Their flights are being scrutinized on social media: from Taylor Swift to Bernard Arnault, there is mounting pressure on celebrities, politicians and big bosses to limit their high-carbon private jet travel.
After reality TV star Kylie Jenner posted a photo of her plane and that of her companion on Instagram in mid-July, netizens dubbed her a “climate criminal.”
“Polluter and criminal,” another tweeted about director Steven Spielberg, who is accused of taking a 28-minute flight.
Countless “memes,” humorous photos or videos, also circulated to poke fun at singer Taylor Swift after an analysis released Friday by marketing agency Yard ranked her the “most polluting celebrity of the year” with 170 flights since the beginning of the year year.
Yard relied on data from the Celebrity Jets Twitter account, which tracks celebrity thefts using public online data.
This account was opened by a 19 year old college student named Jack Sweeney. He began following Elon Musk’s private jet in June 2020 and now has 30 accounts following sports stars, meta boss Mark Zuckerberg, and even Russian oligarchs.
He inspired other netizens like Sébastien*, a 35-year-old aeronautical engineer who, in April, created the “I Fly Bernard” account on the routes taken by French billionaires’ planes to ask them about their carbon footprint.
“What I’m trying to denounce is their use of private jets as taxis,” he tells AFP, citing the many domestic or European flights the planes operate.
5 to 14 times more polluting than a conventional flight
“In Europe, three-quarters of those flights could be done by train,” denounces William Todts, managing director of Transport & Environment, which brings together European NGOs in the industry.
The aviation sector is responsible for 2 to 3% of global CO2 emissions, but according to a Transport and Environment report published in May, private flights have a 5 to 14 times larger carbon footprint per passenger than commercial flights and 50 times more than Trains.
Private aviation has also been booming since the pandemic, and its customers want to avoid flight cancellations and promiscuity in the face of the virus.
Some stars have responded to social media pressure: Last week, a spokeswoman for Taylor Swift claimed in the press that she “regularly lends her jet to other people.” “Assigning him most or all of these trips is completely wrong,” he continues.
Rapper Drake, who was picked on a 14-minute flight from Toronto to Hamilton, responded on Instagram that the plane had been relocated to be parked elsewhere, “nobody was on that flight,” he said.
“It’s even worse when it’s empty,” says Béatrice Jarrige, project manager at the Shift Project association.
In France, a spokesman for the Bouygues group assures that the plane pursued by “I Fly Bernard”, presented as Martin Bouygues’, belongs to the group and “is used by several employees”. He specifies that the plane’s CO2 emissions will be offset by reforestation projects, a solution criticized for not significantly reducing emissions.
Bernard Arnault, Jean-Charles Decaux and Vincent Bolloré, who were also targeted by the Twitter account, declined to comment.
Ms Jarrige hopes this social media movement will turn into political action. “It’s not about banning flights completely, but the richest have to make an effort to stay sober,” she specifies and advocates investments in the railways.
For Mr. Todts, jet owners should at least require that they run on biofuels rather than kerosene, as that would push aircraft manufacturers to develop these technologies.
In September 2021, the business aviation industry viewed these sustainable fuels as “key” to reaching the carbon neutrality goal it has set for 2050.
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