WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

The Waterways Remain The Greenest – No Matter What

As societies search for the best paths to net zero across different fields and sectors, it has become common to read stories in the media about how these sectors are trying to meet their goals. These stories often follow a common pattern. They start (if they are well-researched) with facts and figures showing how much a given sector emits now. Then various experts and advocates give their findings and opinions about what reductions might be possible. The pros and cons of various technologies are discussed and debated, along with possible timelines.

The towing industry is doing this, too. One of the most interesting panels at this year’s Inland Marine Expo (which we will cover in detail next issue) was a panel discussion of just such issues, with top industry experts keeping attendees up to date on all the latest developments—technical, regulatory and political. Large sums of money are being spent on research and development, and more will be required.

It’s easy to get lost in “measuring stick” stories about what’s being done and how far we are getting—or not. But one fact emerged in the discussion that deserves to be repeated over and over again. It’s a fact that can be lost sight of in these kinds of stories.

Compared to all other transportation modes, water transport is by far the greenest and has the fewest emissions per ton-mile. This will continue to remain true for the foreseeable future, no matter what happens with technology.  It’s not just the technologies, it’s the economies of scale that make it so. A barge can carry one ton of cargo over a distance of 675 miles, utilizing only one gallon of fuel, a remarkable feat. Freight trains average 472 miles a gallon, whereas trucks average just 151 ton-miles per gallon. A future of all-electric trucks is a distant prospect. Ditto with rail.

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So by all means let’s celebrate what our industry (and everyone else)  is doing to reach our decarbonization goals and reduce our emissions still further. But at the same time, we should never let the public forget that we are already the cleanest and greenest.