The No-Jet Set: They’ve Given Up Flying to Save the Planet

| March 1, 2023 Leave your thoughts

Air travel accounts for about 4 percent of human-induced global warming, and the United Nations warns that airplane emissions are set to triple by 2050. Planes are becoming more efficient, but our appetite for air travel is outpacing the industry’s environmental gains.

One Boeing 747 carrying 416 passengers from Heathrow Airport in London to Edinburgh produces the same carbon dioxide as 336 cars traveling the same distance, according to BBC Science Focus, a peer-reviewed magazine, though such comparisons depend on a wide range of factors like fuel efficiency and even the time of day. That jumbo carbon footprint is leading many activists and scientists to issue rallying cries to fly less, or not at all.

“This is a climate emergency,” said Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who founded No Fly Climate Sci, an online forum on the link between aviation and climate change. “When you get on a plane, not only are you responsible for emissions, but you’re also casting a vote to continue expanding that system.”

Trading wings for wheels

Mr. Castrigano, who lives in Burlington, Vt., spent more than a decade as a middle school teacher. He traveled extensively during that time, but has become increasingly concerned about the pace of climate change over the past five years.

Any of what might be reason enough for some to stay off a plane. But for a small, yet growing, number of travelers, the problem with air travel goes way further. They are giving up flying because of its impact on the climate.

Flight shame’ goes global

There is perhaps no country on earth with more anti-flight activists than Sweden, where by 2020, 15,000 people had signed a nationwide pledge to travel without flying for at least one year. The nonprofit behind that movement, We Stay on the Ground, is currently raising funds and hopes to get 100,000 signatories in the next few years.

Many Americans are aware of Sweden’s young climate activist Greta Thunberg, who in 2019 chose to sail across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht to speak to the United Nations. But Swedes — who have coined a word, flygskam, to describe the shame associated with flying — point to earlier figures, including the opera singer Malena Ernman, who is Ms. Thunberg’s mother, and the journalist Jens Liljestrand, as those who started the trend.

Like most travelers committed to reducing or eliminating their air travel, she shuns the idea of carbon offsets, in which carbon credits can be purchased, often through actions like planting trees, in exchange for greenhouse gases emitted.

As climate change intensifies, critics say that rather than erasing carbon in the atmosphere, the practice preys on travelers’ guilt and offers an excuse to pollute without producing viable results. Many point to intensifying wildfires in the American West, which have burned down forests planted with carbon offset funds, as a metaphor for the inefficiency of offsets.

“We need to think about what we really want from our vacations, and why we need to go so far away to get that”. “A lot of people who take the flight-free pledge say they wouldn’t change it even if they could, because when you travel by train, the trip itself becomes part of the adventure.”

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