Welcome to a new edition of Left Wondering with Joel Stein, our advice column for paid subscribers of The Lever on how to lead an ethical life in an increasingly unethical world.

Have a question about how to make a personal decision related to climate change, corporatization, politics, wealth inequality, globalization, or other matters that you’d like Joel to answer? Send it to LeftWondering@levernews.com.

Dear Left Wondering,

My husband and I are in our late 70s. He uses a walker and can only walk short distances. We just went on a week’s cruise to Alaska, which is about the only kind of holiday we can handle. Our previous cruise was four years ago.

I am appalled when I think about the global effect of cruises — the huge ships that affect marine life, especially whales, and the stupendous food waste that must be involved in the buffet and many dining rooms. 

We are near the end of our lives and grieve for the generations to come. But what are we to do — just never have a holiday away from home? Driving distances isn’t an option for us, and, of course, driving has environmental consequences.



Dear Rose,

Good God, Rose, do whatever you like. You have my permission. If you and your walker-bound husband who are “near the end of our lives” have been dreaming since the late 1950s of driving a harpoon through a whale, I shall call you Ahab and turn a blind eye to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. 

You’re right about cruise ships, though. They are a supposedly fun thing our planet should never do again. A large one belches out 12,000 cars’ worth of greenhouse gasses. Passengers on a seven-day Antarctic cruise produce as much carbon emissions as the average European does in a year. A flight plus a night at a four-star U.S. hotel emits about half as much carbon dioxide than a day on a cruise ship.

A lot of cruise ships burn bunker fuel, which is a type of fuel even dirtier than regular fuel. The kind of fuel that asks you to call it names during sex. Bunker fuel is so dirty that burning it produces soot, which is the number-two cause of global warming after carbon dioxide and the number-one cause of people saying, “Soot? What is this, Mary Poppins times?”

And, yes, you created a lot of waste on your trip to Alaska. A cruise ship with 2,700 passengers can create a ton of garbage per day. The vast majority of it being uneaten shrimp.

But you’ve come to me for advice, not berating. I know this because my editors turned down my original pitch for a berating column.

To find out what you should do, I ran your letter by Bryan Comer, who runs the Marine Program for the International Council for Clean Transportation.