It started with an Instagram photo that multimillionaire Kylie Jenner posted from an airport runway. In it, she’s locked in an embrace with her boyfriend, rapper Travis Scott, flanked by two shiny private jets. The caption read: “you wanna take mine or yours?”
Immediately, the comments lit up like a wildfire. “girl what am i recycling for,” one person wrote. “That carbon footprint be wild,” reads another comment.
The picture catalyzed a spate of criticism of celebrities for taking private plane trips despite their well-documented climate implications. One 2021 study found that per passenger, private jets create up to 14 times more greenhouse gas pollution than commercial planes, and a stunning 50 times more than trains. And by one estimate, just two hours of flying private produces 2 metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution — as much as the average person on Earth generates in a year.
The anger ramped up when many saw that CelebJets, an automated account that tracks celebrities’ private plane flights, posted that Jenner’s July 12 private flight from Camarillo to Van Nuys, Calif., lasted only 17 minutes.
Many wondered how Jenner could justify the environmental toll of such a short trip — a journey that could have taken less than an hour by car and resulted in a fraction of the emissions.
Jenner is far from the only one percenter who flies private. Data logged by aircraft transponders and posted by CelebJets shows that the rapper Drake recently took 12-minute and 14-minute flights, while director Steven Spielberg this week took a 35-minute trip and actor Mark Wahlberg took a 23-minute one. A separate Twitter flight tracker focused only on Elon Musk, created by the same person who made CelebJets, shows that the world’s richest man took a 43-minute flight this month.
The toll adds up. Private jet trips were responsible for nearly 34 million metric tons of carbon pollution in 2016, according to one 2020 study, which is more than some countries emit in an entire year.
The Internet outrage came as the global damage wrought by climate change is in full display, with parts of Europe, Central Asia, and the United States blanketed in sweltering heat. The United Kingdom saw its hottest day in history on Tuesday, and fires are spreading across Europe. Meanwhile, areas from China to Colorado have seen fatal floods this week, and historic, persistent drought is ravaging the Horn of Africa and threatening the food supply of millions of people.
Experts warn the world must urgently curb greenhouse gas emissions to avert the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, but when it comes to private jets, the world is moving in the wrong direction. In 2021, there were 3.3 million private flights around the world, according to aviation data research firm Wingx. That’s the most ever recorded in a single year.
The globe’s richest 1 percent have carbon footprints 175 times the size of those in the bottom 10 percent; private jets are one reason why. The world’s poorest people are often the worst affected by climate change, despite doing little to cause it.
“The lack of awareness is honestly astonishing,” another commenter on Jenner’s Instagram photo said.