The flygskam movement emerged in 2017 after Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg pledged to give up flying, and has spread amid increasing concerns over climate change, adding Swedish term “flygskam”, or “flight shame”, to the global vocabulary.
Flights Are Big Polluters, Leading to Flygskam or “Flight Shame”
2.5 percent of global human carbon emissions come from commercial flights. A transatlantic round trip by air can emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per individual – the same as someone’s entire carbon allowance for a year. Commercial flights also put out nitrogen oxide and water vapour at very high altitudes, which further contribute to the negative environmental effects of aviation. The clearest – and most immediate – proposition to lower this amount would be to cut domestic flights, swapping them for lower-carbon alternative modes of transportation such as trains.
The Joy of Slow Travel
The joy of slow travel (i.e. taking the scenic route) sees individuals opting for trains instead, an alternative that emits one tenth of the emissions of flying. New high-speed trains are popping up in Europe, making holidaying much more accessible, while also reducing aviation transport on the same routes by as much as 80% – this shows that given the choice, people will and do opt for other alternatives to flying.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has been an avid spokesperson in her belief that flying should be avoided wherever possible, famously opting to sail across the Atlantic for conferences in 2019.
The hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken (translating to #IStayOnTheGround) has become synonymous with the movement. It was indeed successful, as the campaign spread through social media – Swedish airports saw a decrease in flights by 4% within a year. Similarly in England, reports show that in 2020, flight shaming had led to a record number of people choosing trains over planes to get from London to Glasgow, and the same for travellers going to Scotland from London.
Flygskam Goes Global
The German Green Party (which doubled its seats in last year’s European elections) aims to make domestic flights obsolete. It is a shift in messaging that will spread awareness and demonstrate a responsibility to change the face of flying. Dutch airline KLM has launched a campaign asking its customers to ‘fly responsibly’, and only use airlines when absolutely necessary. By encouraging flyers to contribute to their carbon offset funds and to pack lighter, they tell travellers to spread awareness of the “shared responsibility” we all have to protect the environment and be aware of our own carbon footprint.
France has also banned short flights to cut down on emissions, popularising trains instead. Growing environmental concerns have prompted some EU member state governments to suggest a pan-European aviation tax. However, other environmental activist groups argue that perhaps taxes are a short-term solution with no long-term benefits; they urge aviation industries instead to consider the development of sustainable fuels and more efficient air traffic management. The more awareness is spread about flight shame, the more people will invest in more sustainable modes of transport — and the more airlines will experiment with cleaner technology.
Building Travel Back Better
Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has dwarfed the impact of the flight shame movement – as airlines have cut down on up to 95% of their trips as a result of health restrictions. With travel making a comeback, people seem to be incorporating a new mindset – a slower pace of life with fewer options. This can be liberating as opposed to limiting, and it is the same for people choosing their next holiday destination – cherishing local relationships and opportunities, enjoying what’s right in front of them as opposed to searching for destinations and cultures further away. Collective action like the Flygskam movement has the ability to push our society into seeing new ways of travelling, and cleaner ways of thinking.
This Coverage of The Nordic Model By Rachel Leong
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