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Private jets, classism and environmentalism

By now we are all aware of Kylie’s 17-minute private jet trip and how Taylor Swift outpaced her counterparts by emitting 8,000 tonnes of carbon emissions so far in 2022 by taking 170 private flights.

Private aviation usage is an unmistakable link between the responsibility that the ultra-rich bear and climate change. An article in Forbes pointed out that private jets account for just around 0.04% of emissions, while failing to account for the carbon footprint gap that is defining the current climate crisis - with 10% of people being responsible for half of global emissions.

This has now triggered a wave of calls for banning private jet flights - a movement that initially began with Mario Huber who created hoping that people would begin questioning the habits of the rich and their climate impact.

“The most privileged people should be the ones who start sacrificing first,” Huber told Motherboard. “It’s unfair to ask the poorest people to give up polluting activities first if the richest don’t have to give up anything.”

Due to its energy intensity, air travel is a large factor that influences per capita emissions, and there is a strong link between income and transport emissions with higher income groups also being the most mobile. Access to the most affluent populations’ behaviour patterns, however, is limited for research, leading to a gap in the literature. Private jets emit seven times as much greenhouse gasses as a business class ticket on a commercial flight and 10 times more than an economy ticket. Private jets burn an average of 226 gallons of jet fuel an hour, which is often not taxed. Therefore, the harmful practices of the rich often stay invisible, or concealed depending on the narrative one chooses, while accountability remains limited to social shaming. It is by now a known fact that the richest 1% have carbon footprints 175 times the size of those in the bottom 10% which also happen to be the ones most affected by climate change.

A lot of articles have labelled celebrities as climate criminals, yet we have come to define our shaming tactics by prejudice. Many who have been eager to criticise Kylie or Taylor are not so quick to call out the author of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster - Bill Gates - for his 4 private jets who emitted 1,629 tons of CO2 from 356 private flight hours in 2017.

This criticism is not meant to trump the fact that those outside the 1% attempt to carry out everyday, sustainable changes in vain. While private aviation leads to 4% of emissions annually, it is usually those in the lower income brackets that suffer the consequences of climate change. As I write this, and many other pieces, the idea of out of sight, out of mind becomes more prevalent in the way that I understand harmful practices carried out by those who will not feel the impacts of climate change in their lifetimes.


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