Private flights from the rich and famous are screwing the planet

While we’re trying to switch lights off to save power, the world’s richest are putting gas on the fire. Steven Spielberg, Drake, Floyd Mayweather, Kylie Jenner, and many others are taking short jet flights, releasing tons and tons of carbon emissions into the air. We know this thanks to Celebrity Jets, the bot-powered Twitter account that shows the flight paths and flight times of private aircraft belonging to sports stars, musicians, Hollywood actors and more.

Image via the Instagram of Kylie Jenner.

The bot was created by a 19-year-old, Jack Sweeney, who became famous after Tesla billionaire Elon Musk reportedly tried to bribe him to delete the account. Claiming the bot was a security problem for him, Musk offered $5,000 to bin the account, according to the teen. Sweeney countered by asking for $50,000 and negotiations were dropped. But the bot became more than just a thorn in Musk’s side.

The account may have started as just another way we can look at the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but the world’s climate crisis has turned it into something else. Celebrity Jets is now used to name and shame the billionaires who are screwing the planet by taking ridiculously short flights, which have a high cost on carbon emissions.

The flights of the rich and famous

Last week, in the middle of a big summer heatwave in several parts of the planet, Kylie Jenner, a 24-year-old model and businesswoman, posted a photo showing her and Travis Scott, a famous rapper, posing between their matching private jets . Reacting to the post, people started sharing records of Jenner’s (numerous) private flights.

According to Celebrity Jets, Jenner’s flight on July 12 lasted only 17 minutes, taking her from Van Nuys in Los Angeles to the town of Camarillo. The model had also taken a 27-minute flight to Van Nuys from Thermal, California. She was questioned by Twitter users for her “absolute disregard” for the planet and for being a “climate criminal.”

The 17-minute trip would have taken Kenner about 40 minutes in a car, causing a fraction of the polluting emissions. But Jenner is far from being the only celebrity to make short trips using private jets rather than driving or taking public transportation. The list is really extensive, and it’s visible on the Twitter account of Celebrity Jets.

A review of the Twitter account shows several flights just in the past month. The rapper Drake took an 18-minute flight from Hamilton, Ontario to Toronto and the country music singer Kenny Chesney was in the air for 20 minutes between Akron, Ohio, and Pittsburgh. There were also short flights by the actor Mark Wahlberg.

Some of these short flights are to park an aircraft at a convenient or less expensive location, while others are part of a longer, two-part journey. But they all have a common denominator: they’re wasteful and harmful to the environment. Such is the decision of the boxer Floyd Mayweather to fly for just 14 minutes from Las Vegas to the nearby city of Henderson.

In 2019, before air travel largely stopped due to the pandemic, commercial air flights contributed 784.8 million CO2 emissions to global warming, or 2.14% of total emissions. Aside from the dip due to Covid-19, the impact of aviation on global warming has been growing steadily over time, as more people are flying than before.

But not everyone is equally to blame. Private jets are extremely wasteful, especially considering they are rarely flown at capacity. Data from the advocacy NGO European Federation for Transport and Environment shows private jets are 14 times more polluting per passenger than commercial planes.

In fact, an elite of “supper-emitters” that represents only 1% of the world’s population generates over half of the total aviation emissions, according to a recent study. This group travels about 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) a year, which is equivalent to taking three long-haul flights or one short-haul flight per month, or a combination.

Aviation isn’t the only negative impact billionaires have on the climate. Last year, a study by US anthropologists found a billionaire’s carbon footprint is thousands of times higher than that of the average US citizen. This is because of their jets, helicopters, jets, and massive houses. Examples include Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Roman Abramovich.

Yet even this fails to recognize their full impact on the climate. Many rich individuals have given large sums of money to support parties and candidates who oppose climate change. In 2020, for example, ten billionaires gave millions of dollars to support ex-president Donald Trump, who denied climate change is caused by human activities.

Governments have talked for years about making the richest pay their fair share, with policy changes such as higher taxes. This was the case in some countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, considering the scale of the climate crisis, much more significant changes will be needed. We are all in the same boat and everyone has to pitch in. But instead of helping, some of the ones with the biggest responsibility are making things worse.

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