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The Gathering Storm

Any mariner worthy of the name knows that when you spot threatening clouds on the horizon, you don’t just sit there. You act, or at least you start formulating a plan to deal with the looming threat. Only an irresponsible boater would gamble that the storm will somehow magically turn away. So why is everyone from boaters to boatbuilders ignoring a situation that could so dramatically alter their world?

This potential maelstrom I’m referring to is actually two events, which could form a kind of perfect storm for boating. One is public acceptance of global warming. Yes, some diehards still question whether it’s a scientific fact, but as soon as George W. Bush acknowledged it in his State of the Union address, it became reality. And how will we address global warming? Mainly by burning less fossil fuel like gasoline and diesel.

The other event is a renewed drive for energy independence. There’s a gathering belief that the Middle East is essentially unstable and will become even more so, and as long as our economy depends on petroleum from there (and other volatile places like Venezuela and Nigeria), we’ll basically be hostages. So more Republicans and Democrats alike are coming to believe that domestically produced energy is key to getting out from under petro-blackmail.

So far, the main response to this belief has been the increasing use of ethanol-blended gasoline and soy diesel, but we can’t grow anywhere near enough biofuel to satisfy our energy appetite. So many are saying that we’ll have to make up the difference with conservation. Things could evolve to where conservation becomes not just fashionable but patriotic, and if it does, where will powerboats (and yes, RVs) fit in?

Through all the oil shocks and periodic ecological spasms, powerboats have been largely ignored (although Jimmy Carter did flirt with a ban on boating). Can we expect such benign neglect to continue? Based on past performance, we might, but there are signs that this time the spike in public concern might stick, especially if it’s abetted by a governmental call to action and more apparent evidence of global warming. If it becomes a civic duty to turn down the thermostat to 55 and trade the Excursion for a Prius, what will public opinion say about a 45-footer powered by twin 600-hp diesels?

Maybe it’ll say that as a percentage of overall energy consumption, that related to boating is insignificant. But what if it says that everyone needs to do his or her part, that we all need to sacrifice? Shouldn’t boaters and boatbuilders prepare for that possibility? Whether it’s hiring lobbyists or building more fuel-efficient boats, shouldn’t we do something now, before the storm hits?

Capt. Richard Thiel, Editor-In-Chief

This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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