Flight Shaming - why it won't work
Updated: Aug 20
Let me first say up front that I think that Greta Thunberg is amazing.
What a courageous young woman she is for standing up and so eloquently articulating her concerns for our world and the tragic changes that are directly related to our human failings. I completely agree with her that we desperately need to do better, and taking action as soon as possible is critical. I can see her growing into the type of leader our future needs.
We are lucky to have her.
As a National Geographic subscriber, I recently received an email titled "the Greta Effect - is Climate Change Changing your Travel?". Within it, NatGeo asked readers to respond, referencing their Morning Consult Poll that found that of 2200 Americans surveyed, 24 percent had changed their plans in various ways. And to that I say, "terrific!" - as I agree that there are so many ways we can improve how we explore the planet.
However, I have a different perspective on how we can best motivate others to consider making these much needed travel changes. And It just doesn't involve the use of one sudden, absolute and potentially polarizing action. Below is my contribution to the conversation. It is only my perspective. And one which I hold moderately, as I always open to considering views outside of my experience.
I do not believe that extreme action (in any direction on any subject) facilitates
or cultivates real or sustainable change.
Yes, on any topic, we humans enjoy the feeling of getting emotionally charged about a topic and then DOing something drastic, severe or with a lot of high energy in order to feel better and rid ourselves of the discomfort of....of well, feeling so helpless. We aren't helpless. But it feels like that way. Because the underlying root of so many of our countries right now is collective 'trauma' in some form, which includes a lot of powerful emotion.
So although, an immediate purge of that discomfort by way of an extreme and absolute action (like boycotting plane travel) may feel cathartic, it often doesn't last. Why? Because the requested change is so great, and call to action so immediate that most humans (a weakness of our species?) can not maintain that level of commitment long-term.
But I do see slow, progressive change as being not only more sustainable but appealing to more people. Do we have time for this, considering the current state of our environment? Many argue that we do not. And that is another conversation. I personally agree that we do need to act, and take action immediately in some form, and in many areas simultaneously. But I can also see that humans who feel shame about 'not doing enough' (which is really just a rephrasing of the underlying global trauma message 'I am not enough') as either becoming completely immobilized from doing anything at all, OR acting with extreme, vigorous demonstration for a short while and then...eventually going back to doing what they were doing before. Both seem counterproductive to the long term goal. Similar to a crash diet? It may be.
Below is an excerpt from Paradox Travel's FAQ section on our 'About' page. It addresses this very issue, along with my 'take' on Responsible Travel and and how it actually could be a mechanism for good for our planet and its communities. But It's only my opinion. But it perhaps it offers some insight on ways that we all can still travel and see the world, but modify how we do it, so that future generations have a shot at doing the same.
Warmly, and with love for our planet,
What does Responsible Travel really mean?
For me, Responsible Travel is more of mindset than a definition. And it’s not intended to trigger guilt about travel. Responsible Travel is more about conscious ways to see the world while still fulfilling dreams of exploration. It’s about thinking when we travel and remaining aware of behaviors that impact these places. Don’t think of it as limiting the way we travel, but rather seeing better ways we can travel so we have positive impact on the people and the area of the world that we visit.
When we travel responsibly, we make choices so that more of our money stays local. When we travel responsibly, we stay aware of our impact on the landscapes and oceans and manage behaviors or usage that threatens them. Responsible travel is also about respect and attitude. When we travel, if we recognize that these places that we visit are people’s homes and see locals who serve us as hosts rather than providers, that too, is traveling responsibly. By showing respect to people who live in the places we visit and politely interacting with them, we are traveling responsibly. By utilizing local guides, graciously accepting an invitation to tea in a berber village or hiring a local sherpa, you are traveling responsibly.These are just some simple examples.
Why not use the term Sustainable?
And how do we reconcile the carbon from plane travel?
Most travel, in the category of “use of resources that damage our environment”, is not sustainable. If you ride a bike to your destination, stay at an off-the-grid lodge and eat locally grown food, well that would be a pretty sustainable vacation. But for me, someone who wants to see the world, I am hoping to see electric or solar plane service within my lifetime. But that is not the case currently, so we are back to that feeling of guilt again. And if feeling guilty about travel prevents some of us from doing it at all, then I think we are missing some real opportunity for impact.
I actually believe that tourism can be a mechanism to do something good and that travel can be an exchange. If we use travel to increase awareness, to increase engagement in local communities, and advocate for environmental protection, then in my opinion, we have just created a different way to ‘offset carbon’. So if we want to do something to compensate for the carbon use of our flights? Then we can donate to a charity that is working towards getting an African community clean water, as example. If we want to offset the environmental damage to which airplane travel contributes? Then let’s make sure we make conscious choices to eat locally, hike more, walk more or bike more once we are there. Sustainable travel may not be a reality, but Responsible travel can be.