealing solely with the various cleaners and paints our testers have evaluated over the years, the study is hardly comprehensive, and it makes no account for carbon emissions. Nevertheless, I found it to be an eye-opening exercise, one that helped put things in perspective.

My biggest concern regarding the green movement is that the emphasis on eco-friendly products can obscure the relatively larger gains to be made by lifestyle changes. Cruising sailors have always taken pride in treading lightly, but over the past two decades, thereís been a clear shift in what constitutes a light touch. While the manufacturers of marine "consumables" like batteries, coatings, and cleaners are moving to reduce their impact on the environment, the newest cruising boats are weighed down by all the power-hungry conveniences of a small apartment. Granted, even these mini-luxury liners barely dimple the environmental landscape comparatively, but the trend toward larger, genset-supported pleasure palaces is too conspicuous to ignore.

In the simplest terms, the sailorís art requires working in concert with the forces of nature. It is a visceral experience, and in its extreme, the sport is as physically challenging as any. As our bodies age, itís only natural that we look for the comforts of a longer waterline, and explore every possible mechanical advantage. But I canít help but worry that as new boat dealers continue to push bigger boats with more sophisticated systems and cushier comforts, something is getting lost along the way.

Iím just hoping it isnít a sense of perspective.

Darrell Nicholson

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