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CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should we be encouraging flight shaming, flygskam, to tackle the climate crisis?

Is shaming fliers really going to tackle the climate crisis?

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YES - Izzy Hall
Sweden is leading the march of climate activism across the world. Home to Greta Thunberg, the country is making headlines this week due to reports of air travel decline.

‘Flygskam’ translates literally to ‘flight shame’ and is being peddled across Sweden in the hopes of deterring people from flying and using alternative transport with a less devastating carbon footprint. Started by a provocative article written by singer Staffan Lindberg and signed by some famous friends including Thunberg, the piece drew a huge amount of attention from the famously climate-conscious Swedes.

The movement, despite controversy, is working; Sweden has seen a 4% per cent drop in the number of people flying via its airports, a rare decrease as the number of people flying in the rest of Europe continues to climb. Rickard Gustafson, chief executive of Scandinavian Airlines went on record to say he was “convinced” the flight shaming movement was behind the fall in passenger numbers.

Many have hit back at Swedish climate activists by saying it is unreasonable to blame the consumer rather than the huge corporations that run these airlines. But the provider and the consumer cannot be separated in this issue: think supply and demand. Similar to the veganism movement, the idea is the less demand for dairy and meat there is, the more the market will dwindle. And it works! The cattle rearing industry is responsible for nearly 20 per cent of human-induced greenhouse emissions and due to the rise in veganism and vegetarianism peddled by animal and climate activists, dairy profits have dropped 50 per cent in the UK alone and there are 1.1 per cent less dairy cows on farms around the UK. This may seem small, but trends predicted by RethinkX say dairy and meat industries will be on the verge of collapse as early as 2030. This is a great example of how consumer behaviour is having tangible impacts on the sectors that damage our earth the most.

Putting the pressure on consumers may feel unjust when huge aviation corporations are responsible for the emissions produced, making up 2 per cent of human-induced carbon emissions. So if you can tackle the dairy and meat industry, aviation should be an easy feat. However, it is much easier to swap dairy milk for Oatly than pulling a Greta Thunberg style journey of zero-emission yachting across the Atlantic.

Flying will always be needed for business and pleasure travel, but we must focus flight shaming on unnecessary usage of airlines such as domestic travel. The trend is going in the right direction; since 2007 domestic routes have continued to close, from 228 to 188 just ten years later. This has mainly been due to taxes put in place, showing there are productive avenues to place pressure on airlines.

The privilege we hold that allows us to travel the world will only hold if these destinations remain. The current rate at which we are hurtling towards climate disaster should be enough to motivate change in consumer behaviour, but how far are you willing to go?

The devastating fires sweeping Australia were predicted by climate scientists over ten years ago, thinking that the impactful report would lead to social change to prevent these disasters, but clearly, this did not work. We all know we are in a climate emergency, but do your travel and diet plans add fuel to the fire? Increasing pressure on people to take responsibility will only help people consume more thoughtfully and expose the biggest issue we are facing world wide.

NO - Callum Tennant
Should we be promoting flight shaming as a major way of tackling climate change? Maybe on paper (or not because we need to print less), it sounds like a good solution. Flying is the most carbon intense way of travelling. Travelling from Leeds to London by plane would produce over 68kg of carbon emissions, travelling by car would produce over 56kg and by train it would be just 13.3kg of CO2.

In this instance I don’t think flight shaming is a bad idea. The train is so quick and, if booked in advance, usually cheaper than flying. So, in this instance, there’s not really an excuse for flying. It’s right therefore that we criticise people, for example, Boris Johnson, when they choose to fly from London to other places easily accessible by the East Coast Rail.

The problems with flight shaming arise when trying to travel to places in the UK that are not well connected or to places outside the UK. The UK’s rail network is appalling, and it generally gets worse the further from London you go. To get from Newquay to London by train takes over six hours, by car it takes five, but by plane it takes just over an hour. At the same time, it’s often cheaper to fly than it is to take the train. And it’s not good enough to just slap more taxes onto air travel to make that more expensive while doing nothing to improve rail travel.

Investing in meaningful rail improvements will make trains cheaper and a more attractive alternative to flying. When I say meaningful, I mean investing in areas like the Transpennine railway and finally electrifying northern trains, instead of spending £88billion on HS2 to shave 33 minutes off of an already short journey. And if there’s no guarantee that rail fares will be lower then there’s little point in the scheme from an environmental standpoint. So, let’s hold our central government to account, limit our flights when we can but also ensure that we are being provided with realistic and competitive alternatives.

And this brings me to my biggest issue with flight shaming. It puts the burden of responsibility onto individuals and consumers instead of onto governments and corporations who are the people we should be holding to account.

We should be demanding that airlines and governments invest far more than they currently are in researching biofuels. We should be making sure that airlines are not fuel tinkering – a practice where airlines fill their aircraft up with additional fuel in order to save on refuelling costs but increasing the plane’s emissions. We should be legislating to ensure that airlines are required to invest an amount of their profit into innovation and into more sustainable fuel sources, paying less attention to shareholders and more attention to their impact on the environment.

More widespread use of biofuels will further increase the incentive to make them cheaper and thus more widespread. But biofuels should merely be used as the stepping stone, reducing emissions until electric air travel is able to make up an increasing amount of air travel.

Should you get the train if it’s the same cost as flying, if it only takes a bit longer than flying and if the service is reliable – YES. Of course you should. But let’s save our shaming for corporations not investing in sustainable innovation, as opposed for hardworking people flying to enjoy a holiday when they only have a few days off. But one thing that we can do as individuals when we do have to fly; we can donate to help offset our flight emissions.

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