The Shame of Flying
The Sunday ZEITGUIDE
April 28th, 2019
Flying is frustrating—there are the delays, the cramped seats, the wet floors in the bathrooms. But passengers are finding that taking to the skies brings a more troubling feeling: Guilt.
A Flying Shame
—More people are flying than ever before, and as that number keeps increasing so does the carbon footprint of the airline industry. Over 4.3 billion people flew in 2018, a figure the International Air Transport Association projects will climb to 7.8 billion by 2036. Flying accounts for just under 2 percent of all CO2 emissions globally today, but the European Parliament forecasts that share to grow to 22 percent by 2050.
—So many Swedes dislike the environmental impact of flying that they coined a new term, “flygskam,” to describe the guilt people feel. It’s more than just Nordic hand-wrenching. Increasingly, Swedes are opting out of flying and choosing instead to ride the rails. In 2018, Swedish airports experienced their weakest passenger growth in a decade. Passenger train travel, meantime, was at record highs.
—High-speed rail may be the most environmentally-friendly alternative to shorter flights. While high-speed rail in Californian has faced challenges, Washington governor Jay Inslee has called for the creation of a high-speed line in the Cascadia corridor connecting Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. In Texas, a group of private investors are working to develop a line linking Dallas and Houston. And China, a late arrival to the high-speed dance, has built over 16,000 miles of rail line in the past 23 years, with another 4,225 miles scheduled to be ready this year.
The Must-Have Conversation
Most travelers have no sense of the environmental cost of flying. A single cross-country flight generates more than half a ton of CO2—by comparison, the average American accounts for just under 16 tons of CO2 generated each year. You can calculate the carbon footprint of any flights you’ve taken here.
If you can’t avoid flying, you can purchase carbon offsets for the flights you take. When you buy offsets, the money goes toward projects that cut or remove emissions elsewhere. The National Hockey League, for instance, recently purchased offsets for the emissions produced by all the air travel used by teams during this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What Else We’re Reading This Week
Do you work in Tinseltown? Why it’s time to worry about automation coming for your job. – Vanity Fair
Should Big Tech disrupt teaching? Why schools in Kansas rebelled against Silicon Valley’s incursion into the classroom. – The New York Times
Picky about your grooming products? You’re lucky to live in the golden age of consumer personalization. – Wall Street Journal
Global & Society
Kids seeming anxious these days? How parents are the cause, and the solution, to this growing problem. – NPR
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