Swedish celebrities like Malena Ernman and Björn Ferry are taking a step beyond being responsible travellers by rallying behind a new cause called #Flygskam. The Swedish hashtag means “flight shame” or “flight guilt”, and reflects the tension we feel taking flights while knowing air travel has the most negative climate impact per person per kilometer. Ernman and Ferry have pledged to travel by ground until airplane CO2 emissions decrease and flight becomes more environmentally sustainable.
When compared to the 1950s flights have become more casual and this is met out in the relative cheapening of airfare. Happily, this means more people can access air travel. But it also means we must make individual efforts to promote sustainable tourism and keep our carbon budget in mind when booking flights.
To keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius as targeted by the Paris Agreement we must undertake this challenge to adapt. Scientists used a CO2 equivalent calculator to find the balance of carbon emissions necessary to keep this climate disaster at bay. Each human can produce about 2 metric tons of CO2 per year. But according to World Bank data the average American produces over eight times this, 16.4 metric tons of CO2 per year.
Flights contribute more than 2% of greenhouse gas emissions excluding the climate impact factor 2 for emitting emissions in high altitudes called radiative forcing. The demand for flights is only going up. For scale, as an economy passenger you emit ¼ a tonne of CO2 equivalent each hour of flight. It would take only one eight hour plane ride to exhaust your carbon allowance for the year.
This Swedish #Flightguilt is a concern that should resonate with North America. Partly because the United States is currently the world’s largest aviation market. Yet when you search Anglophone Twitter for #Flightguilt or #Flightshame instead of a structural movement against climate change you get petty complaints about plane food or people in first class.
There are two kinds of guilt, indulgent guilt and productive guilt. With #Flygskam garnering traction on social media it is repurposing this private emotion into action. Make it your resolution for 2019 to push #Flightguilt to follow.
Proposed Courses of Action
In Sweden there have been several proposals of what should be done to force a reduction of airline emissions. Should the action be legislative? Will it be solely commercial? Or should globetrotters stay grounded till 2020, as the hashtag #Flygfritt2019 (meaning “flight free 2019”) advocates?
Countries have come up with legislative reform such as slapping carbon taxes on flights. But in 2012 the United States passed a bipartisan law called the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. It prohibits American airlines from partaking in a EU initiative to pay carbon taxes when an aircraft emits more than a set amount of greenhouse gases. Canada has recently followed suit with a flat carbon tax on inter-Canadian flights. The dominant concern is that Canadians will simply fly American as the US has no similar carbon schema.
The difficulty with regulating the aviation industry is that it’s international. The International Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) aims to neutralize airline carbon emissions by 2020. But first phase, up to 2026 is not binding, instead allows States to enter voluntarily. The success of CORSIA will hinge on countries enforcing regulation domestically.
Secondly, perhaps airlines will switch to biofuels on their own, a few of them are already exploring this option. In 2008 Virgin Atlantic flew a Boeing 747 powered partly by biofuel from London to Amsterdam. Currently biofuel makes up less than 1% of jet fuel worldwide and, left to market forces, it will likely not jump to 10% within the next ten years. There are two factors slowing the pace towards ecological flight. Cost and technical limitations.
According to Biofuels Digest, biofuel costs 2-3 times more than already costly generic jet fuel. This is partly because biofuels are not currently produced en masse. There have been several startups who attempted to produce low-carbon fuels but ramped up their production too quickly and went bankrupt– the aviation industry is not ready to buy in those quantities yet.
The second stump is the requirement for sustainable production. Biofuels can be produced in many ways and only the ones with a positive ecological impact should be employed. That’s why some refer to jet fuel that has been produced from sustainable feedstock or resources as cleaner jet fuel. Cleaner jet fuels reduce the negative environmental impact of fossil fuel production and must ensure they don’t infringe on agricultural outputs.
But we cannot rely on airlines pivoting to cleaner jet fuel alone.
Thirdly, there’s the option of boycotting flights. Two Swedish moms persuaded 10,000 people to pledge not to fly in 2019. The hashtag #Jagstannarpåmarken, or “stay on the ground” has blown up on Twitter. Instead, Swedes have been taking trains and busses. Unfortunately this model cannot be directly adopted in North America.
North America is a much bigger land mass than Sweden. In the United States alone most flights taken airports are domestic. The country doesn’t have the infrastructure to support pivoting to land based cross-country transport.
Moreover this is hardly a sustainable solution. Over 100 million new passengers enter the Asia Pacific aviation market annually, and within 10 years China will overtake the US position to fly the most in the world. So, though boycotting flights might be a political maneuver in Sweden it will not resolve these projected trends until ecotourism in Asia picks up.
But at least some consumers are beginning to think critically about the flights they take.
Flightnook has its own solution to propose. As an independent body Flightnook is committed to giving every passenger an opportunity to fly green. We are working towards a solution where flight takers can approximate and mitigate their carbon emissions. Cleaner jet fuels are a necessity for the future of our planet and are far overdue their time of departure. Think about the ways you can make material changes to your life.
Transform your guilt into productivity by sharing #Flygskam on social media and committing to a greener 2019.
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