Will 'Flygskam' (or flight shame) be the buzzword of this year's summer holiday?


Air travel, once the epitome of coolness, is rapidly losing its charm as “flygskam” (“flight shame” in Swedish) takes off across Europe.

Emerging in Sweden over the past year,  the neologism “flygskam” refers to the feeling of being ashamed or embarrassed to board a plane because of its negative impact on the environment.

While direct emissions from aviation account for just 3 percent of the European Union’s total greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also true that on a measure of C02 emitted each kilometer traveled by a passenger, air travel is the most polluting means of transportation with 285 grams of C02 per passenger/kilometer. Moreover, emissions from air travel are accelerating significantly faster than other C02 emitters. So much so that UN data project that, if predicted cuts in other sectors come through, aviation might become the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide within 30 years.

In all of this, Swedes are (or used to be) frequent flyers. According to a report commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017 Sweden’s total aviation sector accounted for 1.1 tonnes of emissions per person, five times the global average of 0.2 tonnes per person.

If you factor in Sweden’s ambitious plan to be carbon neutral by 2045 and its fame as one of the world’s most eco-friendly countries, it’s easy to understand why the term “flygskam” was coined in the land of ABBA and Ikea.

Obviously, the movement is particularly prominent on social media where the neologism can be conveniently used as a Twitter hashtag - together with #StayOnTheGround#jagstannarpåmarken, and others - to group pictures and discussions of people who shun flights.

On Instagram, there’s the account aningslosainfluencers (“clueless influencers” in Swedish) that, backed by 60k+ followers, shame celebs who fly too much and too ostentatiously.

A preserved RAe TEE II trainset passing through Veytaux-Chillon station, on the Cisalpin's route (but not a stop), with Chillon Castle in the background MARKUS EIGENHEER (WIKIPEDIA)

But if flight-shaming the jet-set certainly represent the, so to speak, pars destruens, the flygskam movement has a pars construens as well. And, ça va sans dire, there’s a name for it too.

With “tagskryt”, literally “train-bragging”, Swedes express the pride of traveling by train, a greener means of transport.

On Facebook, we can find the group Tågsemester where 80k+ members of all ages share tips and stories about their train adventures across Europe and beyond.

But it’s not just new media, also older media are jumping on the bandwagon (or the railcar...) of “flygskam” and “tagskryt.”

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyether, for example, is running two branded trains in a tagskryt-fueled journey through Europe  (the 680 tickets, priced at SKr 25,000 per person sold out in a week.) The move is part of the paper’s new highly innovative business model that focuses on experiences and merchandise.

And train, of course, is also the go-to means of transportation for climate activism enfant prodige Greta Thunberg. It’s also thanks to her mediatic prominence that the flygskam movement is now quickly gaining supporters beyond Sweden’s borders.

Will “flygskam” and “tagskryt” become the buzzwords of this year’s summer holidays? Too early to tell. What we know for sure is that they’re already solid additions to the florid dictionary of Scandinavian words used internationally by people à la page: “I ditched the plane because of flygskam and hopped on the train. A bit tagskryt but not too much because of lagom: it was very hygge.”

Credit header image: Pixabay

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