This summer has been difficult for private jets and the ultra-wealthy who rely on them. Reality star Kylie Jenner and pop star Taylor Swift have both been the subject of widespread online criticism regarding their travel habits and the environmental impact of their extravagant trips and carbon emissions. We give Taylor credit; many celebrities don’t even attempt to justify their lavish lifestyle and massive carbon footprint. Swift’s spokesperson stated, in response to the criticism, that the singer did not take all of those trips; rather, she frequently lends her plane to friends. We give Taylor credit; many celebrities don’t even attempt to justify their lavish lifestyle and massive carbon footprint.
And while celebrities undoubtedly contribute to the climate crisis, it is the carbon hypocrites, such as Bill Gates, who travel the globe speaking about climate change while racking up hundreds of thousands of air miles in their private jets, who really stand out. Even though they lead campaigns against climate change, the vast majority of the super-rich, including many celebrities and public figures, emit far more than their fair share of greenhouse gases from their private jets, superyachts, multiple homes, and cell phones. lifestyles. And purchasing carbon offsets has no effect on reducing emissions. Therefore, while it may be unfair for some to single out a celebrity for use, it is entirely appropriate to highlight the disproportionately large impact of celebrity private jets.
We published an article on the carbon footprint of billionaires a year ago because we were interested in researching the environmental impact of wealth and rising inequality. We calculated the 2018 carbon footprints of 20 internationally renowned (but primarily U.S.-based) billionaires with extravagant lifestyles. The billionaires emit an average of 8,194 tons of CO2 annually, while the average person emits less than 5 tons. This means that the average billionaire polluted the environment 1,714 times more than the average person in 2018. But even more damaging than the more than 3,300 billionaires, and pertinent to the current backlash, are the high emissions from the more than 300,000 people classified by Wealth-X as “Ultra-High-Net-Worth” – each with more than $30 million in assets. This global elite is accountable for a significant portion of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, more than many large countries.
This disparity is unfair, particularly when the rest of the population is harassed and made to feel guilty for improperly recycling or driving an SUV. In addition to leaving enormous ecological footprints, the ultra-wealthy are also able to avoid the dire consequences of the resulting climate change. They can escape flooding or hurricanes on a private jet, and they can only observe famine and poverty from the windows of their armored limousines. Celebrities set a poor example for the rest of us with their lavish, carbon-intensive lifestyles, which were constantly publicized by the media and shared with their millions of social media followers. When a billionaire emits more carbon dioxide per day than we do in a year, it is reasonable to question why we should alter our lifestyles to save the planet. Why would I forego my beach vacation while Kylie Jenner shops via private jet?
When a billionaire emits more carbon dioxide per day than we do in a year, it is reasonable to question why we should alter our lifestyles to save the planet. Transport, or how people move, accounts for a significant portion of the carbon footprint of the wealthy. Aviation is responsible for about 2.5 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, but its contribution to global warming is closer to 3.5 percent due to pollution injection at high altitudes. And only 1% of the population is responsible for 50% of global aviation emissions. There are significantly less polluting options for short trips than flying privately, which is up to fourteen times more polluting than taking a commercial jet. According to reports, Kim Kardashian’s jet flew the 170 miles from San Diego to Camarillo, California, in 23 minutes, emitting approximately 3 tons of carbon dioxide. One year of driving 11,000 miles in a standard sedan would produce the same amount of emissions. Drake owns a Boeing 767, which can accommodate more than 300 passengers and emits the same amount per mile regardless of whether he lends it to friends or has it flown empty to pick him up.
One solution is what we refer to as “carbon shaming,” which involves raising public awareness about super polluters and encouraging individuals to make public commitments to fly less and disclose their carbon footprints. The Swedes refer to this phenomenon as “flygskam” (flight shame), and the concept has spread to numerous European nations. As anthropologists, we know how powerful shame can be – many cultures rely more on shame than on police and courts to control antisocial behavior. In response to the 2014-2015 drought in California, citizens flew drones over neighborhoods to identify overwatered lawns, and newspapers published lists of the state’s top water users. At least some celebrities, including Barbra Streisand, responded to the drought by covering their lawns with drought-tolerant xeriscapes.
Recent media coverage of Kylie Jenner, Drake, Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, and the numerous other celebrities who boast (or modestly boast) about their private jets has certainly increased public awareness. This is ultimately beneficial. The scientific evidence is overwhelming and indisputable that we are experiencing a climate emergency and that we must act collectively and immediately. Perhaps celebrities care about their reputation if they do not care about the environment. Beatriz Barros Beatriz Barros is an anthropology doctoral candidate at Indiana University Bloomington. She is a participant in the “The Carbon Footprint of Billionaires” project, which investigates the connection between climate change and economic inequality. Richard Wilko. Professor Emeritus of the Distinguished Provost at Indiana University, Richard Wilk is an economic anthropologist who has published extensively on consumer culture and the environment.