"Flight Shaming" Is Really Reducing Short-Haul Flights in Europe

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The number of people flying between German cities has dropped 12 percent.

TreeHugger's Katherine has written about 'flygskam' or flight-shaming, and its corollary, 'tagskryt' or train-bragging. We noted last summer that domestic flights in Sweden are declining and airport expansion plans are being reconsidered.

Now Bloomberg reports that both phenomena are happening in Germany. Short-haul flights between German cities have dropped significantly, flights around Europe have dropped a bit, while long-haul flights have not changed much.

The data adds to signs that climate change is fostering a sense of so-called flying shame – flygskam in Swedish – that’s causing some people to avoid one of the most polluting forms of travel. The phenomenon may be more advanced in Germany after the country suffered a series of extreme weather events that saw it buffeted by thunderstorms and the River Rhine running dry.

Meanwhile, significantly more people are taking the train on trips within Europe that are less four hours.

Deutsche Bahn reckons annual passenger numbers on long-distance trains will reach 260 million by 2040, almost double the 2015 total, while Austrian’s state railway operator is adding night-train capacity in expectation of rising demand.
A short flight in Europe

A short flight in Austria/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In another Bloomberg article, Leonid Bershidsky notes that there might be other reasons that flights have dropped.

The European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, also known as Eurocontrol, noted in its November report on European air traffic that the drop in German domestic flights was explained largely by a Deutsche Lufthansa AG cabin crew strike, and traffic decreases in other European countries, such as France and the U.K., were a consequence of the bankruptcy of travel operator Thomas Cook Group Plc.

But he acknowledges that flight shaming does seem to be making a difference in short flights. "Less short-haul air travel will do some good: Because the emissions are the highest during takeoff and landing, it’s the shorter flights that release the most carbon into the atmosphere per mile flown."

Katherine has questioned whether shame is effective or the right approach, and has suggested taxes on frequent flyers. Bershidsky has similar thoughts, and brings up another option that we have discussed recently:

It’s probably time for policymakers to help people get their priorities straight by adopting the old idea of personal carbon trading. If people are issued an equal amount of carbon credits at the beginning of the year, which they can spend on different kinds of travel and energy use according to a unified national price list, they soon will understand what works for them personally. The need to buy additional credits, or the ability to sell some of the allowance, should provide an incentive to work that out.

In other words, good old carbon rationing.