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When it comes to doing my bit for the planet, I’ll be the first to admit I’m no saint. I frequently recycle the wrong thing. I still buy a lot of plastic packaging. I still take flights. But I know that I need to play my part in combating the climate crisis. As do most of us. Some celebrities, though, still haven’t got the message. Or rather, they don’t seem to think the message applies to them.
Kylie Jenner was this week branded a “climate criminal” for reportedly taking her private jet on three-minute trips, the equivalent of a 40-minute car journey. While it hasn’t been confirmed whether Jenner was on board her jet at the time, flight logs unearthed by the Twitter account Celeb Jets revealed that her plane had been taken on three-minute trips – the equivalent of 40-minute car journey. Never mind that private jets have a disproportionate impact on the environment – a single private jet can emit two tonnes of CO2 in just one hour, according to European clean transport campaign group Transport & Environment. Never mind that just the super-rich are responsible for around 50 per cent of global aviation emissions. As long as Jenner can skip traffic and show off choosing between her jet or her boyfriend Travis Scott’s jet – as she did in an Instagram post last Friday – the mammoth impact of her travel choices don’t seem to matter to her.
Granted, it’s not part of Jenner’s brand to be eco-conscious. In fact, it’s not really in any of the Kardashian’s interests to save the planet – except that one time in 2019 when Kim Kardashian praised Greta Thunberg. The Kardashian-Jenner clan are also undoubtedly subject to more scrutiny than most other rich and famous people, but given how wide-reaching their influence is, their actions do warrant criticism. And taking a three-minute flight to travel under 40 miles is really, really bad form.
Worse still is that their actions make mugs out of the rest of us. What a slap in the face it is that everyday working-class people are the ones being guilted into taking fewer flights and using less plastic, while Jenner over there is firing up her engines. As some Twitter users have pointed out, the average person’s carbon footprint comes nowhere close to someone who is part of the wealthiest one percent of the population. Jenner and her family’s footloose and fancy-free approach to aviation is incredibly disheartening.
Of course, the Kardashian-Jenners are not the only celebrities that swan around on private jets as and when they like. Even those who talk the talk on climate change don’t walk the walk. Prince Harry launched his sustainable travel company Travalyst in May, but he still takes private jets. In August 2021, he faced accusations of hypocrisy after taking a two-hour flight home to California from Aspen, Colorado, following a charity polo match.
Even more recently, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex reportedly travelled 5,500 miles from the UK to California via private jet after the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations in June. The couple, who flew with their two children Archie and Lilibet, would have emitted nearly 60 tonnes of CO2 on that flight, according to charted flight provider Paramount Business Jets. The list of celebrities who own private jets is long: Tom Cruise; Jay Z; Bill Gates; John Travolta (who owns an entire fleet of aircrafts).
In fact, so many celebrities use private jets that the rare ones that don’t obtain god-like status among us. Leonardo DiCaprio was deified last year for being one of the few VIPs to eschew a private plane for a commercial flight when he arrived in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit. His mode of transport was a departure from how other supposedly climate-friendly VIPs made their way to the event. Jeff Bezos, Prince Charles, Prince Albert of Monaco and others were fiercely criticised for using private planes to travel to Scotland.
Bezos in particular invoked the wrath of environmentalists after a fleet of some 400 private planes, led by his US$65 million Gulf Stream, descended on Scotland and created what the Daily Mail described as “an extraordinary traffic jam [that] forced empty planes to fly 30 miles to find space to park”.
It all smacks of wealth privilege. In September 2020, an Oxfam report criticised the “over-consumption of a wealthy minority” and noted that the environmentally damaging choices of a few is paid for by the poorest and youngest among us. Of course it’s important for us to keep doing our bit – recycling, reducing waste, keeping reusing – but it’s about time the super-rich wake up to their detrimental effect on the planet. They have far more tools at their disposal to actually do something about it.