Private jets used by 200 CEOs, celebrities, and billionaires have flown for an equivalent of 11 years since 2022, producing emissions equal to those of 40,000 United Kingdom residents.
The “jaw-dropping 44,739 journeys” were tracked by the Guardian using 21 months of public data on private aircraft used by celebrities and businesspeople like Elon Musk, the Rolling Stones, the Murdoch family, and Kylie Jenner, as part of a larger series on global carbon inequality.
“Last year, private jet activity in Europe was at its highest level since a 2007 peak and forecasts indicate that sales of private jets are likely to reach their highest ever level this year,” writes the UK-based newspaper.
Analysis reveals “astounding differences” in emissions between richer and poorer nations, as well as between the wealthy and poor within countries. “Billionaires’ consumption emissions run to thousands of tonnes a year, with transport, including private jets and yachts, being by far the biggest contributor,” the Guardian says.
Findings indicate a sharp rise in private jet use since the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the climate crisis bears down on the world with a rise in wildfires, floods, and other extreme weather impacts. Overall, transport is the biggest contributor of emissions from billionaires’ consumption habits, yielding thousands of tonnes of emissions each year.
Transport also drives the outsized carbon emissions of the middle classes. “The richest 10% of people in many countries cause up to 40 times more climate-heating carbon emissions than the poorest 10%.”
Last month, a report by Oxfam International revealed that the richest 1% produced the same greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 as the world’s five billion poorest people, or 66% of the global population. Just one year of those emissions “will kill nearly 1.3 million people this century from excess heat alone,” Oxfam Canada wrote in a blog post on the report.
These numbers paint a stark picture of global climate injustice: People from lower-income groups, who are disproportionately affected by climate change, can hardly afford the high-emitting travel options of wealthier countries and people.
French economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, suggested to the Guardian that all goods and services with unnecessarily high emissions—like private jets, outsized vehicles, and short-distance flights—be banned to address the climate crisis.
“We have to put class and the studies of inequality between social classes right at the centre of our analyses of environmental challenges in general,” said Piketty. “If you don’t, you will just not be able to get a majority [of people in favour of strong action] and will not be able to make it.”
Meanwhile, activists are trying to halt a proposed expansion of New England’s largest private jet airport, Hanscom Field near Boston. The action could serve as a “shot heard around the world,” precipitating a wider movement against private jet travel, reports Inequality.org.
Using 18 months of Hanscom flight data, Inequality found that almost half the flights were to luxury or vacation destinations—travel for pleasure, not business—with more than 42% departing on weekends, further implying recreational use, according to [pdf] a release. An estimated 41% of private jet flight departures were less than one hour in duration, with 14% less than 30 minutes. This is significant, as jets burn the most fuel on take-off, making short-hop flights “the least energy efficient compared to alternatives.”