Flying shame and the conundrum of sacrificing convenience for the betterment of the planet.

Recent years saw a dramatic increase in environmentally conscious consumers. More then ever before in history, people are ready to sacrifice some of their daily conveniences for the reduction in their carbon footprint. An increase in the popularity of low budget airline business models and overnight shipping brought the increase in demand for air travel and shipping. In 2018 Global airline operations contributed 918 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.  This means that air travel becomes one of the biggest contributors to our yearly carbon footprint. It is no wonder therefore that environmentally conscious traveler is choosing to avoid air travel when that is possible. This issue is becoming more and more relevant due to social movement know as flight shaming.

Flight shaming started in Sweden in the 2010s and reached mainstream recently. “Swedish celebrities started pushing the idea into the mainstream. In 2015, Swedish Olympic biathlon gold medalist Björn Ferry committed to stopping flying. Then in the fall of 2017, 10 Swedish celebrities published an article about deciding to no longer fly.” (vox 2019) I have encountered this issue on my recent trip to Norway where I visited a small town in the arctic circle. Inhospitable terrain and the spread-out nature of settlements mean that people are using short-haul flights between small airports to move around. Flying there is especially useful for transporting patients between small settlements and nearby medical centres. However, as you can see on the graph below, short-haul flights are the least efficient models of traveling and are the biggest carbon footprint contributors for flying passengers. Therefore it is no surprise that the movement started in Scandinavia.

flight shame graph 1

Today many airlines offer a carbon offsetting option for their passengers which is a fee that can be added to the passenger’s ticket. this fee is based on the calculated carbon emission per passenger. That money, in theory, will be invested in carbon offsetting projects like forestation, development of sustainable fuel, and other various green initiatives. This is a somewhat new concept that spawned an emissions trading industry which is now worth between 6 and 8 billion dollars a year. However, some people are concerned with its effectiveness. This research will partially look at the effectiveness of carbon offset schemes, also it will analyze the public opinion about those schemes and potential downsides of the carbon trading industry.



What impact did flight shaming have on the number of passengers in Scandinavia?

Since the movement originated in Sweden, we will focus on airlines that operate mostly in Scandinavia. That will cover airlines operating short-haul domestic flights in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Data we will gather will be based on annual trends in air travel in the past few years. We already know that SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) recorded a decrease in air travel in 2018 due to flight shame movement. We will analyze data from other airlines (Norwegian, SAS, KLM, and Widerøe) as well in order to see if this trend extends to them as well.

How did the Flight shame movement impact the business model of airlines that recorded a decrease in air travel?

From personal experience, we know that some airlines are offering a CO2 offset fee for their users. This scheme offers travelers to add a fee to their ticket in order to offset their carbon footprint. This fee is supposedly used to fund the development of the cleaner energy sources as well as fund protection and expansion of forests which have natural CO2 absorbing capabilities.

Are CO2 offset schemes effective?

We want to know if these schemes are efficient and effective enough to offset the carbon footprints of passengers, and is this a sustainable long-term solution for air travel.


We will use web scraping tools in order to analyze the trends in regards to flight shaming movement. Since this is a social movement and its propagation is reliant mostly on young people using social media, we know this is the best way to approach this and to see how big the movement actually is and what kind of reaction it is getting from the people who in charge of legislation regarding air traffic carbon emissions. The methodology we chose to use is the world values survey in order to see which regions and groups of people are the most environmentally conscious, after which we will use the youtube data tool to analyze the level, and the type of engagement youtube audiences have with flight shaming content. We will also use the youtube tool to analyze the trends in content production in regard to increasingly more popular carbon offset schemes.  Youtube is a great resource since it allows us to analyze viewers’ opinions on this topic since.


flight shame graph 2

As you can see from the google trends graph there is a growing interest in this topic.

Finally, we will analyze public information and financial reports of the airlines in question to see if the movement had any impact on their figures. Also, if it did, how did it impact the change of their business model.

Our preferred visualization tools will be Gephi for network analysis of the hashtag use and photoshop in the end to produce graphics to better visualize the impact of this trend.

Umair Irfan, Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly. Vox 2019,

Posted in Data Journalism 2020