The Rise of Flygskam

The Scandinavians have given us cosy hygge and delicious fika but now a new Scandi word has permeated our language: flygskam. Literally meaning ‘flight shame’, this topical new term has come about following the increasing shame environmentally conscious people feel towards taking flights for either business or pleasure.

Hailing from Sweden, the term flygskam first appeared in an open letter published by Swedish Winter Olympic medallist Bjorn Ferry, urging people to consider giving up flying for good and suggesting that those who do choose to fly should feel ashamed of their negative environmental impact. Unsurprisingly, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has supported the movement, sharing the sentiments of the movement on her social media accounts to increase awareness. 

Travelling by plane currently contributes to around 2% of all global Co2 emissions, which might not seem like a huge number, but is in fact a major contributor to harmful, climate change. At high altitudes, gasses and chemicals that planes release into the atmosphere accelerates climate change process much faster than when these same substances are found at ground level. 

Earlier this year, climate change activist group, Extinction Rebellion, attempted to shut down one of London’s busiest airports in an attempt to thwart passengers from travelling by using drones to occupy airspace and climbing on top of stationary aircrafts. These protests did not go unnoticed - according to a YouGov poll, two thirds of UK citizens want to limit the amount they fly as a direct result of the negative impact flying has with respect to climate change. 

However, despite an increased appetite for staying grounded, there is a very practical problem that cannot be addressed simply by not flying. With increased levels of migration, particularly in Europe, more and more people are flying to visit their families in their home countries rather than solely for a holiday. The lack of other ways of quickly being able to reach loved ones is a very difficult issue for many people who have created new lives for themselves far from home. The concept of ‘flight shame’ is very difficult for people who have no alternative but to fly if they want or need to see their relatives. 

Currently, the concept of flygskam doesn’t differentiate between those who travel for business, to visit relatives or simply for a holiday and raises the question of whether we should view some reasons for travel as more problematic than others?

Rail travel has unsurprisingly increased as a result in the flygskam movement, with Swedish airports reporting that they passengers dropped by 8% between January and April of this year as more and more people eschew plane travel for a railway holiday. The Swedish railway system was used by 32 million people last year, an unprecedented increase suggesting a conscious movement towards more sustainable travel. A new term, tågskryt> - meaning ‘train bragging’, has even been created to convey the moral high ground some people feel they are taking by turning their backs on flying. 

The movement can also be tracked on social media, with the hashtag #StayOnTheGround trending alongside a rise of anonymous Instagram accounts shaming influencers (amongst others) for going on lavish press trips to far-flung destinations. These effects can be felt outside of Sweden too, with terms similar to flygskam popping up in newspapers and social media around Europe - in the Netherlands it’s vliegschaamte, the Finnish have adopted the term lentohapea, and the Germans are using the work flugscham to address the feeling of shame around the negative environmental impact of taking a flight.

With the train network around Europe so well connected, flying doesn’t need to be a part of short or long breaks. London to Paris or Brussels is only 2 hours, another 2 hours takes you to Amsterdam or Bordeaux. A week of ambling from France to Italy sounds much more relaxed than queuing at the check-in desk at the airport anyway.

Whatever your feelings about flying, there’s no doubt that a pattern is emerging - feelings of shame around carbon emissions leading more and more people to change their holiday habits for the better, which can only be a good thing for the planet.

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