Shame may be able to move us in a more sustainable direction, it may even be able to help us change the paradigm. There is reason to believe that we can leverage the little voices in our heads to do better. We may even be able to curtail our culture of over-consumption, make more responsible consumer choices, and better buying decisions.
Change is difficult but is it precisely what we need if we are to succeed in addressing the climate crisis, ecological degradation, and biodiversity loss. Superficial changes will not suffice, what we need is a cultural change and shame can play an important role. Marketers use emotional appeals to sell us things we do not need, so it is reasonable to assume that the same appeals could be used to encourage us to stop buying things we do not need.
A recent marketing study asked if shame-based advertising could increase responsible buying decisions. The researchers concluded that low-intensity guilt and shame-appeals in green advertisements do not encourage consumers to make significantly more green purchasing decisions. However, the researchers concede that further research is needed to determine whether an advertisement with more intense emotional appeals would work as a driver of sustainable consumption.
Despite the results of this study, trends in air travel give us reason to believe that this approach actually works. Flight-shaming is a growing environmental movement that is reducing the airline industry’s carbon footprint by reducing air travel. This is having a measurable impact and putting pressure on commercial air carriers pushing them to increase efficiency and purchase carbon offsets.
We need alternatives to traditional air travel. In the next couple of decades, we may have cleaner travel options like electric commercial aviation. Airships
can be almost carbon-free and while they may be ideal for some forms of freight shipping they are too slow to be a viable method of mass passenger travel.
Global air traffic is currently contributing 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gases. But air travel is expected to double to around 8.2 billion flights annually by 2037. According to a recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, airplane emissions are increasing much faster than forecast. The UN predicts aircraft fuel consumption will more than double by 2045.
Flight shaming me be one way that we can reduce air travel. Flygskam is the Swedish term for flight shame, it describes the discomfort environmentally conscious people feel about commercial air travel. Flygskam was coined when the Swedish singer Staffan Lingberg pledged to give up flying. The hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken (which translates as #stayontheground) came into use around the same time.
As reported by the BBC, Sweden has seen a 4 percent drop in the number of people flying via its airports, and domestic air travel was down 9 percent. A number of people have taken the challenge of traveling without flying. More than 22,500 people have signed a pledge to go flight-free in 2020. The CEO of SAS, one of Scandinavia’s largest carriers, says that that the number of passengers is declining because of flight shaming. While air travel is declining, Sweden’s rail travel increased by at least 1.5 million tickets in 2019 compared to 2018.
According to the Guardian, surveys show a 21 percent reduction in air travel in Germany, France, the UK, and the US. The editorial concludes: “flight shame, along with movements to restrict other carbon-intensive forms of consumption, is still a force for good.”
As reviewed in a CTV article, airliners are feeling the pressure of flight-shaming. “It does seem like a switch has flipped,” says airline expert Seth Kaplan. “For a while, there was this very incremental recognition of the urgency (of climate change), and then over the past year or so all this has really gotten into the spotlight — aided by Greta Thunberg.” Greta is an internationally renowned climate activist who has spoken out about the carbon toll of air travel. She travels by electric car or train. Most recently she took a sailboat to cross the Atlantic.
The shame-based approach has been used effectively by Greenpeace to target companies. This is part of a strategy they call “market-based campaigning”. They identify problem areas, follow the supply chain, repeatedly warn and offer alternatives and if the desired response is not forthcoming they roll out a clear multipronged media campaign. The Business Insider describes what happens next as follows:
“What seems to happen, inevitably, is the multinational company, eager to remove the stigma from its signature brand, promises to ensure that its products are sustainable and begins canceling contracts with any third-party suppliers who fail to guarantee compliance. In order to retain the multinational’s lucrative business, the largest suppliers fall into line. Before long, as the cascade effect grows, they begin eyeing their wayward rivals, companies that are still operating in flagrant violation of the new rules and undercutting them with other customers. Eventually, broad new industry protocols are adopted to level the playing field.”
Shaming works and we cannot afford to be above using shame if it can help us to change our perilous trajectory.
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