in article about climate and private jets, an illustration of Taylor and Kylie
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University

Taylor Swift vs. Kylie Jenner: The Bigger Climate Criminal Doesn’t Matter

Internet debates over which celebrity hurts the environment more is pointless — the true climate criminal has no face to blame.

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in article about climate and private jets, an illustration of Taylor and Kylie
Illustration by Sarah Shin, George Washington University

Internet debates over which celebrity hurts the environment more is pointless — the true climate criminal has no face to blame.

The people of the internet have been arguing a lot about private jets. Not who has the best and most heinous-looking jet, but who exactly uses them the most.

CelebJets, a Twitter account that tracks celebrity flights, first shared flight details from Kylie Jenner’s private jet earlier in July. She departed Camarillo, California, and was in the air for approximately three minutes until landing in Van Nuys, California. The response was roaring: People were upset with her irresponsible use of the jet as an excessive means of travel that raised emissions and hurt the environment. Especially considering this distance would have only been roughly a 40-minute trip in a car — which contributes far less CO2 emissions.

Though the public immediately latched onto the moniker of “3 minute flight,” the creator of the account clarified it was in fact 17 minutes long. Regardless, flights averaging less or close to 30 minutes in length are unfortunately very common for owners of private airplanes.

Throughout the month of July, Jenner was labeled a “climate criminal,” and her newest Instagram post wasn’t helping her guilty verdict in the eyes of the public. Posted days after the infamous 3-minute-flight, she captioned a photo embracing longtime partner Travis Scott in front of two private jets: “you wanna take mine or yours ?”

However, the fate of Jenner’s very public verdict of “climate criminality” was unanimously dismissed at the end of July.

Research from Yard ranked the top 10 celebrities who emitted the highest amount of CO2 as a result of private jet usage. The top of the list was not Jenner, but shockingly, Taylor Swift. It’s no surprise that Swift frequently uses private air travel, but out of every celebrity on the list, she seemed least likely to flaunt it. Following Swift’s alleged 8,293.54 tons of flight emissions were Floyd Mayweather, Jay-Z, A-Rod, Blake Shelton, Steven Spielberg, Kim Kardashian, Mark Wahlberg, Oprah Winfrey and Travis Scott.

Although Jenner’s average flight time was 24.5 minutes, she did not make the Top 10 list. What’s unfortunate about this list is who isn’t included. Why are traditional celebrities only included — where is Bill Gates, Elon Musk and the many other climate offenders who don’t fall into this carefully tailored group? What is the purpose of strictly examining a list of entertainers? What does it accomplish? Perhaps these celebrities truly create more emissions than the CEOs and billionaires of the world, but that would seem too convenient.

However, curated lists like the one published by Yard may be spreading misinformation and omitting context. Representatives for Swift claimed that the majority of the flights her planes are responsible for did not include Swift, as her planes are loaned out — which some might argue is more responsible than another millionaire commissioning and purchasing a private plane of their own.

Yard is a sustainability marketing firm, and the goal of the research was “to highlight the damaging impact of private jet usage.” However, the choice to only focus on celebrity usage is unproductive and makes this more of a tabloid issue than anything else. It would be more responsible to rank all emissions from every millionaire and billionaire private jet owner. Certainly, it would garner fewer clicks to see that some dynasty descendant nobody has heard of might top the list, but that would generate a more proactive and honest look at this conversation.

While accountability is critical, using data in rankings like these only places targets on 10 people, when the problem is much bigger than them. It is easy to point a finger at a single person, but blaming one person for a global issue is not only irresponsible but wildly ignorant.

Celebrities or not, no single person should bear the weight of a global crisis. Yes, they can be advised, educated and learn to do better. The conversation surrounding their emissions should be honest and communicative. Certainly “calling someone out” can be riveting, but the discourse following this research has felt more like tabloid culture than any true push for change.

If one really wants to point fingers, the true villains are ones without a single face.

According to The Guardian, 20 companies “have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide,” which totals about 480 billion tons since 1965. At the top of the list, Saudi Aramco produces 59.26 billion tons, whereas the lowest of the 20 was Petrobras with 8.68 billion — much more than Swift’s 8,293.

The dissociation between the name and face of a global celebrity and a global business is entirely apparent. The most recognizable on this list are BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil, which, as large companies with CEOs most people would not recognize, seem like they have no faces or names to blame.

Thus, placing any blame and seeking any action against these huge corporations seems more and more out of reach.

It’s no surprise that the research from the Yard has quickly gone viral because the conversation involved faces and people for the viewer to point their finger at. It was a smaller piece of a bigger problem, and therefore it seemed easier to fight against. But, it must not be forgotten that corporations are the guilty party and should never be exempt from the conversation.

Solving a global crisis shouldn’t be handled tabloid style. While celebrities need to be held accountable, “canceling” the way to a better planet removes the focus from the real climate criminals.

Writer Profile

Kylie Clifton

Loyola Marymount University
Journalism

Originally from Michigan, Kylie loves trying new foods, asking questions and curating outfits. She’s passionate about all kinds of diverse reporting, especially with film and television.

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