Shame as a motivator has been studied for years by psychologists and may serve as an impetus for change. But in this age of eco-anxiety is it really empowering us to make the changes we need to make?

Sweden ranks among the top 5 most sustainable countries on many a sustainability index. This can be witnessed in several aspects of life, not just flying. Our homes are heated with the garbage we produce. So much so, that the country ran out of garbage and has had to import it from other countries. And almost every busy high street has a second-hand shop that is bustling with eager shoppers looking for a hidden gem.

I’ve lived in Stockholm for the last two years. I moved here from the Netherlands and I see a growing number of young professionals feeling guilty about jetting off to some exotic location for their holidays. Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, isn’t the only Swede to shun the skies and take on the high seas in light of the climate crisis. There has been a distinct drop in passengers at Sweden’s airport. The BBC reported that between January 2019 to April 2019 the number of passengers at the country’s busiest airports fell by 8%. A term has been coined for this pervasive feeling – flygskam – or flying shame.

From shaming to sharing

Shame as a motivator has been studied for years by psychologists and may serve as an impetus for change. But in this age of eco-anxiety is it really empowering us to make the changes we need to make? 

Personally, as a woman, I am very familiar with the debilitating aspects of shame impinged on our gender by society. It isn’t very empowering. So, I’d like to approach reducing my carbon footprint less out of shame and more out of a genuine desire and urgency to make a positive impact. I try to reduce my carbon footprint by not owning a car, taking public transport and using trains for short trips and holidays. And I tend to take a more adventurous view to a little weekend getaway. It’s an adventure on its own to take a holiday without a trip to the airport – without breaking the bank. 

I’ve found that many parts of the world have many options that are waiting to be explored.

All aboard!

The train service across Europe is extremely well organized; anyone who’s taken a gap year around Europe can attest to it. Many countries power their trains with renewable energy. The trains within the Netherlands, for example, are powered by 100% wind energy.  When I lived in The Netherlands, my husband and I took weekend trips to off-beat destinations around the country. The Dutch train service even offers weekend deals. And if you don’t speak Dutch you could use google translate to navigate the Dutch website

Of course, if one doesn’t live in Europe, one will need to fly here from someplace. Holidays afforded to most working folk are brief and taking a ship may not really be an option in terms of time. But then instead of hopping from country to country by flight one could cut the carbon footprint of a holiday by taking the hi-speed train, say from Frankfurt to Copenhagen. Nothing beats watching the beautiful countryside speed by. If you’re in Stockholm, you could take the train to neighbouring capitals like Helsinki or Oslo. Or even take a trip up north to see the Northern lights. These trains can be quite reasonably priced if booked well in advance. I once booked a return trip to Copenhagen on a very comfortable train for $40.

Not just in Europe

That said, train travel isn’t just efficient in Europe. In India too, the country with the fourth largest train network in the world, trains weave through and connect many parts of the country that are otherwise unreachable by plane. Having grown up in India, I must admit it used to be a hassle to stand in serpentine lines waiting to book your ticket. But with the train booking going online this time-consuming step has been cut out. You get to see a lot more of the country this way.

These are just a few of the ways I circumvent using the plane. But I do have to take it when I have to visit my family in India. But rather than riddling myself with the shame, I offset my CO2, an option provided by some airlines, and I find ways to contribute to the sustainability index of the country I am visiting. For example, in India, where water is scarce, I avoid wasting water and indulging in long showers, and wherever I go I don’t buy omnipresent disposable plastic bags and bottles. However, inconvenient it may be at the time.

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