As Americans bear the brunt of heat waves, a multi-year drought, and devastating floods, celebrities are being criticized for their exorbitant lifestyles and apparent disregard for the ongoing climate crisis.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that entertainers including Kim Kardashian and Sylvester Stallone were among the more than 2,000 people the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District issued “notices of exceedance” to, alerting homeowners that they used more than 150% of their monthly water budget at least four times since a drought emergency was declared just last year.
And a recent report by Yard, a UK-based sustainability marketing agency, analyzed flight data of the celebrities with the worst private jet emissions. Taylor Swift topped the list at more than 170 flights since January, totalling up to 15.9 days in the air, and 8,293.54 metric tons of CO2 emissions—that’s equivalent to all the emissions from the energy used by over 1,000 homes in the U.S. for a year.
Swift’s representatives, and that of other celebrities, have since denied the claims, saying their jets have been loaned out to others, or that the individuals in question do not own them. And Stallone’s attorney said that the water situation was being “mischaracterized,” as Stallone was trying to ensure that he could keep the more than 500 mature trees on the property alive.
In light of this, environmentalists have been calling for stronger restrictions on such wasteful habits as private air and sea journeys—which thanks in part to pandemic travel restrictions have become increasingly popular. Canada, for example, recently announced it will be implementing a new 10% tax on luxury aircrafts and yachts effective Sep. 1, which in part aims to clamp down on the climate impact of these activities.
Here’s what to know about the climate impact of the uber-rich’s favorite forms of luxury travel.
What’s the climate impact of a private jet?
Aviation produces just under one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, accounting for 2.5% of global CO2 pollution.
But while aviation remains a great contributor to the climate crisis, a small number of people are responsible for a large bulk of the impact. In the U.K., surveys in 2013 and 2014 found that just 15% of adults were responsible for 70% of the flights. And according to the clean transport campaign group Transport & Environment, 10% of all flights that departed France in 2019 were private aircrafts.
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This is compared to a January Gallup Poll which found that the average American took 1.4 air trips in the past 12 months, with 62% making no trips at all.
The average person produces about 7 metric ton of CO2 annually. Meanwhile, celebrities have emitted an average of more than 3,300 metric tons from their private jets alone so far this year, according to Yard.
In fact, according to @CelebrityJets, a Twitter account that uses data to track celebrities’ private jets, former boxer Floyd Mayweather and celebrity Kylie Jenner have used their planes to take flights under 20 minutes long, for trips that would only take a few hours by car. For comparison, one of Mayweather’s 10-minute flights produced one ton of CO2, whereas the EPA reports that the typical car will emit 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Experts like Colin Murphy, deputy director of the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy at the University of California at Davis, told the Washington Post it’s important to look at the frequency of these short trips, and how often these planes carry little to no people.
“They’re doing it in a generally less efficient way than if they were sitting in a coach seat in a 777 or any one of the conventional commercial airliners,” said Murphy. “What you’re doing is you’re burning many hundreds or thousands of gallons of jet fuel to save a carload of people or a couple of carloads of people a few hours.”
What’s the climate impact of a superyacht?
Superyachts can bear a similar burden on the planet, as professors from Indiana University called it “by far the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint,” in an interview with DW.
An analysis of the top 20 billionaires in the world found that they emitted an average of 8,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2018, of which two-thirds is caused by superyachts. The yacht owned by Roman Abramovich, the billionaire who built a fortune off of trading gas and oil, for example, was responsible for 22,440 metric tons of carbon emissions that year—the same as the emissions released by over 4,800 gasoline cars driving for a year in the U.S.
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Although many experts have pointed to the negative impact these boats can have on the climate, advocates say that not enough is being done. In January, Transport & Environment released a report looking at the exemptions in the European Commission’s Green Deal. Despite measures that would seek to reduce the carbon footprint of the maritime sector, ships over 5,000 gross tonnage and yachts were excluded.
How has the pandemic impacted these activities?
While the pandemic caused a wave of remote work that isolated and devastated many, wealth inequality rose as the world’s 500 richest people collectively saw their wealth increase by more than $800 billion from January to October 2020—the height of the pandemic.
Many of the ultra-wealthy sought to purchase luxury amenities like yachts and private jets during the pandemic as an alternative to flying commercially.
Boat International’s Global Order Book 2022 edition found a 25% increase in the number of new yachts ordered to be built, marking a third year of consistent growth with more than 1,000 boats.
“Everybody just wants freedom, and ultra-high-net-worth individuals can afford it,” Will Christie, a superyacht broker, told the Guardian. “The ability to escape anywhere is very attractive in the current climate. They think: I don’t need to be stuck in the office, and if you’re worth billions, why should you be?”
And this trend does not seem like it will subside in the coming months. Experts indicate that there’s been an increase in the number of first-time buyers and small businesses seeking to purchase private jets, Reuters reports.
“I think the people we’re seeing convert from commercial are not going back to commercial,” Jamie Walker, chief executive of Jet Linx, a company that manages planes and operates private flights, told Reuters. His company has capped sales because they have struggled to keep up with demand.
Airlines’ staffing shortages and cancellations, much of which stems from the push for early retirement pilots faced during the commencement of the pandemic, are sure to entice customers to seek alternatives that can be devastating to the environment.
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