Knowledge, Fear, and Conscience: Reasons to Stop Flying Because of Climate Change

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Knowledge, Fear, and Conscience: Reasons to Stop Flying Because of Climate Change


  • Nina Wormbs Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
  • Maria Wolrath Söderberg Division of Rhetoric, Södertörn University, Sweden


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Abstract:  Much research on the societal consequences of climate change has focused on inaction, seeking to explain why societies and individuals do not change according to experts’ recommendations. In this qualitative study, we instead consider people who have changed their behaviour for the sake of the climate: They have stopped travelling by air. We first asked them to elaborate their rationales for the behaviour change. Then, using topos theory to find thought structures, we analysed their 673 open-text answers. Several themes emerged, which together can be regarded as a process of change. Increased knowledge, primarily narrated as a process by which latent knowledge was transformed into insight, through experience or emotional distress, was important. Contrary to certain claims in the literature, fear stimulated change of behaviour for many in this group. Climate change was framed as a moral issue, requiring acts of conscience. Children were invoked as educators and moral guides. Role models and a supportive social context played an important part. Alternatives to flying were brought forward as a motive to refrain from flying. Only a few mentioned shame as momentous. Instead, stopping travelling by air invoked a feeling of agency and responsibility, and could also result in a positive sensation.

Keywords:  arguments; children; climate change; flight shame; inner deliberation; knowledge-action gap; stop flying; topos

Published:   9 June 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v6i2.3974


© Nina Wormbs, Maria Wolrath Söderberg. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.