Climate Activists Divided about Whether to Shame People for Flying

Buttigieg himself has spent $300,000 this year on private air travel…

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Pete Buttigieg/IMAGE: NBC News via YouTube

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) A 16-year-old Swedish climate activist is advocating flygskam, or “flight shame,” which refers to the practice of shaming people who use airplanes, but not all climate activists agree that shaming will convince people to reduce emissions.

Demonstrating her commitment to flight shame, Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from the United Kingdom to New York City in a zero-emissions yacht, E&E News reported. The journey on the 60-foot yacht, which was equipped with solar panels and wind turbines, took 15 days.

Thunberg made her point that she believes flying in airplanes threatens humanity’s survival. 

Yet few people have access to zero-emissions yachts or time for a one-month round-trip journey across the Atlantic Ocean, since most American citizens have church, family, and work commitments as well as financial restrictions. Flight shamingcould quickly become average-person shaming.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg used religious shaming last week at CNN’s “Climate Crisis” town hall.

“If you believe that God is watching as poison is being belched into the air of creation, and people are being harmed by it ⁠— countries are at risk of vanishing in low-lying areas ⁠— what do you suppose God thinks of that? I bet He thinks it’s messed up,” Buttigieg said, according to Fox News.

Yet Buttigieg himself has spent $300,000 this year on private air travel—the most of any Democratic presidential candidate, AP reported.

Frequent air travel in the United States is primarily for the wealthy. Most other Americans use air travel once a year or once every few years for a vacation or to visit relatives.

About 12 percent of Americans, deemed frequent flyers, fly about 14 times per year, and contribute about two-thirds of the country’s emissions from planes each year, E&E News reported.

Andrew Scott, head of the climate and energy program at the Overseas Development Institute, thinks that flying should be “socially unacceptable.”

“I’m not sure shaming is going to work until flying becomes socially unacceptable,” he said. “It’s a bit like smoking, where 30 years ago, smoking was an acceptable social behavior. These days, it’s not. And it takes time for people’s attitudes to change.”

Some climate activists have warned against the use of shame to control behavior.

“I think it’s really important that we look at our travel habits. But I’m really concerned about this flight shame thing, because I don’t think making people feel really shameful is a great way to motivate change,” said Lucy Gilliam, aviation and shipping campaigner at Transport & Environment.

“It’s better to create a conversation about it and a space where people can learn from each other about the different modes of transportation, rather than to bash people over the head,” Gilliam said.