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Virgin boss’ burger shame outburst against Greta Thunberg ‘flight shamers’

You may not have heard of the term but the boss of Virgin Australia has said “burger shaming” should become part of the lexicon. Paul Scurrah made the remark today, hitting out at the trend for so-called “plane shaming” or “flight shaming” where people are shamed from air travel due to the industry’s carbon emissions.In…

You may not have heard of the term but the boss of Virgin Australia has said “burger shaming” should become part of the lexicon.

Paul Scurrah made the remark today, hitting out at the trend for so-called “plane shaming” or “flight shaming” where people are shamed from air travel due to the industry’s carbon emissions.

In Sweden, the home of environmental activist Greta Thunberg, flight shaming is said to have accounted for a surprising 10 per cent pre-pandemic drop in air travel.

The movement originated there under its Swedish name of flygskam. For many, avoiding the plane and getting the train – or just not travelling at all – was seen as a key way to cut emissions.

Ms Thunberg even took a boat to sail to New York for a climate summit as an alternative to the flying.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg takes aim at Australia

At the AFR National Infrastructure Summit today, held in Sydney, Mr Scurrah was on a panel of aviation experts where the response to climate change was raised.

The Virgin CEO’s frustration with the movement was palpable as he claimed the production of beef was more detrimental to the environment than flying.

“You don’t see people burger shaming; but you do see people plane shaming,” he said.

It is generally accepted that aviation is responsible for around 2 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

A single seven hour flight can total 11 per cent of the average person’s total annual carbon footprint.

UK research found taking a domestic flight produced more than three times the emissions of the same journey made by train. However, cars were dirtier than aeroplanes – but that lessened the more passengers were in the vehicle.

RELATED: What reborn Virgin Australia will look like

Food production accounts for about a quarter of emissions, more than 10 times that of air travel. Although it can be difficult to drill down to the level of beef farming, emissions from livestock farming, producing crops for livestock and the gases produced by the animals themselves could be around 13 per cent of the global total.

Mr Scurrah said newer planes, such as the Boeing 787, produced 30 per cent fewer emissions than older, but still relatively modern jets, such as the widely used 777.

Nevertheless, he conceded the industry had failed to communicate its emission advances.

“As a sector it is important we reduce our unit emissions and we have in the pipeline a greener way of doing (carbon) offsetting and more biofuels,” Mr Scurrah said.

“So there is a lot happening, but we’re just not doing a good a job of selling that.”

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert backed up Mr Scurrah’s comments and said a side effect of the pandemic had been airlines were retiring older aircraft to reduce their fleets and these planes were often gas guzzlers.

British Airways was the world’s largest operator of Boeing 747 jumbo jets but from last week, it operates none. Qantas ditched its 747 early in the pandemic.

“We all love the 747 but the they’ll be replaced by planes such as the Airbus A350 that are much more fuel efficient,” Mr Culbert said.

RELATED: Only four passenger 747s in sky

Mr Scurrah said Virgin, which has been taken over by Bain Capital, was now operating at 20 per cent of its former capacity. But that would be just 10 per cent if it weren’t for essential routes supported by the Federal Government.

“When borders come down there will be a lot of pent up demand. But it’s too early to get excited”

He said international borders would have to reopen for airlines to be sustainable in the long term.

Mr Scurrah also called for Western Australia to reopen its borders to other states. Premier Mark McGowan has suggested the interstate border could remain closed well into 2021, far longer than any other state or territory.

Western Australians go to the polls in March next year.

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