Greta Thunberg has lately become a 21st-Century icon in her own right; speaking at the UN assembly; hosting a tour across the USA and leading the school strikes across the globe. She has become one of the most influential people on the planet, urging on lawmakers and global powers towards a swift environmental policy shift in an unbending effort to save the planet.
Despite her relatively uncontroversial message being to ‘listen to the scientists’ and to ‘stop climate change’, she has garnered criticism and mockery regarding her age, her Aspergers diagnosis and her gender. She has been subject to vile and often sexist attacks from Trump, Jeremy Clarkson and Putin. Her response has always been outstandingly resilient and irrepressible, refusing to acknowledge such attacks from grown adults with anything but a witty, sarcastic response or a deadpan stare. Despite this push-back from climate deniers, mainstream European politicians and popular television personalities, recent research has shown that the ‘Greta Thunberg Effect’ has recently began to influence travelling trends around the World.
Thunberg’s consideration for her travelling techniques has seemingly had widespread implications not only in general climate awareness and activism (particularly from the young generations), but also upon the travel industry. While Thunberg has been seen taking trains and boats instead of flying, her refusal to fly to international conferences has been widely publicized. She recently embarked to America aboard a CO2 neutral boat before hitchhiking a lift back across the Atlantic with a YouTuber family. Specifically, the concept of ‘boat hitchhiking’ to cross oceans instead of flying has gained momentum. Boat hitchhiking groups such as the ‘Sailboat Hitchhikers and Crew Connection’ Facebook page has had a massive 21,000-member increase since Thunberg’s debut sail. Ross Porter, founder of VoyageVert, an ‘ethical travel company’ (Source: The Guardian) has begun to explore the possibility of offering a green ferry service across the Atlantic and eventually around the World for a carbon-neutral travel future.
The effect on travel has been most prominent in Sweden, Thunberg’s home nation. Swedish Railways reported an 8% increase in domestic railway routes taken, most likely the result of their newly coined ‘flygskam’: a shame of flying. This ‘flygskam’ has taken the form of the hashtag #istayontheground as travelers seek alternatives in long-distance travels, hopefully opening up a gap in the market for zero-carbon travel to flourish.
This change in consumer patterns is far more widespread than just Scandanavia. The ‘flygskam’ sentiment has also been emulated in France, the term ‘avihonte’ taking flight within the country. According to Newshub, one in five people say they’ll fly less for the sake of the environment in a survey of 6000 travelers. More impressively, Swiss Bank UBS has recently published a report which claims to forecast an expected halving in the growth of flight passenger numbers if the downward trends continue. While the West seems to be seeing a growing consideration for carbon emissions caused by aviation (Germany recently announced tax cuts for train journeys), this trend is not transferrable to developing nations, with forecasts of up to double the current air traffic to be seen in Asia and Africa by 2036 (Source: Newshub). While Thunberg’s message has resonated throughout the USA and Europe, it seems its reach will have to permeate further outside of the West to see more staggering changes.
With University students often forced to fly home as VAT-free flights become often cheaper than trains (even with a railcard), more pressure on the government to regulate soaring rail prices may have benefits beyond our bank accounts.
Feature Image Credits: European Parliament from Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (no changes made)
Last modified: 19th November 2019