Use of data from a popular Twitter account that tracks the flights of celebrity-owned jets, the marketing agency found that so far this year, celebrity-owned jets have emitted an average of more than 3,376 metric tons of CO2 — roughly 480 times the average annual emissions of a person. Swift’s plane was identified as the “biggest celebrity CO2e polluter this year so far,” racking up 170 flights since January with emissions totaling more than 8,293 metric tons, according to the analysis, which was not reviewed by colleagues. A plane owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather came in second, emitting an estimated 7,076 metric tons of CO2, with a recorded trip lasting just 10 minutes. Jay-Z’s plane was third with 136 flights amounting to about 6,981 metric tons of emissions.
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In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for Swift said: “Taylor’s aircraft is regularly loaned out to other individuals. To attribute most or all of these journeys to her is patently incorrect.” Representatives for Mayweather and Jay-Z did not respond to requests for comment.
While the analysis notes that its list is not “exhaustive” and “there is no way to determine whether these celebrities were on all recorded flights,” the authors noted that the purpose of the report is to “highlight the detrimental impact of private jet. use” — a reality that is extremely important for frequent fliers and the public to recognize, according to several experts who were not involved in the flight data study. Many other people also often rely on private jets, including politicians, government officials, athletes, business leaders and wealthy individuals.
“A short jump with a private jet involves getting a 10- to 20-ton plane into the air and then moving it from point A to point B,” said Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at the University Johns Hopkins. studies atmospheric air pollution. “I know nobody likes to be stuck in traffic, but you’re not launching your car into the air. … The act of taking a large piece of metal and putting it in the sky is going to be a huge carbon footprint that’s not really necessary, especially for these kinds of short distances.”
And although DeCarlo and other experts acknowledged that a blanket ban on private jet travel, which can meet essential transportation needs in certain situations, isn’t the answer, they encouraged people — especially celebrities with significant social influence — to consider their environmental impact. choices and the message they can send.
“There are valid claims that banning private jets is probably not going to do what we need to do in the right direction on climate change, but it’s just very bad optics,” DeCarlo said. If people see celebrities as role models, “they want to imitate that behavior. Then a private jet becomes a status symbol and something that people aspire to, and that’s not what we need right now in the climate context.”
Environmental cost calculation
A report published last year by Transport & Environment, a major European clean transport campaign group, found that a single private jet can emit 2 metric tonnes of CO2 in just one hour. To put this into context, according to the report, the average person in the EU produces around 8.2 tonnes of emissions over the course of an entire year.
But while these planes are often widely scrutinized for their environmental impact, it’s important to think about their emissions relative to other forms of transportation, said Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
Compared to fuel-efficient commercial jets and climate-friendly cars, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, emissions per passenger mile are significantly higher for private jets, which typically carry few passengers and travel shorter distances, Field said. . But, he noted, the fuel economy of a private jet with a reasonable number of passengers can be compared to a single person driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
“There is a certain level of environmental irresponsibility in a person driving an F-150, and of course, you can say the same thing about business jet travel,” he added.
Environmental concerns about private jets stem largely from how common they’ve become and how they’re being used, for example, making short trips or flying empty on more convenient airstrips, said Colin Murphy, deputy director of the Policy Institute. for Energy. , Environment and Economics at the University of California at Davis. Not only do private jet users travel a lot, “but they’re doing so in a way that’s generally less efficient than if they were sitting in a coach seat on a 777 or any of the conventional commercial jets.”
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A quick trip in a private jet emphasizes “the less efficient parts of the aircraft’s duty cycle,” Murphy said, noting that a large amount of fuel is burned during takeoff and altitude. “You have all the emissions from taxiing and heating the engines and takeoff and climbing and not so much from the cruise where you’re covering the distance.”
In response to criticism of the flights lasting less than 20 minutes, rapper Drake commented on Instagram, writing: “These are just the people who move the planes at any airport that are being preserved for anyone who was interested in the logistics … nobody takes that flight.”
But flying planes without passengers is another “really problematic use” of private jets, Murphy said.
“What you’re doing is you’re burning hundreds or thousands of gallons of jet fuel to save a car with people or a few cars with people for a few hours,” he said. “Is this really the compromise we want to say is acceptable in a world where climate change is no longer a future crisis, but a crisis now?”
Private versus commercial comparison
In general, smaller planes get worse fuel mileage than larger planes, according to experts. “A fully loaded 737 has about the same emissions per passenger mile as an efficient car like a Prius,” Murphy said.
While larger commercial jets require more fuel, they often carry many more people, and all passengers on the flight share the trip’s overall fuel consumption, DeCarlo said. But keep in mind, Field said, that a seat in first or business class can often come with a higher carbon footprint than an economy seat.
However, a major advantage of flying privately is convenience.
“We live in a society where, among the very wealthy, convenience trumps all else,” Field said, “and we would all benefit from keeping the emphasis on convenience in perspective.”
Getting rid of private jets is not the answer to our climate problem, experts said. Although the per-person emissions of private travel are large, they are still not as significant as those produced by the much larger commercial aviation industry, DeCarlo said.
Additionally, there are situations in which this type of air travel is necessary, such as during medical emergencies or transporting organ donations, Field says. “Sometimes it’s just really critical to get the right team in the right place at the right time, and that’s what business jets can do.”
Instead of banning private jets, experts said it may be more effective to explore regulations or policies aimed at reducing the amount of unnecessary travel.
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“You can imagine policy levers that force it to be avoided, you can imagine economic levers that would just make it so expensive that it’s not worth it or some regulatory thing that makes it such a hassle,” Field said. “I’m in favor of anything that’s effective at reducing really frivolous travel without eliminating travel that really makes a difference.”
There is probably no benefit to “demonizing business jets,” Field said. Instead, he said, people should take responsibility for their actions and factor the environmental footprint of what they do into their decision-making.
Potential for sustainability
While electric aircraft prototypes are still being developed, private and commercial aviation should benefit from high-quality carbon offsets and more sustainable jet fuel alternatives made from biomass, algae or plants, Field said. Currently, most of these fuels are generally better than diesel, but Murphy noted, “they are not zero emissions.”
Beyond reducing trips, private jet users should consider changing how they fly, Field said. Longer flights that carry more passengers can help overall efficiency, he said, and flying direct instead of connecting can make a difference.
Although finding a sustainable long-term solution for private and commercial air travel is only one piece of the puzzle, experts encouraged fliers to do their part.
“It will be really hard to imagine a world in which we largely succeed in limiting climate change to not many degrees above historical averages when people are still flying private jets fueled by oil at the rate they are now. ,” Murphy. said.