Icelanders Feel ‘Flight Shame’ Over Increased Air Travel Emissions Skip to content

Icelanders Feel ‘Flight Shame’ Over Increased Air Travel Emissions

Eighty-three percent of Icelanders traveled abroad last year—the highest percentage of citizens to do so since 2009. This data was published in a report by the Icelandic Tourist Board, which also found that on average, Icelanders took 2.8 trips out of the country in 2018. Although climate change issues have become increasingly prominent in the public consciousness, Kjarninn reports that that Icelanders are generally unwilling to reduce the number of flights they take. As such, a new Icelandic word has been coined to describe Icelandic travelers’ guilty conscience over the negative effects that increased air travel has on the climate: flugskömm, or ‘flight shame.’

The Icelandic Tourist Board has conducted its survey on Icelanders’ travel habits since 2009. The survey asks respondents to comment on their travels during the previous year as well as what their travel plans are for the coming one. The percentage of Icelanders who travel abroad has steadily and dramatically increased. In 2017, 78% of Icelanders had traveled abroad; in 2009, only 44% had. As of last year, then, this percentage has nearly doubled.

The actual number of trips that Icelanders take abroad has also gone up significantly. While the average number was 2.8 trips in 2018, 12% of respondents said they’d taken five or more international trips in 2018, 20.7% said they went on three trips, and 44.9% said they went on three or more trips.

Looking ahead, Icelanders don’t seem to have any intention of decreasing their trips abroad, either: 52.6% of respondents said they were planning a city break abroad in 2019, 43.5% were planning a holiday in a “sunny country,” and 34.7% said they’d be visiting friends or relatives who live abroad.

Iceland’s emissions have been on the increase in recent years. Last year, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions were equivalent to 4,755 kilotons of carbon dioxide (excluding the LULUCF emissions from 2017). This is a 2.5% increase in emissions from 2016 and a 32.1% increase since 1990. Increased tourism has played a large part in this increase—the tourism industry has more than tripled in size since 2012. It’s five times larger than it was in 1995.

Air travel is, obviously, a big part of Icelandic tourism and the country’s increased greenhouse emissions are mostly attributed to the aviation sector. Per data published by the Environment Agency of Iceland, emissions from flights to and from Iceland increased by 13.2% between 2016 and 2017. Emissions in 2017 amounted to 813,745 tons of carbon dioxide, although this can’t be considered a final total because it only accounts for flights taken within the EEA. As such, emissions from flights to and from the Americas, the EU, and other parts of the world are not accounted for by that data.

Multiple surveys have shown that Icelanders are fairly unwilling to change their travel habits in order to lessen their environmental impact, even as they are open to changing other environmentally unfriendly habits. A Gallup poll taken in January showed that in the previous twelve months, more than half of Icelanders had changed their daily grocery shopping habits to lessen their environmental impact. In addition, just under two out of three Icelanders noted that they had made behavioural changes because of the environment. Meanwhile, 40.8% of Icelanders said they had not changed their travel habits to reduce their environmental impact in the last 12 months. About 20% said that they’d changed their travel habits somewhat and only 5.2% said they’d changed them significantly. It appears, therefore, that Icelanders are more willing to change their consumption habits based on environmental concerns than they are willing to change their travel habits.

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