Flight Shame

But here’s the peculiar thing: although no other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel, most of us don’t stop to think about its carbon impact.


This video tells the story of a Swedish family that came to realize the high carbon cost of flying and instead relied on trains for their vacation travel.

Swedish lawyer Pia Bjorstrand and her family board the first of many trains on a vacation around northern Europe. They are part of a growing movement that’s shunning air travel because it produces high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. AP

Obviously it can be very inconvenient to have to travel distances by means other than flying. Years ago I would need to get to Washington, DC, to attend the annual meetings of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). The train was scheduled to leave Indianapolis at midnight, but was often late. It isn’t easy to sleep on the train. Although the trip was scheduled to be 22 hours long, we were often delayed, usually because of freight train traffic.

I imagine many of you have shared this observation, this paradox of people who say they care about our environment but fly frequently, often to attend climate meetings!

One of Greenpeace’s most senior executives commutes 250 miles to work by plane, despite the environmental group’s campaign to curb air travel, it has emerged.

Pascal Husting, Greenpeace International’s international programme director, said he began “commuting between Luxembourg and Amsterdam” when he took the job in 2012 and currently made the round trip about twice a month.

But Mr Husting defended the arrangement, telling the Telegraph that while he would “rather not take” the journey it was necessary as it would otherwise be “a twelve hour round trip by train”.

Greenpeace executive flies 250 miles to work, The Telegraph, By Emily Gosden, Energy Editor, 23 Jun 2014

Several studies have found people to be quite ignorant of how their own flying behaviour contributes to climate change. It’s not hard to see why. Research into airline websites shows little mention of environmental impact. Green NGOs are often quiet on the issue, perhaps being reluctant to “preach” to their members to fly less, and concerned over accusations of hypocrisy as their own staff fly around the world to conferences.


The following graphic from Sweden shows:

Source: Forschungsgruppe Wahlen / BDL

That graphic is from this video:


Climate activist Greta Thunberg refuses to fly:


We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling.

The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Seth Wynesand Kimberly A Nicholas Published 12 July 2017 • © 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 12, Number 7

Ethical Transportation

Radically reducing fossil fuel use has long been a concern of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). A previously approved Minute urged us to reduce our use of personal automobiles. We have continued to be challenged by the design of our communities that makes this difficult. This is even more challenging in rural areas. But our environmental crisis means we must find ways to address this issue quickly.

Friends are encouraged to challenge themselves and to simplify their lives in ways that can enhance their spiritual environmental integrity. One of our meetings uses the term “ethical transportation,” which is a helpful way to be mindful of this.

Long term, we need to encourage ways to make our communities “walkable”, and to expand public transportation systems. These will require major changes in infrastructure and urban planning.

Carpooling and community shared vehicles would help. We can develop ways to coordinate neighbors needing to travel to shop for food, attend meetings, visit doctors, etc. We could explore using existing school buses or shared vehicles to provide intercity transportation. 

One immediately available step would be to promote the use of bicycles as a visible witness for non-fossil fuel transportation. Friends may forget how easy and fun it can be to travel miles on bicycles. Neighbors seeing families riding their bicycles to Quaker meetings would have an impact on community awareness. This is a way for our children to be involved in this shared witness. We should encourage the expansion of bicycle lanes and paths. We can repair and recycle unused bicycles, and make them available to those who have the need.

Ethical Transportation Minute
Approved by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017
This entry was posted in climate change, Ethical Transportation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Flight Shame

  1. ryeats says:

    Jeff! I am sitting here in my son’s living room watching the electric powered Metro trains slide by. With a modern electrical grid these could be car on free. Amtrak from Washington to Boston and Harrisburg were electrified in the 1930’s by the Pennsylvania RR. (except New Haven to Boston finished by Amtrak) American trains should be better but if we don’t use what we have, we won’t have anything. I have been in and out of Indianapolis by train a few times. Weird hours but you land in the middle of the city. Twice this Spring I have taken the train to things and gotten home before my flying friends (sometimes 2 days ahead). Out the window I also see the daily train to Chicago and MARC diesel powered commuter trains.

    I must admit to being a bit miffed by some of our environmental ist friends flying around the country telling folks to shut off the LEDs on their solid state equipment. Trains work It is settled technology that is getting evermore efficient. Not very sexy but something we need for the future

    On Fri, Jun 21, 2019, 10:17 AM Quakers, social justice and revolution wrote:

    > jakisling posted: ” But here’s the peculiar thing: although no other human > activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air > travel, most of us don’t stop to think about its carbon impact. > http://theconversation.com/its-time-to-wake-up-to-the-devastating-” >

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