…of ferry tales and wings (part II)

hawaii superferry

Some Kauaians were down for the drive-in protest at Nawiliwili Harbor to demonstrate the added traffic to be created when the Superferry begins service next July

It seems likely that ferry service will go forward, and we might hope this turns out to be a win-win for Hawaii’s sustainability movement.

Why? Because the need to reduce our carbon emissions overshadows all other concerns.

It's not that the protesters oppose the Superferry, per se. Rather, the threat of more traffic congestion, the spread of invasive species, and potential collisions with whales looms large in statewide grumbling (see part I).

Ironically, concerns about the energy efficiency of inter-island transport have only recently entered the debate amid claims these boats would actually generate more emissions than inter-island jets, though the available data (see below) suggest the opposite is true.

Of course, some say the most important concern is the way the Superferry has been “fast-tracked” without an EIS. Yet, the State built the first ferry terminal on O`ahu 4 years ago to attract this kind of business and has (so far) prevailed in court against those seeking to force an EIS.

Now, I’m not a big fan of the EIS process. IMHO, it is easily neutered and it is outdated in terms of the interconnected sustainability concerns we now face.

Either way, let’s assume there will be no EIS.

At the same time, let’s try to come to grips with how these concerns interconnect on the canvas of global warming.

Let’s look at the traffic issue, for openers: On Kaua`i, the Superferry could on- and off-load up to 300 cars each day at 5:30PM. If, say, half are headed West and half East, this means that at, say, the junction of Kapule and Kuhio highways near Hanama`ulu, there would be a traffic "surge" of 150 cars. And from traffic statistics, we know there are already 1,500 cars each way on this road during the "peak hour" at this time of day. (Turns out, this currently occurs between 3:30 and 4:30PM; most of the “rush” has dissipated by 5:30.)

So, in round numbers let’s say the ferry will add 10% to this fairly busy road. Is this a big number? A show-stopper? Probably not.

The same is true with invasive species and the need for "risk assessment". Note that a) our islands are virtually overrun with invasives; and b) each island has a highly effective "Invasive Species Committee" (valiantly marshalling amazing volunteer power).

So, the added risk and impact attributable to the Superferry must be fairly small.

And, regarding threats to whales, note that a)whale avoidance” has become a fine art in the islands and our whale populations are growing; and b) the Superferry’s “mitigation” responses to these challenges probably makes this boat less of a threat than the hundreds of “whale watch” tour boats that have become one of the islands’ most popular visitor attractions.

Again, there is some risk here, yet probably not large.

So, we come to the question of energy efficiency and the need for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Note that a) air travel is our most worrisome source of emissions; and b) water transport emissions (especially this nexgen ferry) beats plane emissions, hands down (based on the latest data from ghg protocol comparing transport alternatives on a consistent basis).

This "energy footprint" difference turns out to be a very big number: something like 20-to-1 for marine versus air transport. In other words, if all inter-island travel were by boat instead of plane, emissions would sum to 30,000 tons of CO2 from ferries versus 600,000 tons from the planes we’re flying today.

So where does this leave us? IMHO, we look for ways to minimize traffic disruption and whale collisions and added species invasions, yet the big prize seems to be in shifting our transport choices from planes to boats.

This is not (yet) a popular view, in part, it seems, because concerns about the Superferry have taken on a kind of "wikiality" (i.e., truth determined by consensus rather than fact). Make your own call on this.

From a sustainability perspective, I would simply note that Hawai`i could go a long way toward meeting it's emission reduction goals by substituting ferries for jets in its inter-island and international transport.

Fact is, we cannot meet these planet-friendly goals without doing so…or giving up inter-island travel altogether.

Conceivably, the ferries could be a win-win…As in: keep the travel AND cut the emissions.

Lord knows, this is where all of our energy should be going.

Published by Ken on November 8th, 2006 tagged HI-specific, Systems Thinking

8 Responses to “…of ferry tales and wings (part II)

  1. starman Says:

    Good job

  2. Andy K Says:

    After aiming at journalists, it seems like this blogger also "hears what he wants to hear/And disregards the rest"--lyrics from "The Boxer" by Simon & Garfunkel.

    Opening the ferry (nothing super about it) will increase transportation and therefore greenhouse gasses. It'll be like opening another road, a metaphor they proudly use themselves: it increases total traffic and encourages growth until both roads are saturated.

    You've glibly dismissed all the other environmental factors (volunteers are in endless supply and should do more work to clean up invasives). I contend that the ferry will barely impact airline traffic.

    Anyone who wants to be on either island in the morning or return on the same day, in other words business people, will fly. Anyone catching connections to the mainland or Asia will fly. Anyone not going to Oahu will fly to avoid the overnight layover. Well-to-do people will fly and rent cars as they do now. My feeling is that ferry customers will be people who don't fly now, working-class people who want to spend the weekend or week on another island with their vehicle. Ergo, increased traffic and increased pollution.

    But this is all my hunch, just as your claim that the ferry will reduce emissions is a hunch. So how can you be dismissive of those who want an EIS? Properly done, an EIS will crunch the numbers and poll the potential passengers, and then tell us as scientifically as possible whether or not total emissions (including all the extra driving by vehicles on the ferry) will be reduced.

    My hunch is that the EIS will also tell you how the ferry will destroy the rural character of Kauai, if you read in between the lines.

  3. Juan Wilson Says:

    If the Suerferry were not a civilian financed front for the military Westpac Express operations, and if the ferry did not carry 4x4 pickups, ATVs and off road bikes from Oahu to the outer islands, and if it traveled at half the proposed speed of 40mph - I'd be all for it.

    As proposed it is a white elephant... and a dangerous one.

  4. Ken Stokes Says:

    Thanks for chiming in, Andy! The prospect of reducing emissions by switching away from air travel is, of course, more than a "hunch." And since we're not likely to see an EIS on this, I'm extending my own research into the specific energy footprints of our islands' existing fleet of jets and these particular ferries. I'll be reporting these findings here, as well, so you might check back.

    And thanks for your great reporting on some of the Superferry's interconnections, Juan! We shall see which is the greater danger...air travel or its substitutes.

  5. Stratos Says:


  6. jonathan Says:

    Aloha - and here we are almost a year after your last posting Ken, and I am curious Ken - do you still stand by all of your ealier positions?

    Many of your environmental posisions vis a vis this Ferry seem counter intuitive to me.

    For example re: invasive dispersion, clearly that is a bad thing. Elsewhere in this site you speak to what a terrible job Hawaii et al is doing re: allowing them in 1% success in resisting them vs. 95% in NZ. Rather than exacerbating this problem (via new vector introduction) wouldn't we be better to move in a positive direction?

    Also, re: traffic and our limited auto-infrastructure - perhaps an additional 300 car surge will not be more than a sheaf or two extra traffic, but 1) shouldn't we be figgering how to REDUCE infrastructure strain, and 2)might not these 150 or 300 new 'straws' be the ones that breaks Kaua`i's back?

    I don't know the answers to the above questions, however I would prefer to focus more so on what i feel is perhaps the core issue for sustainability, and that is the efficiency and fuel consumption of this boat. Not boats in general, but this particular guzzler. This model does not seem to adhere to a best practices framework. If so, why support it?

    Why not support a smaller more economical high efficiency vessel, such as the 250' foot model the former president of Austal suggested to the SuperFerry people when first approached them, or something like the Solar Sailer as profiled in IslandBreath and Haleakala Times? Could the fact that those vesles are not mil-spec to carry stryker brigades enter into answer? Nothing sustainable about Littoral Combat Vessels, unless you are talking about a Forever War. Ken?

  7. Ken Says:

    Surely, my preliminary assessment of "small impacts" on invasives and traffic will hold up. And we'll see how much carbon is saved by this particular boat...if and when a footprint study is done.

    Meanwhile, the volume of inter-island residents coming to Kaua`i is way down since 2000, as you'll see in this week's Kaua`i People column.

  8. Kauaibrad Says:

    OMG, how did I miss this? Where do I start?

    Well, we'll take it in order:

    1. "Ironically, concerns about the energy efficiency of inter-island transport have only recently entered the debate amid claims these boats would actually generate more emissions than inter-island jets, though the available data (see below) suggest the opposite is true." -- HSF burns 15 times more petroleum based fuel to cover the same route than an Hawaiian Air jet. Even if you brought the maximum number of people transported to the same for each, a jet airplane is at least twice as efficient as HSF using no more than 1/2 the fuel that HSF takes to transport the same number of people the same distance. This is mainly so because the boat has 4 diesel engines moving through more water resistance and these planes have 2 jet engines moving through less resistant air. One could question whether one pollutes the air more than the sea and vis-a-versa, but I would think the petroleum carbon is released into the environment nevertheless. From an economic standpoint, a jet plane is much more efficient than HSF, assuming there is not really the need to move cars quickly interisland.

    2. About the traffic, and "300 vehicles" split going south and north. -- A key point here is that they don't all come and go in one day. They accumulate over a number of days in the beginning, as people are here for a number of days, weeks; ie visitors and construction workers. The accumulated daily average total, assuming uninterrupted service, would amount to more like 1000 to 2000 additional cars on the island. These roads, esp. between Wailua and Kealia, cannot handle that kind of influx.

    3. As for "the added risk and impact" of invasive species "must be fairly small." -- Well, first of all, we don't know, and certainly an economist would not know. Maybe a biologist or a DOA or DLNR officier might have a better idea on that. What we do know is that Kauai does not have the size of invasives populations that Oahu and the Big Island, and that even Maui have. Those would include the mongoose, fire ants, varroa mites, and coqui frogs. All of those have been spreading between the other islands, but not to Kauai, except for the coqui in small numbers.

    Just one example I'll mention. The Nene geese are well established on Kauai, at least the Northshore. I see and hear them on the land and at low altitude all the time. That is not the case on the other islands. This is the beautiful state bird. If the mongoose gets established here, you can kiss the Nene and other egg-laying endangered native species goodbye.

    4. Re: "And, regarding threats to whales...the Superferry’s “mitigation” responses to these challenges probably makes this boat less of a threat than the hundreds of “whale watch” tour boats...Again, there is some risk here, yet probably not large." -- "Less of a threat" how so? When whale watch boats have infrequently had accidental collisions with whales, they almost never result in the whale's death, as the whale watch boats are relatively small and moving slowly. Inertia, mass and velocity, is what determines the threat of fatal collisions between boats and whales as has been documented about every couple of months in places like the Canary Islands. So far, the ferry here has not operate consistently or at all in Jan., Feb., or Mar. last season. It remains to be seen what its track record will be operating daily during the height of the whales season here, assuming it can handle the Winter sea conditions and not run into other mechanical problems again as it did last Winter.

    5. "Conceivably, the ferries could be a win-win…As in: keep the travel AND cut the emissions." -- It's not a win for the company, because they never have and probably never will actually cover all of their costs, much less the significant costs they have been able to externalize to the State. As for less CO2 emissions, I am not convinced that burning 400 gallons of jet fuel releases more CO2 to the environment than burning 6000 gallons of diesel fuel to cover the same route.

    Aloha, Brad