Vote in our poll at the bottom of this article.
If you’ve recently taken a flight from a major UK airport, then you may have noticed that more people are protesting air travel expansion and encouraging people to fly less.
This uptick in anti-flying sentiment is part of a larger environmental movement sweeping across Europe. Known as Flygskam or ‘flight-shaming’, the movement encourages people to stop travelling by plane and use more environmentally friendly transportation where they can.
How did flygskam start?
Flygskam is a Swedish word and literally translates as ‘flight shame’. The movement suggests the feeling of being embarrassed or ashamed to travel by plane because of the negative impact on the environment.
The term was coined when Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg wrote an article, which was signed by five famous friends—including Olympic winter gold medallist Bjorn Ferry.
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has backed the campaign after her mum, Malena Ernman, signed the article with a commitment to give up flying.
Greta Thunberg will sail across the Atlantic instead of flying
Thunberg, who has not flown on a plane since 2015, travelled to London from Stockholm in Sweden by train to urge others to turn their backs on flying.
The 16-year-old activist has also accepted a ride across the Atlantic by boat to attend two key climate conferences.
The teenager will make the journey aboard the Malizia II, a high-speed 18-metre (60ft) yacht built to race around the globe.
“We’ll be sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the UK to New York in mid August,” she tweeted.
In a Facebook post, Team Malizia said they were “honoured to sail Greta Thunberg emission free across the Atlantic”.
Environmental impact of flying
The aviation sector currently accounts for about 2% of global emissions (12% of transport sources) and is one of the fastest-growing polluters. This doubles when you include non-CO2 greenhouse gases, like nitrogen oxides. Additionally, unlike most other sources of pollution, aviation results in pollutants being dumped high up in the atmosphere.
According to SJ, Statens Järnvägar, the national railway company in Sweden, a single flight between Sweden’s two biggest cities, Stockholm and Gothenburg, generates as much CO2 as 40,000 train journeys!
Earlier this year, the UK government pledged to reduce the UK’s emissions to “net zero” by 2050. However, according to projections from researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, emissions from the aviation sector could more than double by then even if planes become substantially more fuel-efficient. So, it’s unclear whether flying will be included in the UK’s target.
Cait Hewitt, deputy director at the Aviation Environment Federation, is also sceptical. “Aviation has to be included in this target—it would undermine this whole effort to leave it out,” she says. “But it will be the hardest sector to decarbonise as no radical technical solutions will be available quickly enough to meet the scale of the challenge. By 2050, any remaining emissions from flying will need to be balanced by carbon removals. There’s an urgent question now to work out how to deliver those removals, and how much flying we can accommodate.”
Is flygskam taking off?
It’s hard to say exactly how big the movement is becoming, but flygskam has become a social media buzzword along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #stayontheground.
The number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys has risen by 8% this year as plane journeys inside the country have fallen.
A survey published last month by Swedish Railways (SJ) found 37% of respondents chose to travel by rail instead of air, compared with 26% last autumn and 20% in early 2018.
The chief executive of SAS, one of Scandinavia’s biggest airlines, blames flygskam for the fall in passenger numbers. He told a Norweigan newspaper that he was “convinced” the movement was behind a decline in Swedish air traffic.
Clearly then, flygskam is having a measurable impact on people’s transport choices. Some people, however, have been critical of the movement because they say that it places blame or feelings of embarrassment onto the passengers when it is really the airlines and industries associated with it who should feel guilty for the impact that they are having on the planet.
Featured image: dsleeter_2000/Flickr
What do you think? Is the flygskam movement is a good idea? Will it have an effect on your transport choices. Vote in the poll and leave a comment below!