From Kylie Jenner’s 17-minute private jet flight to Taylor Swift leading the list of the worst private plane CO2 emissions, it’s evident that moving from plastic to reusable straws isn’t going to save the planet. What’s also clear is that while many of us have taken drastic steps to curb our “carbon footprints,” all it takes is one person with sizable influence to basically offset our personal efforts.
Being environmentally conscious has become fairly popular in recent years. Whether it’s corporate greenwashing or genuine lifestyle changes like converting to a zero-waste home or turning vegan, it’s been demonstrated that even if we all made little green adjustments in our lives, it still wouldn’t be enough due to major industries and their CO2 emissions.
Similarly, it’s also been revealed that “carbon footprints” are a farce designed to guilt-trip individual consumers and to redirect our attention from big oil’s CO2 emissions. Unsurprisingly, it was none other than British Petroleum (BP) and public relations powerhouse Ogilvy & Mather that successfully popularised the term in the early 2000s. Along with its “carbon footprint calculator“, this genius marketing strategy catapulted one of the most successful greenwashing campaigns.
Modern day propaganda
Mark Kaufman, author of the eye-opening essay “The Carbon Footprint Sham,” explains that we are currently experiencing the largest carbon footprint reduction ever. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic and while we were confined to our homes, we stopped driving and flying. Even so, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air kept rising in 2020 at about the same rate as it had in the years before.
If you’re wondering why, it’s because the very institutions that have been so effective in convincing us to shoulder the blame for the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide buildup are still at large.
The ruse to clean our consciences has become so ingrained in us that even when we do our utmost and even forgo comforts at times, our efforts are futile. Kaufman explained it best, “It’s evident that BP didn’t expect to slash its carbon footprint. But the company certainly wanted the public — who commuted to work in gas-powered cars and stored their groceries in refrigerators largely powered by coal and gas generated electricity — to attempt, futilely, to significantly shrink their carbon footprint.”
Let’s do the maths
For every gallon of jet fuel burned, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that it emits 9.75 kg of CO2.
By comparison, the popular Cessna Citation X burns 347 gallons of fuel per hour, while the equally popular Boeing 737 burns about 750 gallons per hour. The striking difference here would be their passenger capacity.
The 737 has a maximum capacity of 188 passengers, while the Citation X has 12. In a 5-hour flight, the 737 will burn approximately 3750 gallons, while the Citation X will burn approximately 1735 gallons.
3750 gallons / 188 people equals 19.9 gallons per person.
1735 gallons / 12 people equals 144.6 gallons per person.
If we take all of this into account, a single person on a private jet flight using a Citation X will emit 1409.9kg of CO2 compared to the 194kg per person on a commercial Boeing 737 flight.
It can be argued that only a small fraction can afford a private jet, let alone travel regularly enough for any of these emissions to make a huge difference. While this can be the case, recently, celebrities have been in the line of fire for their private jet usage. And rightly so.
Blank space (in the ozone layer)
Kylie Jenner’s use of her private jet, a Bombardier BD-700 Global Express (which has a fuel consumption of 460 gallons per hour), has sparked interest in the issue of celebrities’ CO2 emissions. According to the Twitter account @CelebJets, which chronicles celebrity flights, she flew 17 minutes to save a 45-minute car journey.
The reality-star and businesswoman faced immediate backlash on social media, with the criticism pointing out the disparity in consumption patterns between the general population and the rich. A few days following the report, Jenner shared a photo of herself and artist Travis Scott in the middle of two private jets, captioning the Instagram post “you want to take mine or yours ?” ostensibly daring the public to react. Which they did, of course.
Interestingly enough, in the Kardashian-Jenner family, Kylie Jenner was not the worst “climate criminal”. That accolade goes to sister Kim Kardashian, who racked up 4,268.5 metric tonnes of carbon emissions over the course of 57 trips this year.
Despite all of the fuss and frightening figures surrounding Kylie Jenner’s private aircraft usage, it was found a few weeks later that award-winning singer-songwriter Taylor Swift topped the list of celebrities with the greatest private jet CO2 emissions, with 8,240 metric tons. Her shortest flight in 2022 was only 36 minutes.
To put even more perspective to this, these are just the numbers regarding ten celebrities. This does not include world leaders, royalties, moguls, etcetera. The idea of disregarding CO2 emissions for the sake of petty convenience also allows for more social class-based inequality.
Do it for the ‘gram
Argus, a private aviation data agency, claims that private aviation is more popular than ever. In July 2021, North America saw 300,000 private flights, 10% more than in July 2019. The number of private jet trips also rose by 1.9 percent in June compared to the same month last year, but this year’s rise has levelled off. Compared to how, according to Boeing’s CEO, almost 80% of the world has never flown on an aeroplane, the link between carbon emissions and socio-economic background is almost harsh.
Private aviation has performed better than commercial airlines, partly due to the comparatively fewer people that fliers must confront at private terminals than at commercial airports. However, a chunk of the reason is that, frankly, flying private is much sexier, and cooler.
In 2020, it was outed that influencers rent out sets of ‘private jets’ that include luxury furniture and backlit windows. The set is almost identical to a working, private jet; it’s almost impossible to tell that it’s not the real deal.
Almost similarly, in 2021, a French influencer was caught faking a first-class flight from Dubai to Monaco. Posting a photo in the first-class cabin and then seen sitting in economy, many saw it as another “Instagram versus reality” situation, in which people will go out of their way to show off their best side, even if it’s not the truth.
Environmentalism without class struggle is using paper straws while the rich take 9 minute flights in their private jets.
— Jason Hickel (@jasonhickel) July 30, 2022
Moral of the story
While it’s undoubtedly fun to have and experience luxury, we need to reconsider whether or not the grass is always greener on the other side. The link between ghastly personal CO2 emissions and social status is frankly disturbing and alarming.
Jeff Bezos’ 11-minute space flight was responsible for more carbon emissions per passenger than any of the world’s poorest billion people could emit in their entire lives. The fact of the matter is, the rich pollute differently and much more.
But for us mere mortals, what can we do?
> Let’s continue to hold celebrities and people with power responsible for their actions. Not cancel them, but respectfully question and express any unfairness or problematic behaviour they display.
> Continue to support causes that tackle climate change and poverty, like The Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development (OPAD).
> If you are fortunate enough to live in a place that has proper, working, safe, and efficient public transportation, use it!
IMAGE: via PEXELS | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A woman sits in a luxury car with her feet up and resting on the car’s door. Right behind her is a luxury private jet on the runway.
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