Not so new problems, but a new consciousness – that makes new words: The word “flying ash” is so one. Behind it is a lot of CO2 and the awareness that flies can be toxic to the environment.

Flying, as the European Environment Agency predicts, is the most environmentally damaging way to travel, at least in terms of CO2 emissions per passenger per kilometer traveled. According to the agency’s calculations, 285 grams of carbon dioxide are released, while driving it is 158 grams driving 14 grams on the train.

According to US data, air traffic is responsible for only about two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions – the gas that contributes mainly to global warming. But that is after all the CO2 emissions of Germany, as the consulting firm Sia Partners has calculated. And the number of air passengers is rising and rising. The increase compared to the previous year in 2018 was a good six percent to 4.3 billion. Worldwide, more than 1.4 billion international tourists were counted in 2018. Air traffic is expected to double in the next 15 to 20 years.
However, the increase may be slower if something happens around which the Swedes have coined a new word: Flygskam – Flugscham in German. What is meant is the renunciation of flying for the sake of the environment.

Germany Frankfurt am Main airport (picture-alliance / dpa / B. Roessler)Nearly one and a half billion international tourists – Frankfurt / Main Airport

4000 kilometers to the Côte d’Azur

This can cause some problems in Sweden, if only because of the location of the country in the far north of Europe: from the northern Swedish Kiruna to the southern French Côte d’Azur it is 4000 kilometers. Hardly surprising that the Swedes were previously among the frequent flyers. The prosperity of the country may also play a role and the wide range of cheap flights. One can indeed fly for a pocket money across Europe to Mallorca.
In any case, Swedish emissions per capita between 1990 and 2017 were five times higher than the global average, according to calculations by the Chalmers University of Technology. Since then, emissions of climate-damaging exhaust gases from foreign flights from Sweden have risen by 61 percent. The other side of the coin: Sweden seems to feel the consequences of climate change particularly clearly. The country’s Meteorological Institute said last week that the temperature in Sweden is rising twice as fast as the global average.
How things should be different, the inventor of the school strikes for the climate has demonstrated: Greta Thunberg took the train from Stockholm to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate summit in Katowice. Another prominent representative of the movement is former biathlete and Olympic champion Björn Ferry. He announced last year, only to go on the train as a commentator on sporting events.

Once around the world

That holds another star of the sports world differently. The footballer Neymar, Brazilian superstar of Paris St. Germain, has traveled with 14 flights in just two months exactly 39,498 air kilometers, so to speak, around the world. Counted by the sports daily “L’Equipe”.
In Sweden, meanwhile, there is an Instagram account, which puts celebrities on the online pillory since December, who advertise for long-distance travel. The account now has more than 60,000 followers. In March, the World Wildlife Foundation published a survey in which nearly 20 percent of the surveyed Swedes said they had taken the train instead of the plane for the sake of the environment. Especially women and young people travel accordingly environmentally conscious.

Russia World Cup 2018 night train reportage (DW / P. Jochem)Eco-conscious travel – by night train

Night trains against environmental gases

To support the trend, the government wants to use night trains back to the main European cities by the end of 2022. In winter, Swedish Railways SJ recorded an increase in business travel of 21 percent. The number of domestic flights fell in the past year, according to data from the Department of Transport in September by 3.2 percent. So that is apparently still up.
Especially – for example in Switzerland – 90 percent of all flights have private reasons. Incidentally, the Swiss Federal Statistical Office has found out that every Swiss citizen currently travels 9,000 kilometers a year by plane. Ten years ago, it was not even that much.
The aviation industry has also recognized the problem. It wants to ensure through emissions trading that the carbon dioxide burden does not rise above the level of the years 2019/2020. Under the umbrella of the UN aviation organization, a CO2 compensation system (CORSIA) was adopted. But that is initially voluntary.
To make air traffic more environmentally friendly, the industry is relying on better aircraft. The manufacturers Airbus and Boeing have developed fuel-efficient aircraft. More modern engines, lighter materials and lower air resistance reduce fuel consumption. Even electric powered aircraft are under development.

“Economically correct too”

In Sweden, there may be other things to play with in terms of “flying shame”: the new flight tax introduced a year ago could be a reason. Or the bankruptcy of the regional airline Nextjet – so many routes in the country for months no longer offered.

Germany Friday for Future Demo Berlin (Reuters / F. Bensch)Fridays for Future – student demo for the environment in Berlin

In Berlin, students of the “Fridays for Future” movement recently presented a catalog of concrete demands for more climate protection to politicians. By 2035, emissions of greenhouse gases are expected to reach the “net zero” – so Germany should not produce more CO2 than can be compensated by nature or storage systems.
One way there: a CO2 tax on climate-damaging greenhouse gases. “The price of the output must quickly be just as high as the costs incurred by present and future generations.” The figures for this had been supplied by the German Federal Environment Agency at the end of last year. According to this, the emission of one tonne of CO2 causes damages of around 180 euros. Converted to the output of Germany in 2016, this corresponds to a total cost of around 164 billion euros.
Perhaps Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was thinking of such numbers when he praised the commitment of climate activist Greta Thunberg earlier this month: “We are proud of the demonstrations she has inspired, the more than one million young people around the world have brought together, “said the Social Democrat. One should not forget: It is not only morally, but also economically correct to reduce the emission of climate-damaging CO2.


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