A few years ago talk of ditching air travel for the sake of sustainability seemed reserved for radical environmentalists. Now, as data sheds light on just how bad flying is for the environment, the conversation is unavoidable.
A sentiment known as “flygskam” or “flight shame”, coined by the ever au courant Swedes, is spreading at a rapid-fire pace.
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“Flygskam” was a major topic of discussion at a summit in Soel two weeks ago, attended by airline industry leaders from around the world. “Unchallenged, this sentiment will grow and spread,” said Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
What is ‘slow-travel’?
In response to the proliferation of “Flygskam”, a counter-movement has been born known as ‘slow-travel’. Slow travel initially got its roots from the ‘slow-food’ movement of the 1980s in Europe that advocated for the preservation of regional cuisine in response to the opening of McDonald’s in Rome.
Similarly, slow-travel imbues a nostalgic return to the appeal of the Quotidien — a connection to local people and culture. The ‘slow-traveler’ will make an effort to get to know one area, rather than trying to take in many different regions in a short period of time. In this way, slow-travel is also more sustainable than traditional travel methods in expending less energy, creating less waste, and supporting local business.
Just how bad is the airline industry?
If you were to take a single roundtrip international flight from New York to London, you alone would emit about 3,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, according to the IACO Carbon Emissions Calculator.
That’s more than the average gas-pumping driver emits in three months. To put this into perspective, you could recycle and make eco-friendly buying decisions for a year, and all of this would be voided in a single international flight.
Skipping your flight just one or two times a year could reduce your carbon footprint by as much as 10 to 20%.
Commercial flying accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions today. Without concrete steps, that number will rise as global air travel increases, said the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) in a review of 20 of the world’s major airlines. And yet, none of the 20 airlines has specified how it will reduce its flight emissions after 2025.
Is a sustainable aviation industry realistic?
The short answer: no. Or, at least, not at this point in time. The airline industry has purported lofty plans to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and halve net emissions from 2005 levels by 2050. As of now, their agenda includes fuel alternatives, a readjustment to operations such as enforcing direct flight paths and engineering new plane models, such as KLM’s futuristic ‘flying-V’ model that places passengers within the wing.
According to the IATA, the implementation of sustainable-fuel sources would have the greatest impact by far, reducing emissions from each flight by a whopping 80%. The predicament? Supply is limited. “The reality today is there’s just not enough and it’s too expensive,” KLM CEO Pieter Elbers told Reuters. The IATA plans to make at least 2% of fuel sustainably sourced by 2025, but real progress has yet to be made.
While at present a sustainable alternative to flying seems unpromising, there are still ways travelers can offset the damage done by the aviation industry.
If flying less is not an option for you, there are a few practices you can adopt that are ‘slow-travel’ approved:
How does one master slow-travel?
1. Fly nonstop
Takeoffs and ascent require a great deal more energy than cruising at altitude — up to 75% reported Dan Rutherford, director of aviation programs at the International Council on Clean Transportation, to USA Today.
2. Follow the 600 miles or less rule
Try to avoid hopping aboard a flight for trips that are under 600 miles. Instead, opt for a car, bus, train, or ride-share service. Even better, optimize your energy efficiency game by adding additional people to the car.
Buses have been becoming increasingly popular, particularly among millennials for their improved cabin comfort, and amenities like wifi. In fact, a DePaul University study projects that the number of schedule options for bus travelers is growing faster than other modes of travel.
3. Make it a longer trip in one place
Have two small trips booked for the next year? Try compressing them into one longer trip. The logic is simple: the fewer destinations, the fewer flights taken.
Fuel impact aside, opting for a longer trip in one place also embodies the ‘slow-travel’ philosophy of fully embracing one place, rather than destination cramming.
4. Avoid ‘business-class’
Many people may feel opposed to the idea of giving up added leg room in the name of sustainability. But, there’s no denying it: the more passengers, the more energy economical.
It’s easy to make the mistake of justifying your purchase of a business seat by telling yourself, ‘well, the seats will be there whether or not I choose to purchase them.’ This encourages airlines to continue to design planes with upgraded seating amenities. From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense for airlines to continue to do so.
Condoning excessive flying with ‘if everyone’s not doing it, then it doesn’t matter’ is the kind of mentality that impedes sustainable progress. ‘Slow-travel’ is only effective if it’s adopted collectively.