As public awareness of climate change has grown, an increasing number of people are openly talking about flygskam or ‘flight shame’, and ‘flying in secret’.
Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic in a racing yacht to avoid travelling by air to take part at the UN Summit held in New York City. Thunberg, who has not flown on a plane since 2015 and recently made the 15-day voyage, gained recognition when she went on strike from school last year to protest her government’s inaction on climate change. She most recently sparked a series of worldwide demonstrations that drew an estimated 4 million people around the world.
As public awareness of climate change has grown, an increasing number of people are openly talking about flygskam or ‘flight shame’, and ‘flying in secret’. Even ‘train bragging’ also called tagskryt, which encourages people to travel by train instead of plane by posting pictures from their rail trips online on social media.
Did you know that one in five travellers is flying less as ‘flight shaming’ propels travellers to shun air travel for the sake of the planet, according to a survey of 6,000 Western travellers? The survey also predicted that this environmental concern would keep denting air traffic, as activists such as Thunberg lead the way and turn people off planes.
A few recent examples speak volumes about the guilt of taking flights at a time when the world needs to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions: In Sweden, people are swapping planes for trains as a sense of shame spreads among those concerned about climate change. In China, air travel is expected to grow over the next 15 years, making the need for emission-light flights even more pressing. In July, France announced a tax on airlines flying from its airports to help support the environment, a move that Air France said would significantly hurt its competitiveness and add over €60 million in additional costs per year. Recently, the Duke of Sussex defended his wife Meghan’s decision to use private jets while campaigning to tackle climate change. Prince Harry said he occasionally needs to avoid commercial air travel, which generates far less pollution per passenger, to protect his family.
So next time if you’re caught on a long haul flight then think about the amount of carbon emissions you have generated! It is more than a person living in some developing countries emit in an entire year. Also, worldwide, 7.8 billion passengers are expected to travel in 2036—a near doubling of current numbers. If this continues, according to a new UN report, the aviation industry will face huge challenges so as to meet its own self-imposed climate change targets. The sector has an aspirational goal to cap its emissions at 2020 levels. According to a report published in Reuters, commercial flying accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions today but without concrete steps, that number will rise as global air travel increases. The aviation industry has set out a four-pronged plan to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and half net emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. But airline leaders acknowledge they have struggled to articulate their plans in a way that resonates with the public.
Giovanni Bisignani, director general and CEO, International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, “Today’s jet fuel cannot sustain our industry. Together with our partners, we have a strong, united position and common targets on climate change. By 2050, we will cut our carbon emissions in half. We are ahead of governments and every other industry. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commended aviation as a role model. “Our biggest opportunity is biofuels with the potential to reduce our carbon footprint by 80%. Airlines have successfully tested them and some have committed to purchase. Certification is expected within a year. Soon, the price could be right. With every doubling of production, costs should fall 20%. Local production using jatropha, camelina, algae or even urban waste will give greater supply stability. New economic opportunities in virtually any location will break the tyranny of oil,” he had said.
Sustainability is critical for any industry’s future—including aviation. The challenge now is to enforce and implement the goals, and win over the sentiment of a portion of the flying public by “doing the right things.” The world urgently needs a transport system that allows people to travel around the planet without leaving carbon footprints behind.