Should You Let Airlines Guilt You Into Paying More?

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Who? Me?

“Flight shaming” is defined as “the inherent guilt that an individual feels as a result of one’s aviation-related carbon footprint” by Citigroup, the nation’s third-largest bank, in a note to their clients that’s been making its way across the internet. The gist of that missive is that, as guilty passengers push airlines to do more about the carbon their trips emit, the more it will cost the airline, and the more they may be forced to push those costs back onto you. But, isn’t paying a few dollars more per flight worth saving the environment? Maybe not.

You’re Not Really Responsible for That Many Carbon Emissions

Overall, air travel, that’s everyone’s air travel—yours, mine, people who fly in private planes, airline employees who get close-to-free business class flights, businessmen who travel every day—accounts for roughly 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Every year, people around the world take around 280 million commercial flights a year. We could divide that 2.5% of global carbon emissions by 280 million flights per year, and then divide that again by 200 (the average number of people on every commercial flight of which you’re only one), but that would just be kicking the point when it’s down. The amount that you contribute to global carbon emissions as a single person, even as a well-traveled single person, or a person who’s part of a well-traveled family, is very close to zero.

There Are Better Ways to Reduce Carbon Emissions

Does that very-close-to-zero number increase if every person commits to giving airlines more money to curb their emissions? Sure, maybe. But as we wait for #flightshaming to get trendy enough for everyone in the world to take responsibility for their very-close-to-zero percentage of airlines’ carbon emissions to get to their annual family vacation, we’re sliding closer to a very warm globe and making Greta Thunberg sadder every day.

In the meantime, it may be more helpful to think about other numbers, like the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global emissions. Even if you don’t know 2.5% divided by 280 million divided by 200 off the top of your head, the math on targeting 100 corporations seems easier.

And Better Ways to Do Your Part

While you shouldn’t feel guilty about going somewhere far-flung for the 14 days you get off work a year, you should try to do your part: drive an electric car, install solar panels, or buy carbon offsets. And, while you’re doing that, know that international organizations like the UN also think it’s more effective to target airlines than passengers. They’re currently enacting legislation to push airlines to reduce emissions on a corporate level. It’s a bumpy road, but it at least feels like we’re headed in the right direction.

If you’d like to drive your electric car down that road more quickly, you could take a note from the UN and push your representatives to prioritize environmental regulations for the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global emissions, tell them to endorse a Green New Deal or any actions that will tackle carbon emissions one conglomerate at a time. And, if you have any spare time after being a decent enough person to worry about how your actions affect the planet we live on, maybe use it to be a little upset that a bank which is one of the world’s largest funders of coal mining is lecturing you on your contribution to carbon emissions.