Why People Flight Shame: Is Flying Really That Bad For the Environment?

As in vogue as flying is these days, more and more people are realizing that it isn’t great for the environment, and so a new habit has come about: flight shaming. The term came about from the Swedish word flygskam, which means that you personally feel shame about flying, but it has developed into shaming others for their flying.

Because there’s no doubt about it, flying is terrible for the environment, specifically in terms of the carbon footprint. But at the same time, it’s important to break down exactly who produces the most carbon emissions. As it turns out, air travel counts for only 2.5% of global carbon emissions. Compared to the 29% provided by transportation and 28% produced by electricity, this is but a drop in the bucket. So clearly flying isn’t the worst climate offender out there, so where is this flygskam coming from?

Why People Flight Shame: Is Flying Really That Bad For the Environment?

However, air travel does have its disadvantages in terms of environmental impact. Professor Michael Oppenheimer, a professor at Princeton and leader in climate change, had a thing or two to say about the concerns that air travel brings about. For instance, though carbon emissions made the list, it’s also essential to consider that “the particulate matter from jets can provide surfaces for the formation of the clouds and that that reflects sunlight. Another factor to consider is the production of greenhouse gases because of the emission of nitrogen oxides, alongside ozone destruction.   

So if flying is apparently out of the picture, how are we expected to get around? The thing is, the question is not so cut and dry. In fact, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, “a round-trip flight from NYC to LA produces 1,249 lbs. (566.4 kg) of carbon per person. A car getting an average of 20 miles per gallon produces 4,969.56 lbs. (2,254.15 kg) for the same trip for one person.” However, if there are four people in the car, the number is divided into a quarter, which isn’t nearly as bad.

Why People Flight Shame: Is Flying Really That Bad For the Environment?

The thing is, when we’re looking at European travel, which entails shorter distances, flying is usually the worst option for the environment. While a Paris-London flight triggers 246 pounds of carbon emissions, taking the Eurostar only creates 49. Similarly, flying from Vienna to Brussels will exude 486 pounds of emissions, but the night train spits out 88 pounds. This brings us to one essential conclusion: avoid short-haul flights and instead drive, take a bus, train, or use a carpooling service like Bla Bla Car. You can better enjoy the scenery and make some exciting stops along the way to better appreciate the trip.

There are a couple of ways to offset your travel impact in order to balance the scales. For example, if your flight produced 2,000 pounds of carbon emissions, you can lessen the impact by being part of a clean water initiative or a tree-planting organization. Similarly, it’s vital for the public to speak out against the effect that air travel has on the environment. Many airlines that are especially bad about emissions are also the most economical, the better to draw in the public. However, progress is slowly happening. The new Dreamliner has fuel-efficient engines that reduce emissions by 20%. This is the beginning of a travel revolution.

So the bottom line is, flying is indeed bad for the environment, but we don’t always have a choice because let’s face it, who has time to use a boat to cross an ocean? Still, provided that the right decisions are made to travel in an eco-friendly fashion during short distances, a real change can happen.