Why traveling on a private jet of celebrities is a climate nightmare


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Music megastars Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are no strangers to top the rankings. But recently, the two Grammy-winning artists featured prominently on a new list: “Celebs with the Worst Private Jet Co2 Emissions.”

The flight data analysis, published online Friday by a UK-based sustainability marketing agency, came on the heels of other major celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Drake, who endured intense public criticism after it was revealed that their emissions-spewing private jets were recording travel. of 17 minutes and 14 minutes respectively.

Using data from a popular twitter account tracking flights of jets owned by famous people, the marketing agency found that celebrity-owned planes emitted more than 3,376 tons of CO2 on average this year — about 480 times more than the annual emissions of an average person. Swift’s jet was identified as the “biggest celebrity CO2e emitter this year yet,” with 170 flights since January emitting a total of more than 8,293 metric tons, according to the analysis, which was not peer-reviewed. A plane belonging to boxer Floyd Mayweather came in second, emitting about 7,076 tons of CO2, with a recorded journey of just 10 minutes. Jay-Z’s jet came in third with 136 flights totaling approximately 6,981 tons of emissions.

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In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for Swift said: “Taylor’s jet is regularly lent to other individuals. It is utterly inaccurate to attribute most or all of these trips to her.” Representatives for Mayweather and Jay-Z did not respond to requests for comment.

While the analysis notes that the list is “inconclusive” and that there is “no way to determine whether these celebrities were on all registered flights,” the authors emphasized that the report’s goal is to “quantify the harmful impact of private jets.” to emphasize”. use” ​​– a reality critical for frequent flyers and the public to recognize, according to several experts who were not involved in studying the flight data. Many other people also frequently rely on private jets, including politicians, government officials, athletes, businessmen and wealthy individuals.

“A short jump on a private jet requires you to lift a 10- to 20-ton jet into the air and then move it from point A to point B,” said Peter DeCarlo, an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, who studies air pollution. “I know nobody likes being stuck in traffic, but you don’t launch your car into the air. … Taking a huge piece of metal and putting it up in the air is going to be a huge carbon footprint that really isn’t necessary, especially for this kind of short distance.

And while DeCarlo and other experts recognized that a blanket ban on private jet travel, which can provide essential transportation needs in certain situations, isn’t the answer, they encouraged people — especially celebrities with significant social influence — to reduce the environmental impact of their choices and the message they might send.

“There are valid statements that grounding private jets probably won’t do what we need to move in the right direction on climate change, but it’s just really bad optics,” DeCarlo said. When people look up to celebrities as role models, “they want to emulate 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 context of the climate.”

What are the environmental costs of taking a private jet?

A report published last year by Transport & Environment, a major European campaign group for clean transport, found that a single private jet can emit 2 tons of CO2 in just an hour. To put that into context, according to the report, the average person in the EU produces about 8.2 tons of emissions over the course of a full year.

But while these jets are often widely assessed for their environmental impact, it’s important to think about their emissions relative to other modes of transportation, said Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at the Stanford University.

Compared to fuel-efficient commercial aircraft 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 could be comparable to that of a single person driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

“There is a degree of environmental irresponsibility in one person flying an F-150, and certainly you could say the same about traveling on corporate jets,” he added.

Environmental concerns about private jets stem largely from how common they have become and how they are used, such as making short trips or flying empty planes to more convenient runways, said Colin Murphy, deputy director of the Policy Institute. for Energy, Environment and Economics at the University of California at Davis. Private jet users not only travel a lot, “but they also do it in a generally less efficient way than sitting in a coach seat on a 777 or one of the conventional commercial aircraft.”

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A high-speed trip in a private jet highlights “the least efficient parts of the aircraft’s work cycle,” Murphy said, noting that a tremendous amount of fuel is burned during takeoff and elevation of an aircraft. “You’ve got all the emissions from taxiing, warming up the engines and taking off and climbing rather than cruising where you actually cover distance.”

Responding to criticisms of flights lasting less than 20 minutes, rapper Drake said on Instagram, “These are just those who move planes to the airport where they are stored for anyone interested in logistics…no one is taking that flight. ”

But moving passengerless planes is another “really problematic use” of private jets, Murphy said.

“What you’re doing is burning many hundreds or thousands of gallons of jet fuel to save a carload of people or a few carloads of people for a few hours,” he said. “Is that really the trade-off that we want to say is acceptable in a world where climate change is no longer a crisis of the future, but a crisis of the present?”

How do private jets compare to commercial flights?

According to experts, smaller aircraft generally have worse fuel economy than larger aircraft. “A fully loaded 737 has about the same emissions per passenger mile as a fuel-efficient car like a Prius,” Murphy said.

Although larger commercial aircraft require more fuel, they often carry many more people, and all passengers on the flight share the total fuel consumption of the trip, DeCarlo said. But keep in mind, Field said, that a first or business class seat is often associated with a higher carbon footprint compared to an economy seat.

However, an important advantage of flying privately is convenience.

“We live in a society where, among the very wealthy, convenience trumps everything else,” Field said, “and we would all benefit from keeping the emphasis on convenience in perspective.”

Should private jets be banned?

Getting rid of private jets is not the answer to our climate problem, experts said. While the per-person emissions from private travel are large, they’re still not as significant as what’s produced by the much larger commercial airline industry, DeCarlo said.

In addition, there are situations where this type of air travel is necessary, such as in medical emergencies or the transportation of organ donations, Field says. “Sometimes it’s just really important to get the right team in the right place at the right time, and that’s what corporate jets can do.”

Rather than ban private jets, experts said it might be more effective to examine regulations or policies to reduce unnecessary travel.

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“You can imagine policy levers that would make it avoid it, you could imagine economic levers that would make it so expensive that it’s not worth it, or some sort of regulatory stuff that would make it such a hassle,” Field said. . “I’m in favor of anything effective to reduce the really frivolous travel without eliminating the travel that really makes a difference.”

There’s probably no benefit to “demonizing the corporate jets,” Field said. Instead, he said, people should take responsibility for their actions and consider the environmental footprint of what they do in their decision-making.

How can private flights be more sustainable?

While electric aircraft prototypes are still being developed, private and commercial aviation should benefit from high-quality carbon offsets and more sustainable alternatives to jet fuel made from biomass, algae or plants, Field said. Right now, most of these fuels are generally better than petroleum, but Murphy noted, “they’re not zero-emissions.”

In addition to reducing travel, private jet users should consider changing how they fly, Field said. Longer flights with more passengers can help with overall efficiency, he said, and flying directly instead of stopping for connections can make a difference.

While finding a long-term sustainable solution for private and commercial air travel is only one piece of the puzzle, experts encouraged aviators to do their part.

“It will be very difficult to imagine a world where we largely succeed in limiting climate change to not too many degrees above the historical average, while people are still flying around in private jets powered by petroleum at the rate that they do now,” Murphy said.

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