On Earth Day, Activists Call for Faster Action on Shipping Emissions

ship it zero
Courtesy Ship it Zero Campaign

Published Apr 23, 2022 12:43 AM by The Maritime Executive

Activists in three West Coast cities took to the streets on Earth Day to ask shipping to accelerate its plans for climate action - not by pressuring shipowners, but by appealing to their customers. 

Working on the understanding that shipping responds to shippers, climate activists from the Ship it Zero coalition gathered in three port cities on the U.S. West Coast to call on retail giant Target to reduce the environmental impact of its mega-sized logistics operation. Over 95 percent of Target's imports pass through West Coast gateways, according to the coalition, and the retailer has so far resisted public pressure on shipping emissions. 

 "While its competitors, Amazon and IKEA, have taken steps to tackle their ocean shipping pollution, Target has so far remained silent," said Kendra Ulrich, the shipping campaigns director at Stand.earth.

The protesters did not restrict their focus solely to CO2: they also highlighted longstanding concerns about the health effects of NOx, SOx and PM. These short-lived pollutants were a focus of environmental activism for decades, and they continue to have a localized impact on the wellbeing of communities near seaports. 

The neighborhoods around the ports of LA and Long Beach have a long history of discussion and action on localized air pollution issues. The region has been fighting smog since the mid-20th century, and California state regulators continue to tighten the local rules on health-related emissions to this day. Activists in Long Beach chose to highlight the health impacts of the region's shipping activity, which is driven in large part by consumer goods. The group gathered at a Target near Cal State Long Beach and held an eight-minute "die-in,"  representing a claimed eight-year life expectancy reduction for people who live next to seaports.

In Seattle, the activists conducted a climate-focused protest at a Target outlet, and they joined President Joe Biden's speech at Seward Park. They also thanked the president for outlining American commitments to ocean and climate science, as announced at the Our Ocean Conference on Thursday.

The events also happened on the same day that Long Beach City Council introduced a resolution calling on major retail companies to adopt zero-emissions shipping by 2030, following in the footsteps of a similar move by the Los Angeles City Council last year.

“We call on Target to be a good neighbor here in Southern California and commit to 100 percent zero-emissions ocean shipping this decade, within months, as the IPCC projects that it is ‘now or never’ in order to avert catastrophic climate scenarios," said Dawny’all Heydari, Lead of the Ship It Zero Campaign at Pacific Environment.