When it comes to the environmental costs of flights & # 39; we need to figure out how to put that shame into action & # 39;

While climate activists are trying to save the planet, they are also trying to find the cleanest and greenest way to navigate around the world – and it's much more complicated than just booking a flight online. Recent research, in combination with media frenzy about flying, has brought the struggle between convenience and preservation to a climax. It is not a new problem, but if the last few weeks are any indication, neither flying nor the accompanying shame will go anywhere quickly.


The most recent focus on travel plans was focused on teen climate idol Greta Thunberg, famous for inciting school trips around the world to protest against doing nothing about climate change. In August, she chose not to fly across the Atlantic to attend the United Nations climate summit on September 23. It was the hot environmental event of the season, and many of the biggest names of the climate movement were there. But taking the approximately eight-hour flight from her hometown of Stockholm, Sweden to the summit in New York City, would have made her responsible for about half a ton of CO2 emissions from planet heat.

So instead, Thunberg embarked on a two-week journey by sea on a yacht that runs exclusively on solar and hydropower. Her journey has achieved more than getting her where she needed to be; it drew attention to a growing movement of climate activists who shun aviation. Even then, Thunberg absorbed some warmth because some crew members flew to New York to take the boat back to Europe. In the words of Kermit the Frog, it is not easy to be green.

Actions such as those of Greta, which seek alternatives to flights, help raise awareness of the emission problem, but the problem has been known for years. The UN organizes climate conferences for more than two decades each year. Another one is planned for December in Santiago, Chile. And every time one spins around, a finger points at all the emissions they generate. More than 40,000 people from all over the world came down to negotiations in Paris in 2015, which led to the worldwide commitment to prevent the planet from warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius. Since then, calls for delegates to find ways to fly to those events have increased.

In addition to international pressure, this week also marked the convening of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations. "Discussions in ICAO about stimulating climate ambitions have remained neutral for years – the presence of Greta can bring the necessary urgency to the debate," Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at the Transport & Environment campaign group based in Brussels, told Reuters.

Aviation currently accounts for around 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that percentage is expected to grow. According to the ICAO, international air traffic and fuel consumption could triple by 2045 compared to 2015. And one report by the non-profit International Council for Clean Transport discovered that emissions could rise even faster than the projections of the United Nations. The report already showed that aviation emissions have increased by 32 percent in the last five years. It was also found that 83 percent of aviation emissions are caused by passenger flights.

This is the cause of the rise of "flight-shaming" or "flygskam" in Swedish. The term originated in Sweden and came up on social media this year when activists and world leaders at the base tried to get in touch with each other to build a global movement.


Some initiatives are already being prepared. Maja Rosén decided 11 years ago not to fly anymore. For a long time, she mainly kept that personal dedication to herself, says Rosén The edge. "I felt that, you know, I don't want to destroy the mood," says Rosén. “But I often went home and wondered why I am more afraid of destroying the mood than a climate collapse? And in the end I had enough of that. "Last year she launched a campaign in Sweden on which she is now working full time, called" We Stay on the Ground ", which encourages others not to fly in 2020.

In an effort to get more buy-in and hold people accountable for following it, the promise only comes into effect when 100,000 people from the land of each pledgee join. "So many people feel that" It doesn't matter what I do as an individual. Everyone else will continue to fly & # 39; & # 39 ;, says Rosén. These concerns reflect a wider debate about whether the fate of the planet depends on the power of individual actions or the re-creation of policies and social structures. "We will not be able to get the political tools that are needed if we don't get enough people to start trading."

Others worry that all this emphasis is on flights – just like plastic straws for them – causes individuals to become scapegoats for the fossil fuel industry. Natalie Jones, a PhD student in international law at the University of Cambridge and a staff writer at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, attended the last six annual UN conferences on climate change and believes that calls to ban delegates from being dangerous. "I am concerned that this whole conversation is also a distraction, because the more we talk about the relative merits of individual action versus more systemic and political action, the more we don't talk about the questions that might be more important." that the burden of flying shame can have disproportionate consequences for delegates from some parts of Latin America, Africa or other regions who may need to travel further to reach epicents for international calls such as the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Others believe that a balance can be found. Options such as video conferencing can make participation in meetings more affordable for many people if they have the bandwidth to participate. "I think it's fine for people to think about their impact. But we need to figure out how to put that shame into action," said Heidi Roop, an associate professor at the University of Washington and a senior scientist for science communication with the Climate Impacts Group of the university. "It's one thing to be ashamed of, it's something else to take that energy and use it to call your favorite airline or call your congressman."

And while stopping flying cold turkey can make a difference, it may not necessarily be the most impactful lifestyle change you can make. "It's one of the many things we have to look at," says Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. Together with Roop and 12 other scientists, he joined a call for academics to reduce their travel emissions published in Inside Higher Ed. He also drives an electric car and says that his house has been adjusted afterwards to be CO2 neutral. Looking at what makes the largest contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, Howarth says: “What we do in our homes and our (personal) vehicles is much more important. But the symbolism of what we do with flying is important and I think more and more people are paying attention to it. "