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What Would It Take?


Is it possible to have a carbon neutral future? Is it possible to scale up sail freight in time to address the climate crisis? What would it take to make a robust sail freight future achievable?


As fossil fuel prices continue to rise and remaining resources grow harder to extract, free fuel such as wind power will become more economically critical.  Other costs to fossil fuel use, including carbon pollution, have been externalized. If a carbon tax or other more accurate pricing is engaged, sustainable transportation systems would become even more attractive.

With advanced technology, modern sail freight vessels could operate with smaller crews and transport goods faster. Sail assisted vessels would help make the transition to a cleaner future, but these are not the only changes that would have to take place to make a robust sail freight system possible.


Shifting existing vessels and crews to a new paradigm would take time. Some vessels could be retrofitted or repurposed, but many would have to be newly constructed, taking advantage of the latest technologies. Acceleration of ship design and construction would create a variety of viable jobs. To crew these new vessels, sail training programs would have to expand and wages would need to reflect the needs of a skilled workforce.


Ports large and small would have to be modified to accommodate sail freighters.  Sailing vessels have few but specialized needs. Bridges and air traffic can pose obstacles to port access. Dock facilities need adequate depth, moorings, and cargo loading equipment. Small ports and harbors could be redesigned for multiple uses, such as recreation and working waterfront together, with marked channels, reinforced bulkheads and docks with warehouse space.


Reducing consumption and relocalizing production are key to a sustainable future. Reducing demand for consumer goods will reduce global shipping and therefore carbon emissions. Creating a culture of repair for everything from clothing to electronics and designing for longevity and repair will also be critical to reducing consumption-based emissions.


The Hudson Valley is in a unique position to advance the revival of sail freight. With protected navigable waterways, local food production, and a history of innovation, the Hudson Valley also has a disproportionate amount of financial wealth and technical skill. These advantages make the Hudson River Valley an ideal proving ground for sail freight viability.