Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has not flown on a plane since 2015. Picture: Twitter
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has not flown on a plane since 2015. Picture: Twitter

Unpacking the flight shaming movement

By Clinton Moodley Time of article published Aug 13, 2019

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There’s a movement in Europe that is slowly gaining traction thanks to climate change activist Greta Thunberg and Swedish singer Staffan Lindberg. 

Flygskam or Flight Shaming encourages travellers to ditch using planes for alternative transport methods. 

Flygskam, a Swedish word for flight shame, was started by Lindberg with the support of Olympic winter gold medallist Björn Ferry and Thunberg’s mom, Malena Ernman. Ferry attends events that do not require flying, while Thunberg, 16, has not flown on a plane since 2015. She travels through Europe by train. She travelled from Stockholm to London by train for the World Economic Forum earlier this year and will set sail across the Atlantic to speak at the UN in September. 

According to Bloomberg, the Flight Shaming movement has fuelled a carbon offset boom. The publication stated that a Swiss nonprofit called Myclimate reported a five-fold uptake in its credits in a year. Some of their big name clients include Deutsche Lufthansa AG. 

Europe airline Ryanair revealed that customers making voluntary offset payments have almost doubled in 18 months. Rail travel has also increased in Europe since the movement has started. 

Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation in South Africa, believes coach travel is by far the "greenest" way to travel. She said their Trafalgar coaches emit 85% fewer CO2 per passenger kilometre than car and air travel, and 40% less CO2 per passenger kilometre than rail travel.

Together with One Tree Planted, Trafalgar plants one tree for every guest who chooses to receive their travel documents via email, instead of being printed and mailed.Trafalgar aims to reforest 500 acres of barren and devastated land across Tanzania and Northern California. They have planted 100 acres of trees since 2014. 

 “Trees are instrumental in offsetting our carbon footprint, fighting the effects of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 18 million acres of forest are destroyed every year. This initiative helps combat our carbon footprint, protects biodiversity and supports social impact in local communities,” said Richardson. 

Sue Garrett, the GM of Marketing and Product at the Flight Centre Travel Group, said sustainable travel has a positive impact on the environment and local communities. While she didn’t speak much about the flight shaming movement, she said travellers can consciously choose tour operators and modes of transport that are environmentally friendly when they arrive at their destination. 

“Walking or taking public transport is the best way to find interesting spots in a new destination that you wouldn’t have discovered if you’d rented a car. 

"Taking the train in places such as Europe is a wonderful way to soak up the scenery and get from Point A to Point B, with a minimal carbon footprint,” she said. 

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