In the last few weeks I’ve seen the words ‘flight shame’ used to describe the motivation for people flying less. I can’t point at any sources off the top of my head, but people are flying a bit less in Europe by the sounds of things, and this is being attributed to flight shame. It’s also worth noting that (and I got these stats from MEP Molly Scott Cato) 70% of flights are taken by 15% of fliers, so if those people cut back it will have maximum impact.
Flight shame is clearly a good thing. Flight shaming is not something I’ve managed to do. I have a fair few friends who fly – some for leisure, some for work, some because their families aren’t all in the same country. I don’t call them out when they tell me about it. I do not flight-shame them and I am undecided as to whether I should. Flying is so desperately bad for life on Earth. But, if we did it a bit more modestly, it might be feasible. If those who had most took less, it would perhaps be viable for some people to spend the odd few hours in the air now and then. The flight-shame of people who seldom flew anyway might not be a game changer.
My suspicion is that the people who are most easily persuaded to be uncomfortable about their less-sustainable choices are the people who weren’t so very bad in the first place. It’s the folk who jet off regularly who are least likely to feel uncomfortable with their choices – I suspect. I have little evidence aside from the way, this morning, I’m seeing people with a lot of money proclaiming their lack of flight guilt as Greta Thunberg sets off to cross the Atlantic in a boat.
But perhaps that need to assert the ‘no guilt’ over flying shows that flight-shame is creeping in. You don’t have to speak up to justify something that doesn’t need justifying.
The greatest harm to the planet is caused by the smallest number of people. Many of us are living within the planet’s means already. Many of us who are not living in a passably sustainable way would not need to make massive changes to achieve that. How can it possibly be tolerable that those who have most are allowed to take so much at such a cost to life as a whole? When that becomes shameful behaviour, and when we treat it with derision rather than admiring it, things may change. We could do this quickly. I’m not generally into using shame as a way to change behaviour, but we’re talking about people with monstrous levels of privilege who are choosing to do obscene amounts of damage – and they really should be ashamed of that and pressured to change.