Flygskam: The “Flying Shame” Movement That’s Taking Over Sweden

More and more people in Sweden are avoiding flights and taking trains instead - for the good of the climate.

The Swedish concept of "flygskam" embodies a truly 21st century phenomenon - that icky feeling that you get when you take a flight because you know how bad it is for the environment to fly.

Author Felix Dunkl:

Translation Felix Dunkl, 12.11.18

Limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees celsius – that’s the goal set out in the Paris Agreement and agreed upon by the international community. In order to achieve that, we’ll have to limit CO2 emissions to under two tons per person. But we produce a lot more than that. In Germany, for example, people produce an average of 9.6 tonnes per capita – and a huge part of that is down to air travel. A return flight from London to New York alone produces nearly two tons of CO2e.

Although the energy efficiency of aircraft has improved significantly (fuel consumption has fallen from 6.3 to 3.7 litres per person per 100 kilometres in the last 20 years!), flying is still by far the most environmentally damaging way to travel. And air traffic has continued to grow in recent years.

Train Not Plane

The instigator and main spokesman for Sweden’s “flygskam” trend is star athlete Björn Ferry. The 2010 Olympic champion Even though the 2010 Olympic champion has to travel across Europe a lot for his job as an expert on Swedish TV, he has been taking the train for two years – lots of night trains in particular. His boycott of air travel has triggered a huge movement of like-minded travellers in the Scandinavian country – a really remarkable fact, considering how the Swedes are one of the world’s most frequent flyers: they fly seven times more than average Europeans – around 61 per cent of the country’s CO2 emissions are caused by air travel alone.

Social networks have enabled the trend to spread fast. A Facebook group for users to share alternative travel tips for avoiding flying swelled to over 30,000 members shortly after it was founded. Both celebrities and former frequent flyers (including business people, doctors and other professionals) began reporting on their experiences, claiming that it is quite possible to make appointments within Europe by travelling on night trains and using the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken (I stay on the ground). In the meantime, a separate term has developed: “flygskam” – flying shame. And the trend is slowly spreading beyond Sweden’s borders – under the international hashtag #flyingless.

The Flying Shame Movement Grows

The Swedish railway company SJ is also clearly feeling the effects of the movement. On some routes, bookings have risen by more than 100 per cent, and as a result the railways are starting to make generous investments in their trains and expand their connections and destinations. Interrail tickets were also more popular in Sweden in 2017 than they have been for a long time – around 50 per cent more tickets were purchased than in the year before. By comparison, bookings for air travel fell by three per cent.

Although travel by train takes longer, there are also several advantages to taking a slower, overground route. Björn Ferry puts it like this: “Most things can be done by night trains and a few hours’ stay in Hamburg is not a problem – there’s good beer there.”

This is a translation by Marisa Pettit of an original article that first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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