Flygskam! Dealing with flight shame and reducing your carbon footprint

More and more people around the world are pledging to keep their feet planted on the ground. Meaning they’ve stopped traveling by air because of the great impact it is having on our climate. In Sweden, they’ve even coined a term, flygskam, which literally means flight shame. It’s meant as the guilty feeling you should get when you fly and this shame seems to work; at least in Sweden anyway. Swedish airlines have noticed a drop between 5 to 15% in the last year. Sweden’s most famous climate activist Greta Thurnberg famously practiced this when she opted to use a carbon-neutral form of travel by crossing the Atlantic by sailboat.

“I’ve decided to stop flying because I want to practice as I preach, to create opinion and to lower my own emissions… If a large number of people do this, then it will. It sends a message that we are in a crisis and have to change our behaviour.” 

Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish climate strike leader

This Swedish trend, however, is not apparent in the overall aviation industry. In fact, according to an article written for Canada’s National Observer, CO2 from this industry is increasing four times faster now than in previous decades and it’s not showing any slowing.

When Earth Mamas Lindi and Charlotte returned from their Christmas trips to visit family, they were feeling this shame, the flygskam. Feeling hypocritical and that the efforts and changes they’ve intentionally made to be more eco-friendly were meaningless because of the flying that they do each year. 

Here’s how Charlotte felt about her air travel in 2019:

“I have started off 2020, a brand new decade feeling guilty about one of my habits, as I write this I am on a long haul flight from London to Mexico City, then I will transfer and take a short flight to my home in Monterrey.  When I reflect on 2019, I must admit, I felt guilty about the carbon footprint my family and I have created from our air travel.

I became an international teacher because it combines two things that I am passionate about, travel and education. However, because I live far away from my country of birth, Canada, and my husband’s country of birth, England, this means that every year we fly home to visit our families which expands our carbon footprint. We also take advantage of exploring magical Mexico by flying to different destinations when we have a short vacation. The amount of flying I did with my family in 2019 is not something I am proud of. I try my to live my life thinking about the environmental impact of the choices I make for myself and family, I do not want the amount of flying that I do each year to un-do my attempts to live my life gently on this planet.”

Earth Mama Charlotte lives in Mexico but is originally from Canada

Lindi reflects on her impact from air travel:

“Both of my kids flew for the first time at 2 months old and now I can’t even count how many flights my oldest daughter has been on and she isn’t even 3 yet. It is a huge privilege that we get to travel back to our home country Canada from Mexico a few times a year to visit our families and the few quick trips we take each year to the beach for holidays.

The conscious efforts I’ve taken to reduce my impact on our planet are feeling totally out of balance with this huge input from air travel. I’m wondering what I could do to reduce this impact and how can I move forward with this in mind?.”

Earth Mama Lindi lives in Mexico but is originally from Canada

After realizing that our carbon footprints are larger than we would like them to be, we decided it was time to research and come up with some ideas to find out how we can reduce our impact on the planet regarding air travel?

 One big response to this question is by following in the footsteps of Greta Thunberg and others who have pledged to stop flying, but this may not be possible for everyone, especially those who travel for work, or live far from family (like us!) or have saved for years for that family vacation they’ve always dreamt of taking. 

If you have upcoming travel plans or fly for business, here are a few tips to relieve your flight shame or flagskam.

Tips to help you reduce your carbon footprint/carbon offset:

Photo Source:
  • If you have to fly often for your job, then ask your company to pay for your carbon offset on your behalf or suggest video conferences/meetings to avoid flying.
  • Completing a survey or emailing feedback to airlines letting them know how they could make their flights less wasteful by switching their cutlery and cups to reusable options and ask them about their offset programs.
  • When possible, choose airlines that are greener. Some airlines are working towards reducing their emissions. Do a little research and if possible choose the airlines that are setting goals to reduce their impact.
  • When you fly, choose economy. How you choose to fly impacts your carbon footprint. Flying First class has the biggest carbon footprint, followed by Business class.
  • Try to fly direct. If possible, avoid flights with multiple stops as flights create the most carbon during take-off and landing. 
  • Drive instead of fly. Visit and appreciate places closer to your home for your holidays. You may even save money and time.
  • Travel by bus or rail. Support projects which promote the development of mass public transportation.
  • Vote responsibly and vote for change. The next time you vote in a local or federal election do your research and cast your vote for a party that cares about our planet and is mandating changes to address climate change. 
  • Speak up! It can be frustrating when you feel guilty about taking a few flights a year and then you see posts from celebrities, politicians or Royals jet setting around the planet. Speak up, make a comment kindly reminding them about their own carbon footprint.

Poster used to promote eating less meat, Meatless Monday

Check out these blogs by Earth Mamas International for more inspiration and travel tips:

Please share your travel tips or ways to reduce your overall carbon footprint with us. We’re always happy to hear from you!

References and Additional Information:

If you want to dive deeper into the world of carbon offsetting, check out this comprehensive guide released by The David Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute:  

Purchasing Carbon Offsets: A Guide for Canadian Consumers, Businesses, and Organizations

CBC article referenced in the blog: Carbon offsets: Worth buying to fight climate change?

BBC article referenced in the blog: Climate change: Should you fly, drive or take the train?

The New York Times Article: Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better.

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