Space tourism, private jets and weekend trips: what counts as “bull**** flights”?
We all know flying is bad for the climate. What’s not clear enough is that it’s mostly an issue of inequality: stealing is essentially a luxury activity, and in many cases downright obscene.
By analogy with the concept of “bullshit jobs” – jobs that are meaningless and harmful to society – we can therefore rightly speak of “bullshit jobs”. Our definition: bullshit theft is unnecessary, frivolous and unfair – and must be stopped immediately.
But who defines bullshit flights, and which flights are still legitimate to take, despite the threat of climate collapse? And what are the consequences?
To stay grounded – a network of over 170 member groups campaigning for a reduction in aviation and its negative impacts – we sent out a bullshit flying survey, asking tough questions about the future of our mobility system.
Air transport is the most unequal form of mobility.
Only 1% of the world’s population cause 50% of commercial aviation emissions, while more than 80% of the population has never set foot in an airplane.
Some very wealthy frequent travelers cause immense damage to the climate. Indeed, “The jet-setting habits of Bill Gates and Paris Hilton mean they produce 10,000 times more carbon emissions on planes than the average person,” according to a recent study. scientific studies.
Worse still: the new fashion for space tourism. A single 11-minute spaceflight is equivalent to at least 75 tonnes of emissions. This exceeds the average per capita emissions over the lifetime of the billion poorest people on earth.
So while many might agree that spaceflight is absolutely not legitimate in times of climate crisis, what about private jets? Or flights carrying animals – like horses? Or a shopping weekend for €22?
But what about a migrant who comes back to see his family in Turkey once a year, with a very limited budget and schedule due to difficult working conditions? What about the refugees from Afghanistan, who urgently need to leave the country – and who might not be allowed to board a plane?
It’s time to start a discussion around which thefts are legitimate, and which are just unfair and unnecessary “bullshit thefts”.
What are crap thefts?
We did surveys in 2021 and assessed responses from around 2000 people.
Weekend robberies came back as the most glaring example of bullshit theft (with 96% of respondents agreeing). While a similar number thought emergency disaster relief was the most legitimate reason to get some fresh air.
In addition to the quantitative responses, we also received stimulating feedback. For example, we realized that the question on night flights was not well understood. Night flights are flights landing or departing during the night, causing serious noise and health problems for residents – and several airports have already banned such flights.
Furthermore, it can be problematic to label deportation flights as “bullshit”: they are in fact not only unfair and unnecessary, but they are cruel and can lead to death and human rights violations.
“When it comes to deportation flights, I think the biggest issue is the deportation itself, not the flights,” one respondent wrote. “These people are living in miserable circumstances, and if on top of that we have to deport them on long boat trips, how does that help them? The question for me is why are we deporting them? »
It’s a similar story with military flights, where emissions might not be the most negative impact. However, military flights for disaster relief might be totally necessary. Thus, the question of whether military flights are legitimate or not could be beyond the scope of this article.
At the same time, it clearly shows how deeply embedded aviation is in our economy and society, and that the discussion of flights touches on other topics around injustice that are also important to debate.
Is “bullshit” the right term?
It was also clear that those interviewed did not necessarily agree that some thefts were bullshit.
One person wrote that “almost every option on the list is potentially fun and exciting, and the ability to waste, live, and do hedonistic things can be a great feeling people should be able to have. All of these types of thefts are bad because they damage the climate, but the people who do them may well derive real thrill and joy from them.
It’s complicated to ask for a discount on something that’s an exciting and joyful thing to do. But aren’t there other ways to have fun in other ways, like traveling slower, less work, more sleep, closer relationships with friends and family?
In the end, it’s difficult to start this discussion on bullshit theft without touching the lives of individuals. But the idea is to connect it to the institutional and societal structures that underpin them – to the economy and the power relations that lead to bullshit theft.
The power of the aviation industry exists both through a broad consensus that flying is fun, or could be if we could afford it, as well as through state subsidies, lobbying efficient and greenwashing. It exists due to a lack of alternatives to travel, due to the globalization of trade and a growing gap between rich and poor.
So, is the word “bullshit theft” the right one? Does she succeed in linking the individual escape to the systemic level? Does the term encompass that they are unnecessary, frivolous and unjust? And: does it contain the right dose of provocation to start a debate on the subject?
Our survey respondents’ responses varied widely. While many preferred the term “unnecessary thefts”, others offered new word suggestions: frivolous thefts, useless thefts, senseless thefts, apocalypse or disaster thefts, f***-up-the-planet thefts , don’t-need-flights, and many more.
However, most of them relate to the fact that these thefts are either unnecessary, frivolous, unfair, or only concern their harmful effects on the climate. Some respondents argued that there should be a more serious term for it. However, many others supported the clear framing of bullshit theft, and the surprising number of respondents to our survey made it clear that the term is getting people’s attention.
We may not find the term that suits everyone. But we can try it out and see if we can make this term more mainstream – using it whenever we come across unfair, frivolous and unnecessary theft. In the news, in an advertisement, in a conversation.
We can then aim to tie this individual theft to a system that supports bullshit theft, subsidizes the aviation industry, and forgets to target wealthy super emitters.
We must reduce air traffic, but we must do it in a fair and just way. Bullshit thefts must be de-licensed, through cultural change but also through targeted regulation. By cutting short-haul flights and moving them to land travel like rail. By limiting private jets. By prohibiting night flights. By stopping Miles & More programs which encourage frequent stealing.
It would be a start, and not a bad one. But, of course, we must realize that there will not be a single completely fair aviation reduction measure in an unfair world.
As long as there is a huge gap between rich and poor in the world, and between North and South, there will be inequitable access to flights. It is therefore important to link our demands for aviation to broader demands for global justice.
A version of this opinion piece originally appeared on the Stay grounded website in December 2021.