Flight shame or flygskam is an anti-flying social movement, with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of aviation. It started in 2018 in Sweden and gained traction the following year throughout northern Europe. Flygskam is a Swedish word that literally means “flight shame”. The movement discourages people from flying to lower carbon emissions to thwart climate change.
Staffan Lindberg, a Swedish singer, was reported to have coined the term in 2017. Björn Ferry, an Olympic athlete, was also one of the first notable champions of the concept. Malena Ernman, an opera singer and the mother of teenage activist Greta Thunberg, also announced publicly that she would stop flying. Thunberg helped popularize the movement. The idea would continue to grow as other Swedish celebrities followed suit. Maja Rosén in 2018 started the We Stay on the Ground movement in Sweden. The group pledges to give up flying for a year once 100,000 people in a given country commit to do the same. The word started to become mainstream amongst English speakers in 2019.
Tågskryt, a Swedish word that literally means "train brag", has resulted from the flygskam movement. This idea encourages people to travel by train rather than by airliner. Furthermore, it encourages people to utilize social media by posting pictures from their train trip and tagging it #tågskryt.
Att smygflyga, which means "to fly in secret"”, is also another term that has been derived from the flygskam movement.
About 2.5 percent of global human carbon emissions come from commercial flights. Additionally, planes emit other gases such as nitrogen oxide and water vapour as contrails that also have an environmental impact. When the flight shame movement started, the volume of flights was projected to expand, although the aviation industry was taking steps to decrease their emissions.
In Sweden, train use has increased, while domestic flying has decreased. SJ, Sweden's main train operator, reported that it sold 1.5 million more tickets in 2018 than the year prior. According to Swedavia, Sweden's airport operators, domestic travel decreased 9% from the previous year. Passenger numbers at Sweden's ten busiest airports decreased 5% in the summer of 2019, compared to the year prior.
The same pattern was seen in Germany. Deutsche Bahn AG railway service reported a record high number of travelers in 2019. German airports showed a decrease in passengers taking domestic flights, down 12% from November 2019, compared to the year prior.
This pattern has so far not been observed in the Netherlands. A 2019 survey by NBTC-Nipo Research showed that almost 60% of Dutch people (a percentage that has barely changed in 10 years) stated they found it important to factor in sustainability when planning a holiday, but 5% planned to fly to their destination in the future than in 2019. A 2020 survey by NBTC-Nipo Research showed the situation had further exacerbated: out of a total of 39.9 million holidays, the Dutch made 10.1 million holiday flights (a 3% increase) and 10 million holiday car trips in 2019 (a 3% decrease), meaning flying holidays outnumbered driving holidays for the first time in Dutch history.
Similarly, flight shame has been a factor in Belgium either, where a new record of 35 million passengers departed or arrived by plane in 2019. However, it is not clear whether this implied an increase in pollution. For example, Brussels Airport reported a 0.5% decrease in the number of flight, despite a 2.5% increase in passengers, suggesting many of the planes were simply flying more full, than in 2018.
Short-haul flight bans
By 2019, the flight shame movement had inspired dozens of organisations, including universities and businesses such as Klarna Bank AB, across Europe to impose short-haul flight bans on their employees, as well as discouraging long-haul flights.
The airline industry has recognized the movement as a threat to its business interests. In 2019, at the annual International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Seoul, combating flygskam was discussed. Some airlines, such as easyJet, stated they would spend tens of millions of British Pounds to buy carbon offsets.
By April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused global air travel numbers to plummet, as airlines cut up to 95% of their trips, dwarfing the impact of the flygskam movement. Experts, such as Harvard Business School professor Prithwiraj Choudhury, and University of Leeds transport and energy expert Jillian Anable argued that many aviation crisis adaptions made by people during the pandemic should lead to lasting behavioural changes after the pandemic has ended, and that flying is unlikely to return to business as usual, in order to address climate change.
British writer George Marshall has investigated common rationalisations that act as barriers to making the personal choice to travel less, or to justify recent trips. In an informal research project, "one you are welcome to join", he says, he deliberately steered conversations with people who are attuned to climate change problems towards questions about their recent long-distance flights and why their travel was justified. Reflecting on actions contrary to their beliefs, he noted, "(i)ntriguing as their dissonance may be, what is especially revealing is that every one of these people has a career that is predicated on the assumption that information is sufficient to generate change – an assumption that a moment's introspection would show them was deeply flawed."
In 2011, S. Cohen observed both air travel and concern over its climate impacts were growing, balanced by technology and physical resources, self and external regulation and social norms including stigmatisation of excessive air travel. In 2009, Stefan Gössling pointed out the conflict caused by air travel growth in a carbon-constrained world, with a minority of hypermobile individuals responsible for a large share of air travel. In 2018, 11% of the global population took a flight, 4% flew abroad and 1% was responsible for half of global aviation emissions, according to a November 2020 study from Linnaeus University.
In autumn 2014, a German survey shown that Green Party voters travel more often by plane: 49% flew once a year compared to 42% of Left voters, 36% of CDU/CSU (Conservatives) supporters and 32% of SPD (Labour) supporters. None of them never flew, compared to 17%, 16% and 13% for the other supporters, respectively. Only 48% of the Green voters agreed with the statement “It’s a good thing that many people can afford to fly today” while 69% to 77% of the other parties agreed. Greens supporters are often well educated and earn more than the average, and travel frequently for business and tourism. In Britain in 2015, a survey carried out by Travelzoo shown that Green Party supporters are the most likely to fly long-haul.
In February 2020, a French opinion survey conducted by Paul Chiambaretto, et al, of the Montpellier Business School showed that 90% of people overestimate the air transport share of CO₂ emissions, more than half think it is over 10% instead of the actual figure of 2-3%. 90% of people think the emissions per passenger have been stable or grew, while they actually reduced by 25% within the last 15 years and 70% overestimate modern aircraft fuel consumption (within 2-3 l/100 km per passenger) with 24% thinking they burn over 10 l/100 km per passenger. Of the 37% of French people who avoided air travel in 2019, 15% of them (5.6% overall) preferred other transport means for environmental reasons. After the COVID-19 pandemic, 61% of people said that they intend to travel by air in 2021, more hindered by the travel restrictions than environmental concerns. The environment is a concern for those who avoided air travel before, around 20% of the surveyed population.
- Coffey, Helen (2019-06-05). "What is 'flygskam'? Everything you need to know about the environmental movement that's sweeping Europe". The Independent. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Cerullo, Megan (2019-10-03). ""Flight shame" could hurt airlines as travelers shun air travel". CBS News. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- "Sweden's air travel falls as flight-shaming rises". BBC News. 2020-01-10. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Hook, Leslie (2019-12-29). "Year in a word: Flygskam". Financial Times. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Pesce, Nicole Lyn (2019-12-19). "How Greta Thunberg and 'flygskam' are shaking the global airline industry". MarketWatch. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Wilkes, William; Weiss, Richard (2019-12-19). "German Air Travel Slump Points to Spread of Flight Shame". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Irfan, Umair (2019-11-30). ""Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly". Vox. Retrieved 2020-10-22.
- "The Greta effect". The Economist. 2019-08-19. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- "'Flight shame' could halve growth in air traffic". BBC News. 2019-10-02. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- Peter van Ammelrooy (15 May 2019). "Vliegschaamte? Welke vliegschaamte? Nederlander pakt deze zomervakantie vaker het vliegtuig". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 23 November 2020.
- "Vliegschaamte of niet, vliegtuig haalt auto in bij reizen naar buitenland". NOS (in Dutch). 15 January 2020. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
- Cathy Galle (4 January 2020). "Vliegschaamte? Geen sprake van in België". De Morgen (in Dutch). Retrieved 23 November 2020.
- William Wilkes (26 September 2019). "Flight Shaming Puts a Dent in European Travel". Bloomberg. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
Elena Berton (2 October 2019). "Flight shaming hits air travel as 'Greta effect' takes off". Reuters. Retrieved 21 October 2020.
- Kusmer, Anna (2020-04-03). "Coronavirus has changed how we transport goods and ourselves. But will it last?". The World from PRX. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
- "The Bill", by Peter Wedel, distributed by GermanWatch. 23 June 2009.
- Marshall, G. (2009, 24-July). Why We Still Don’t Believe In Climate Change
- Cohen S, Higham J, Cavaliere C (2011), "Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change" (PDF), Annals of Tourism Research, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2011.01.013CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Gössling S et al. (2009). "Hypermobile travellers" (PDF). Climate change and aviation: Issues, challenges and solutions. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 June 2010. Lay summary.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Damian Carrington (17 November 2020). "1% of people cause half of global aviation emissions – study". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
- The Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Airbus Group (May 2016). "The greens fly the most" (PDF). Aloft - An Inflight Review. p. 14-15.
- "Green Party supporters 'most likely' to fly long-haul". The Telegraph. 16 Apr 2015.
- Paul Chiambaretto (Montpellier Business School); et al. (February 2020), "Les français et l'impact environnemental du transport aérien : entre mythes et réalités" (PDF), Les Carnets de la Chaire Pégase (in French)
- Paul Chiambaretto (Montpellier Business School); et al. (December 2020), "Transport aérien : l'impact du COVID-19 sur le comportement des Français" (PDF), Les Carnets de la Chaire Pégase (in French)
- Paul Chiambaretto (24 Dec 2020). "Transport aérien. Quels nouveaux réflexes avant de prendre l'avion ?". Ouest-France (in French) – via Olivier BERREZAI.