I'm an early riser. Most days I get up around 5 a.m., make myself a cup of coffee and settle down by the window of my home on Douglas Island to sort through yesterday's mail and watch the morning come alive. Yesterday the air at that hour was so utterly clear that details of the homes a mile way across the channel on Starr Hill were discernible and I could make out individual branches on the trees covering the slopes of Mount Roberts. I congratulated myself for being lucky enough to live in a place like Juneau and picked up the first piece of mail - a glossy thing titled Cruise News 2000 from the North West Cruiseship Association.
Inside, the association (which bills itself as a not-for-profit association) did a fine job of patting itself on the back for its ``very aggressive environmental initiatives.'' About the time I finished browsing the newsletter, a blue smudge appeared in the air over the rock dump. A cruise ship maneuvering up the channel nestled into the dock and sat there pouring a jet of pale blue smoke into the air. Soon a second ship followed. Then another and another. By mid-morning four of the behemoths were settled into the pier or at anchor in the channel, all belching steady streams of blue smoke into the atmosphere. Soon, the homes and buildings of downtown Juneau began to blur and the brilliant greens of Mount Roberts turned a pasty blue-gray.
It didn't take long for the streams of smoke lifting from the stacks of the cruise ships to obscure Perseverance Basin and smudge all the details of the city from my view. By afternoon, exhaust from the ships had formed a layer that reached all the way south down the channel to Marmion Island and north to Salmon Creek.
This has been going on for years and continues to happen several times a week. There are more ships out there today turning everything blue. I know that most of the disgusting discharges are, as the NWCA letter defended in a slick statement regarding the sulfur dioxide levels in 1995, ``well under government standards.'' But, as USA Today columnist Nick Jans pointed out last week in an on-line article headlined Cruise Ships Tout Pristine Environment, Yet Trash Alaska - you don't have to be a normal philosopher to see that there's a huge gulf between what's legal and what's right. And neither the cruise industry's verbal gymnastics nor its promises for proposals and studies will change that. Only clear air and clean water will.