Flygskam, Flying and Carbon Offsets
Flygskam is the trending Swedish word meaning “flight shaming”. That is, bullying individuals who use airplanes for travel as being environmentally reprehensible.
What travel alternatives are there? For terrestrial trips, bike, car, bus, van, train. For long-distance and ocean-crossing trips? Travel by freighter. Others fly and purchase carbon offsets – yet most have never heard of them.
Rosy future for air travel
Flygskam was a hot topic during the summer 2019 conference of CEOs attending the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) annual meeting in Seoul, Korea. In his address to the 150 members, the Director General and CEO of IATA Alexandre de Juniac said, “Unchallenged, this sentiment will grow and spread.”
The carbon emission “footprint” (amount of emissions expended) for commercial flying is roughly 2.5 per cent of global carbon emissions. Seems low? Consider that China, India and other developing nations’ increased GDP is encouraging an exponential increase in individuals choosing to fly.
Juniac’s speech addressed this. “Looking to the future [of aviation travel], the outlook is optimistic. Demand is forecast to double over the next two decades. With the cost of travel 40% lower than a decade ago, the freedom to fly is reaching more people than ever. Aviation today is far from being an industry for the rich. The developing markets are expected to provide the majority of additional passenger demand. India and China alone are forecast to account for around 45% of all additional passenger trips over the next two decades. Even more than today, the travellers of the future will come from all walks of life and economic means.” (bit.ly/2FzNd2l)
Juniac noted, “I want to emphasize that I am not proposing to communicate the climate problem away. We have targets to meet. And we must engage in out-of-the-box thinking to see if there are opportunities to work with governments to do even more. … We must commit to make flying unquestionably sustainable.”
To this point, a reporter asked the CEOs for a “hands up” to indicate who had purchased carbon offsets. “A handful” had.
What are carbon offsets?
“A carbon offset is a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction that is used to counterbalance, or offset, a GHG emission.” (bit.ly/2QZvqHc)
David Suzuki Foundation explains carbon offsets are credits “for greenhouse-gas reductions achieved by one party that can be purchased and used to compensate (offset) the emissions of another party. Carbon offsets are typically measured in tonnes of CO2-equivalents (or CO2e) and are bought and sold through a number of international brokers, online retailers and trading platforms.” (bit.ly/2QxxiYP)
Many international airlines including Air Canada and WestJet offer carbon offsets which we can purchase on their websites while booking our flights.
Are some offset programs better than others? Absolutely.
“The Gold Standard was established in 2003 by WWF [World Wildlife Fund] and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development. With the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, we launched a best practice standard for climate and sustainable development interventions.” (bit.ly/36yAB7I)
Crunching the numbers
Confusingly, rates for tonnes of carbon offsets vary. I chose Gold Standard rates which are $24/tonne, whereas CSA Standard-Certified Canadian Offsets are calculated at $20/tonne. How to calculate? I used bullfrog power company’s calculator called “Less”. (bit.ly/2sNdR5o)
So what can we do?
In March 2019, our only flight together that year, we flew to the UK (Ottawa-London Heathrow) with Air Canada. The Gold Standard recommended offset was $49.62 each, less than the cost of seat selection. We paid and chose a Gold Standard project to which we directed our money.
Flight shaming: Not for me
I abhor bullying, so flight shaming isn’t a solution I support. The world needs positive, sustainable solutions so you and I can truly “be the change we want to see in the world” (Ghandi’s teaching). More than “just” through our own actions, we as individuals must demand our world governments lead with environmentally sustainable legislation.