Flight Shaming Takes Off

by Robert McGarvey

Just when you perhaps thought it safe to shrug off flygskam – aka flight shaming – a new investor note out of Citigroup is a slap in the face. The Citi bottomline: this stuff is serious and it will impact you.

Per Bloomberg, “The cost of offsetting planes’ carbon emissions could become as much as 10 times higher than the airline industry currently estimates, Citi analysts including Mark Manduca said in a note on Wednesday. For economy seats alone, the cost could balloon to $3.8 billion a year by 2025, hurting airlines’ earnings, they said.”

Germany, meantime, is boosting carbon taxes on air travel by as much as 75% in 2020.

Sweden has had a tax for over a year.

Other nations will follow.

At least some men apparently have a problem accepting Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who has become the poster person for the flygskam movement, but face up to the fact that we have significant environmental issues that need dealing with. And air travel is part of the problem.

Yes, I know there are political figures who don’t see matters this way and, no, I don’t care what they think anymore than I care what flat earthers or anti-vaxxers think.

Besides, the Citi note changes the equation. What it says is that flygskam is no longer a fringe issue, that in fact it will impact all of us who climb on airplanes.

The Bloomberg piece continued: “‘The so-called winners of this generational shift will likely be the rail operators, governments, forest owners and carbon schemes,’ the Citi analysts said.”

Meantime, at least some researchers are saying airlines should be coerced into ending frequent flier mile awards mainly because this causes bad behaviors. Suggested one report on its list of recommended actions: “Introduce regulation to ban frequent flyer reward schemes that stimulate demand. “

Do I think we will soon see a drop in business travel via air? I see companies trimming the number of trips – and making contributions to carbon offset funds. I also see companies nudging more of us to climb behind the wheel of our cars or, even better, hopping on a train (read this Chris Barnett column on the glory of train travel in Canada).

Mainly, though, I see business travel carrying on – there will be reductions in the number of flights, very possibly some private plane shaming (said to produce 10x more carbon per passenger than commercial planes), and many companies will mount PR campaigns to highlight the good they will tell us they do for the environment.

Frequent business flyers – who log 6+ trips per year – individually produce a staggering 3.1 tons of carbon annually. There will be pressure to reduce that number and there will be public shaming. When everytime you say you are off on a trip, a child or grandchild sends you a photo of a starving polar bear, at some point you will cut back.

But that will be small changes to what I think may soon become a cataclysmic impact on leisure travel.

With business travel there are rationales – it is good for the economy, creates jobs, spreads the wealth, etc.

With leisure travel, good luck with the hunt for defenses.

Reported the New York Times: “Our climate just can’t tolerate widespread frequent flying,” said Dan Rutherford, a director at the International Council on Clean Transportation . “At some level we need to figure out, collectively, which flights are necessary, and which are luxuries.”

Leisure fights, they are talking about you.

Have you ever whimsically hopped on a plane from Newark to Madrid, mainly because the price was so low and it’d been a while since you toured the Prado? I have (it’s one of my personal favorite trips of all time) and I have impulsively flown across the Atlantic to Dublin, also to Berlin, many times to both in fact.

How cool was it when you are asked how was your weekend and the answer is, ah, the Guinness was grander on the banks of the River Liffey.

And now you just may get booed or mocked, maybe bombarded with skinny polar bear pix.

The days of impulsively flying 3000 miles to start a four day weekend are over.

Face reality: when the Wall Street guys go bearish on air travel because of carbon concerns, it’s time for a rethink. And the real question now has to be: Do I need to go? The other question: Do I have to fly? And in 2019 expect to hear as many no’s as yesses.

2 thoughts on “Flight Shaming Takes Off”

  1. “Yes, I know there are political figures who don’t see matters this way and, no, I don’t care what they think anymore than I care what flat earthers or anti-vaxxers think.”

    And I feel the same way about what the “shamers” think.

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