Carnival Earth

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For four days last February, the cruise ship Carnival Triumph drifted helplessly with 4,000 aboard, after a power failure knocked out engines, electricity and toilets. Conditions got worse each day, raw sewage overflowing onto decks. Awful smells made lower cabins so uninhabitable passengers slept outdoors. On this ship, the poop deck certainly deserved the name.

As days went on, passengers began fighting for available food. Without power or air conditioning, the ship was heating up, literally and figuratively. Tempers flared and illness broke out.

And the whole thing has me thinking about that cruise ship we are all trapped on, Planet Earth.

Comparisons to the crippled cruise ship and our planet are weirdly close -- drifting along, with a huge number of passengers, but a limited supply of food, water and energy. Temperatures rise, resources grow scarcer, pollution spreads. Violence escalates and illnesses emerge. Those on the lowest decks are affected first, while those on the highest decks watch the growing waste, hoping they are high enough it will never reach them. Sound familiar?

Of course, on a ruined planet, as on a stranded ship, it doesn't matter how rich you are or how high and grand your stateroom is. Sooner or later, the mess will reach you.


Like that ocean liner, cruise ship Earth is grappling with ever-increasing toxic waste and ever-decreasing supplies of clean water, food and enough energy. If the Carnival Triumph proves anything, it proves a trashed environment doesn't discriminate between first class and economy.

The triumph of the Carnival Triumph will be if the captains of our planetary ship notice the cautionary cruise, and chart a course towards real answers on global warming and pollution. Because our planet has no lifeboats. And on a ruined planet, rich or poor, we're all in the same boat.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches at the Sunset School in San Francisco.