The wealthy should take accountability for their climate crimes

Illustration: Abir Hossain

When the world is collectively reeling from the onslaught of recording breaking heatwaves and mourning the fast-approaching demise of the planet, there exists a tiny portion of the population who continue to leave massive carbon footprints. Case in point: celebrities, billionaires, and multi-billion corporations who aggressively contribute to climate change.

Earlier this year, Kylie Jenner and her brief flight aboard her private jet sparked fresh outcries about the need to hold the top rung of the social ladder accountable for their actions. The makeup mogul made a journey within California, which would have just taken 45 minutes by car. People online were quick to point out the reality of the emissions. To put it in perspective, the carbon dioxide emitted per hour on a flight is approximately how much a regular person in a first-world country emits in an entire year.

However, the Kardashian-Jenner clan are not the only celebrities to blame. Personalities like Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey frequently appear in the top 10 worst offenders list. Beloved popstar Taylor Swift is no stranger to this dazzling display of wealth either. Scrutiny of her jet usage revealed that she had taken a majority of the recorded 170 flights by her private jet. Taylor's version of the matter is that the jet is frequently loaned out to other individuals – a claim that does not help improve the situation.

In fact, most of the world's wealthiest are to blame for the rising use of private jets. The increase of this phenomenon is mostly concentrated in the US, and can be attributed to Southern California's notorious traffic, which the rich want to avoid simply because they have the means to do it. Since billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk take refuge in flimsy excuses such as the need to attend many meetings throughout the day, it is mostly celebrities who come under fire.

According to the European Federation for Transport and Environment, a private jet causes around 5 to 14 times more pollution per passenger than commercial planes, and is 50 times more damaging to the environment than trains. The pollution caused by private flights may be a small percentage of the entire aviation industry, but the problem lies in the frequency of private plane usage. Even avid climate change advocates like Leonardo Di Caprio, who has done his part by driving a Prius and planting a forest to offset his carbon emissions, are no strangers to hypocrisy.  He has been called out on his frequent use of private jets in the past and his regular vacations atop yachts.

What's baffling is the fact that while record-breaking heatwaves in Europe and the rising frequency of flash floods in South Asia have served to be a wake-up call to scientists, governments, and the masses, the world's wealthiest choose to remain ignorant and sheltered in their billion-dollar bubbles. What the planet needs right now from them is not performative activism or the greenwashing of brands they own, but a step in the right direction when it comes to their lavish, polluting lifestyles.


The Guardian (July 21, 2022). A 17-minute flight? The super-rich who have 'absolute disregard for the planet'.

The Guardian (August 2, 2022). Swift: claims about private jet use 'blatantly incorrect', says spokesperson.

Forbes (March 1, 2016). Leonardo DiCaprio's Carbon Footprint Is Much Higher Than He Thinks.