The Not-So-Carbon-Friendly Skies Get Political | Opinion

A new uproar has erupted over use of private jets by the extremely wealthy. This time, the ire is directed at celebrities.

The flap was sparked by a Twitter account that tracks A-listers' private flights, and Kylie Jenner, Drake, Steven Spielberg and Oprah are among those being called out. In the process, some people are learning that even very brief flights to park empty jets can still contribute tons of carbon to the atmosphere.

There have been similar complaints in the past, including about world leaders who took such carbon intensive flights to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year. But now, there's a new political context: America's profound division over politics and energy.

In recent weeks, warring camps have gone after each other, blaming each other for energy prices—often, with little to no understanding of how energy markets actually work. Accusations of not caring enough about the climate, or about energy supplies, have become a staple of our political scene.

Celebrities who use private jets while also calling for climate action feed this problem. Many people in the oil and gas workforce feel attacked by "eco-hypocrites." They see calls for an end to fossil fuels coming from the same people who consume massive amounts of oil to power their jets, mansions, businesses, and lifestyles.

These celebrities are not only disproportionately poisoning the atmosphere, they're also setting a bad example. In a column in the Hollywood Reporter about regretting his years of private jet-setting, producer Gavin Polone argued that shoppers have no incentive to spend a little more money on greener light bulbs when they see elites "who want everyone else to sacrifice for the future good but still maintain their most egregious of habits."

Celebrities can make a positive difference—not through their Instagram posts about the climate, but through their own lifestyle changes. When luminaries acknowledge the need for everyone to do their part, they set the right example. Take Prince William and Duchess Kate, for example, who got positive attention for taking a trip on a budget airline, and apparently often fly commercial.

Lessons for Us All

While it may seem easy to criticize celebrities, there are broader messages here for all of us. For starters, it's time for everyone to understand how much our standards of living impact the environment and rely on fossil fuels. One reason Kylie Jenner got so much attention was her Instagram post showing that both she and her partner apparently have private jets, which she captioned, "You wanna take mine or yours?"

Kylie Jenner attends the 2022 Billboard Music
Kylie Jenner attends the 2022 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., May 15, 2022. MARIA ALEJANDRA CARDONA/AFP via Getty Images

Dangerous, extreme heat has been engulfing large swaths of the world, including parts of the United States and Europe in recent weeks. Action against climate change is needed.

Some change will come from governments—and the new compromise Senate climate bill could be a big step forward. One of its many measures is aimed at developing sustainable aviation fuel. Some of this change must also be driven by businesses, which are increasingly waking up to the need to decarbonize.

But it's also up to each individual to take action. We can start by measuring our own carbon footprints. There are tools available online, including one from Terrapass. To zero in on just your flights, try the tool from myclimate.org.

To be fair, some celebrities are helping encourage people to make big strides forward. I've had the chance to work with Jeff Bridges, one of the driving forces behind the documentary Living in the Future's Past, which highlights how every individual can help solve the climate challenge.

My work shows me that some people are ready to make sacrifices for the good of the climate. There is a vast American middle that wants rational solutions. They're not represented by the loudest voices on either political side. The views expressed in this article are the writer's own—and they're certainly not represented by the extremely wealthy. Let's all take action and show that we value the future of the planet.

Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of ALLY Energy. She has served as an ambassador for the U.S. Department of Energy's Equity in Energy initiative since 2020 and is an appointed representative of the National Petroleum Council.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.