In the age of wanderlust, flygskam (the Swedish word for flight shame) is a movement that can be considered a threat to your #travelinspo ‘grams. It means to shun flights and also shame those who take them.
This new trend taking off around Europe is due to the prominent, rising concern over the global climate change crisis and the recognition that the aviation industry is one of the world’s worst polluters — making up for 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions and annually producing around 860 million tonnes of CO2. The idea is that by choosing trains over planes, consumer demand for commercial flights will decrease, therefore pressuring airlines to become more responsible in regards to their environmental impact.
A big advocate of the flygskam movement is none other than 16-year-old Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg; who famously traveled 65 hours by train from her hometown of Stockholm, Sweden all the way to Davos, Switzerland to speak at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019. She took to Twitter to tagskryt (Swedish for train-brag) about this decision, showcasing that by choosing to #StayOnTheGround it was possible to significantly reduce the amount of transportation-related carbon emitted on her trip. In fact, according to EcoPassenger, by opting for a train journey, Greta’s footprint only wracked up about 44kg of CO2, in comparison to the estimated 262kg that could have been via plane.
Her extreme case is aimed to lead by example and instil a sense of panic in the world. She wants the world to “feel the fear that [she does]. Every day. And [wants us] to act. [She wants us] to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.” So taking actions to live a minimal carbon lifestyle, such as avoiding plane travel, is a suggestion Greta stands by to act on climate change.
However, while the trend seems to be momentarily working in Europe, the guilt hasn’t spread to other regions of the world… yet. Likely because Europe can rely on a high-speed rail network interlinking many major cities, while other parts of the world, such as Asia, can’t relate. Moreover, with the rising middle class who have dreams of jet setting around the globe, the Asia-Pacific sector seems to still be growing fast and is only expected to increase. Which brings us back to square one.
Is flygskam working?
Nonetheless, if Greta has taught us anything it’s that no matter how small you may be, your voice can still be mighty. And while flygskam may not be a worldwide trend (yet), the movement has sparked enough stir in the aviation industry to the point where talks seem to be moving forward on systematic change.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) — a body who supports aviation with global standards for airline safety, security, efficiency, and sustainability — have begun to address changes that need to be made by adopting a set of ambitious targets. More specifically, improving fuel efficiency by 1.5% each year from 2009 to 2020, capping net CO2 emissions from 2020, and reducing emissions to half of what they were in 2005 by 2050. These targets are being approached through: technological and engineering advancements, efficient operations, infrastructure improvements, and single global market-based measure (i.e. CORSIA — the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, to address CO2 emissions from international aviation).
Perhaps the most pertinent, and pressing, change that needs to be made is the switch from oil-derived jet fuel to biofuel. IATA wants sustainable fuels to reach 2% of the total airplane supply by 2025, but many have argued over whether 2% is really enough? Especially when Qantas made global headlines in 2017 exemplifying that operating sustainably is possible NOW by flying from Australia to the United States using mustard seed power. However, because biofuel options on average cost about 2-3x the amount of traditional petroleum-derived fuel, there is minimal movement over this matter due to the competitive, profit-oriented nature of the industry.
Each and every year of present inaction and future targeting increases the risk of climate-related catastrophic tipping points; achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2025 is necessary for the most optimal outcome of living in a 1.5-2 °C hotter world. While flygskam has been heard by aviation leaders, what the industry needs to see now is more government regulations against the use of fossil fuels and incentives to encourage investment in alternative fuel manufacturing.
As a traveller, whether you choose to participate in flygskam or not, the best ways to move forward are to consciously work towards reducing your CO2 emissions, offset the carbon that is produced on your travels, and continue to educate yourself and lobby for environmental changes you want to see made. This way, there is still hope that our future holidays will not be jeopardised, or worse, that we won’t have to start att smygflyga (Swedish for flying-in-secret).