In this post I’m going to explain why I think flight shaming is a sham and why it won’t save the planet if you fly less often. I’m going to suggest that reducing the number of flights you make, whether for business or leisure, isn’t going to make any significant difference to the changing climate.
It may make you feel smug and self-righteous but that’s about it. You can virtue-signal all you like while basking in the warm glow of approval as you collect endorsements on social media but you’ll be doing little to save the planet.
You may allow yourself to be persuaded by a patronising celebrity to take a staycation instead of flying to Bali for two weeks but don’t imagine they’ll be curtailing their flying any time soon. Many of the Prophets of Doom are jetting around the world from one conference or summit to another, and then telling you that a flight to Ibiza is an environmental sin that cannot be offset by a payment to a carbon neutral scheme.
Triggered yet? Before you launch into your comment, hear me out. Read this post to to the end as you may find that we do in fact agree on several important points.
Let me begin by saying; I’m not a climate scientist and the chances are you’re not either. If I’ve guessed wrong then feel free to add a comment below with a link to your credentials so that everyone can see the verification. Also, I’m biased in favour of aviation, as you can probably guess from the other posts I’ve added here.
When it comes to the climate, we rely on scientists to give us the facts but of course they’re only the facts as they know them so far. Scientists don’t know what makes up 96% of the energy in the Universe and they can’t explain how Quantum Entanglement works, and when it comes to climate science there are those who dispute the assumptions and predictions.
Consequently, they’re regarded as heretics by the majority, many of whom refuse to even enter into further discussion.
I’m not denying that the climate is changing but I do take a large pinch of salt when I’m told how much impact human activity is accelerating that change. My instinct is that we’re not being told the whole truth and that those with vested interests may be placing undue influence on the debate to support their true agenda.
I also take issue with the fact that aviation comes in for so much criticism in comparison to things like commercial shipping and leisure cruising. For example, what is the carbon footprint for the construction of one of those big 21st Century cruise liners? And what is the carbon footprint per passenger for a two week cruise? You may say two wrongs don’t make a right but I haven’t seen anyone campaigning for cruise shaming, or protestors gluing themselves to the anchor chains of liners berthed in Southampton Docks.
Flight Shaming Is A Sham
The idea of flight shaming originated in Sweden, where it is known as flygskam, and where people tend to take longer holidays (and therefore fewer of them). It has been dubbed the ‘Greta Effect’ as people react to Greta Thurnberg’s pleas and warnings. Sweden is also a country in which rail travel is much cheaper and more reliable than it is in the UK.
Speaking of which, I’m all in favour of expanding the UK’s rail network and replacing those branch lines lost under the Beeching cuts of the early 1960s, but I think the HS2 project is a waste of money and will destroy far too much of the English countryside, particularly its ancient and dwindling woodlands.
I’m also in favour of many other urgent and essential changes in society. It think we should;
- Clean up the oceans by removing all plastics and pollutants.
- Enforce zero tolerance of fly-tipping and littering. Cease the deforestation of rainforests and allow them to recover naturally.
- Plant billions of trees worldwide to reintroduce woodland habitats, provide timber for sustainable fuels and construction, and for food production.
- Increase the pace of change from fossil fuels to sustainable energy schemes.
- Provide grants for householders and businesses to add solar panels to homes and industrial buildings.
- Use urban areas for more tree planting and the cultivation of food and herbs.
- Recycle, Repair, and Re-use.
- Introduce mandatory classes in schools in the growing and cooking of food.
- Encourage the consumption of locally grown seasonal produce.
- Stamp out trophy hunting and the slaughter of animals, many of them on the brink of extinction, for quack medicines.
- Cultivate a reverence and respect for our environment that is as profound as that which is common to indigenous tribes around the world, who can teach us much about harmonious living.
I think all those and more are far more important and will have a much more positive impact on people, places, and wildlife than flying less often.
Global Aviation Industry
The global aviation industry provides essential lifelines for all those developing countries who rely on the commerce and tourism that each flight brings. Flying, particularly for the young, can be inspiring. A child’s flight can be the seed that leads to a career as a scientist and astronanut whose work teaches us the facts about our home planet’s climate. Aviation technology is evolving rapidly.
The development of cleaner, quieter, and more efficient engines is progressively reducing operating costs and having less and less negative impact on the environment.
The first fully electric training aircraft are already on the market (Pipistrel). The first fully electric seaplane took flight in December 2019 in Canada (Harbour Air). More hybrid and full electric prototypes are being flown and tested.
In the 2020s we’re going to see accelerated growth of the Urban Air Mobility market in which piloted and pilotless small aircraft will transport people and goods within and between cities.
Aware of the bad publicity being generated by the environmental concerns, many aviation companies have responded to the challenge by introducing offsetting schemes. Aviation is heading in the right direction and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the developing technologies.
So go on that holiday, be a model passenger for the flight attendants and crew, make an offsetting payment, and donate your spare change to the airline’s charity. There are many other ways of making the world a better place and you might find your visit to a foreign country by air does more good for the people you visit, your family, and yourself than staying at home.