The No-Jet Set: They’ve Given Up Flying to Save the Planet
“I actually think it would be better for people to fly without offsets but be aware of the pollution they’re making, rather than just thinking, ‘Oh, I solved that problem,’” Ms. Granett said.
Ms. Granett was inspired to start Flight Free USA, she said, after reading a 2019 article in Vox about a group in Sweden that was committed to breaking the air-travel habit.
‘Flight shame’ goes global
There is perhaps no country on earth with more anti-flight activists than Sweden, where by 2020, 15,000 people had signed a nationwide pledge to travel without flying for at least one year. The nonprofit behind that movement, We Stay on the Ground, is currently raising funds and hopes to get 100,000 signatories in the next few years.
Many Americans are aware of Sweden’s young climate activist Greta Thunberg, who in 2019 chose to sail across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht to speak to the United Nations. But Swedes — who have coined a word, flygskam, to describe the shame associated with flying — point to earlier figures, including the opera singer Malena Ernman, who is Ms. Thunberg’s mother, and the journalist Jens Liljestrand, as those who started the trend.
“A lot of people think that what you do as an individual doesn’t matter much. But the thing is, what we do as individuals affects everyone around us, and changes norms,” said Maja Rosén, 41, the president of We Stay on the Ground, who gave up flying in 2008. Ms. Rosén, who lives in Sweden, now travels primarily by train.
We Stay on the Ground inspired the Flight Free movements in Britain and Australia, as well as Flight Free USA. There are other grass-roots movements, too: Stay Grounded, a global network of more than 150 organizations promoting alternatives to air travel, was founded in 2016 and has its headquarters in Austria; Byway, a British travel planning company founded during the Covid-19 lockdown, allows customers to plan flight-free itineraries across Europe.
“There are so many beautiful places all over the world. But do we want to visit them and destroy them at the same time?” said Anne Kretzschmar, 31, who lives in Cologne, Germany, and runs Stay Grounded’s Reframing Project, which focuses on combating greenwashing, a practice in which organizations portray themselves as more eco-friendly than they really are. She travels by train, bike and foot. On a recent trip between Italy and Morocco, she took a ferry. She’d like to go to more places, but says she doesn’t want to contribute to forces that are causing environmental disaster. “We can see many absurd things like people flying to see the coral reefs before they die,” she said, noting that climate change is a main culprit in the reefs’ deaths.
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