Flying Shame: Vox Guilt-Trips Air Travelers Over Climate Impact

Global demand for air travel is rising, so Vox celebrated a way to shame passengers for flying because of climate change for the second time in a week.

Vox staff writer Umair Irfan promoted the “global flying shame movement” and a new website, Shame Plane, on August 7. Swedish digital designer Victor Müller and developer Dennis Mårtensson created the site to guilt-trip travelers over the carbon emissions of their flights. 

Inspired by Swedish climate-change activist Greta Thunberg, Müller initially crunched the numbers because of “his own anxieties about climate change,” and found his flight carbon footprint “shocking and paralyzing.”

Irfan wrote another article about the Swedish flight shaming movement less than a week earlier.

Müller’s website includes a calculator to determine a passenger’s carbon footprint and compares that to “individual actions that reduce emissions” over the course of one year. Possible actions, including using LED bulbs and giving up driving, are listed. 

“Playing with the calculator, the impact of flying becomes clear. It also shows that reducing air travel is one of the most effective ways to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions,” Irfan wrote. 

Comparing it to other calculators, he praised Müller’s because it “zeroes in on what’s often the largest single contributor to an individual’s impact on the climate and shows just how hard it is to compensate for it.”

Müller claimed, “I never meant to shame anyone when I built it, but if you can justify flying like there is no tomorrow, then good for you, let me know your secret.” 

That’s the definition of shaming.

According to Irfan, the flying shame movement, called “flygskam” in Swedish, has spread to “activists, scientists, and ordinary people” around the world. Although he conceded that “air travel contributes just 2 percent” of global emissions, he fretted that this number was “poised to surge” and there aren’t yet decarbonization options other than reducing air travel.

Irfan also complained that “a minority of people are doing the majority of flying,” but ignored the fact that the rich and elite do far more of it than others. He could have taken the time to call out the Hollywood hypocrites for flying in private jets to Google’s summit to talk about climate change and other matters July 31. 

Of course, he didn’t.

He ended the shaming piece with a mini lecture, saying, “as far as individual actions go, how you travel is one of the most consequential for the planet. Whether or not you choose to feel guilty about it, it’s worth giving it some thought.”

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