Why the Kylie Jenner private jet story matters
We are on the path to mending our collective climate dissonance
IN TODAY’S ISSUE…
An essay about the Kylie Jenner private jet controversy (featuring pasta)
A data analysis of recent celebrity jet flights lasting under 20 minutes
Links to additional reading on private jets and climate change
A cool podcast recommendation
An update on hiring
A picture of Fish
A few weeks ago, my partner took me to a pasta restaurant in Los Angeles. Upon being seated, the server came over and asked if we’d eaten there before. I hadn’t, so they recommended I read the “Our Story” section of the menu.
Our journey for the best pasta took us to Bologna in Emilia Romagna, the epicenter of fresh pasta.
We tried but could not make pasta like that here in our kitchen.
Then the answer hit us, and it was to go in a direction no one has gone before.
We needed to make the pasta in Italy using ingredients and expertise that only exist there and overnight it here, in a temperature-controlled cabin where the flight time becomes part of the needed resting time.
The menu went on to explain why such a journey was necessary. “Italian eggs are not available here,” it said. “The eggs in Italy make a rich, deep yellow noodle that tastes like none other.” The pasta-makers were also preferable in Italy, it said: “Finding the same expertise anywhere else is nearly impossible.”
For a moment, I felt like I was crazy. Was this place really bragging about their massively carbon-intensive pasta during a climate-fueled megadrought and deadly heat wave? How disconnected from the climate crisis must one be to advertise a daily 6,000-mile refrigerated flight to get noodles that are slightly more yellow than locally-made noodles?
But then I remembered the culture we live in. Folks brag about being jerks to the planet all the time. Even in climate-plagued Southern California, extravagant fossil fuel consumption is synonymous with success. Far more people are impressed by it than repulsed by it.
This is an example of what I’d call climate dissonance. Though most people want to solve the ecological crisis caused by carbon, they are also dazzled by carbon-intensive behavior. That’s partly a symptom of a warped “American Dream” ideal, one that tells us that lavish wealth, not well-being, is the ultimate marker of success. Ours is a culture that aspires to be wasteful.
There’s no need to name or shame this restaurant specifically. (Hell, I stayed and ate the pasta. It was fine.) What’s more needed is a widespread recognition of climate dissonance, and a desire to shift the American Dream away from individual wealth and toward collective well-being. That’s not something I made up: climate activists have been writing and speaking about it for years.
The good news is, there’s been some recent evidence that such desire is growing. You might have read about it last week.
A growing type of climate outrage
There was once a time when few would have batted an eye at a billionaire posting a picture of herself and her boyfriend between two private jets, and captioning it “You wanna take mine or yours?”
That time has passed. Last week, mega-influence Kylie Jenner faced an unexpected storm of public outrage over a 17-minute flight her private jet took from Camarillo, California to Van Nuys, California. The trip would have taken about 45 minutes via car, traffic depending. The headlines called her a “climate criminal.”
The flight was revealed by @CelebJets, a Twitter account that tracks the private jets of billionaires and celebrities. The account is owned by 19-year-old Jack Sweeney, a University of Central Florida sophomore who also “controls 30 Twitter accounts that track the private jets of billionaires, celebrities and Russian oligarchs,” according to CNBC.
Nearly every story written about this flight—and there have been many—notes either the disproportionate climate impact of private jets or the disproportionate emissions from rich people. (Private jets are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes per passenger, and the wealthiest 1 percent of people emit double the combined climate pollution of the poorest 50 percent).
A viral story pointing out these climate injustices would have been unimaginable a few years ago. For example, when Drake posted an Instagram photo of his new tricked out Boeing 767 in late March 2020, no one seemed to bat an eye. The rapper’s fans drooled over his massive commercial cargo-turned-private jet, eponymously dubbed “Air Drake.”
If Drake made a post like this today, he’d likely receive significant pushback. Indeed, the rapper is already under fire for his private jet usage: A few days after the Jenner story broke, The Guardian analyzed the @CelebJets account and found Air Drake has taken some very short flights of late, including an 18-minute-long flight from Hamilton, Ontario, to Toronto.
This really pissed people off—so much so that Drake is now personally defending himself. In an Instagram comment this week, the rapper said he was not actually on the 18-minute flight. “This just [the crew] moving planes to whatever airport they are being stored at for anyone who was interested in the logistics,” he wrote. “Nobody takes that flight.”
His response appeared to miss the point of the criticism. That 18-minute flight emitted 5 tons of carbon. If the planet is to stabilize at 1.5C, the average person has to emit 2.1 tons of carbon a year—so it’s actually worse that he wasn’t even on it. He emitted double the amount each human is supposed to use in a year just to store his big old fancy plane.
Still, that Drake even felt the need to respond is evidence enough that a cultural tide is turning. Flagrant displays of private jets—and thereby fossil fuel use—are simply not as cool as they used to be. And that’s not just a symbolic win for the climate: it’s a financial one. Airlines pay influencers like Drake to flaunt their private jets online. Indeed, the cargo airline Cargojet gave Drake his $185 million plane for free, specifically in the hopes he would post about it to his 117 million followers.
That type of investment became much more risky last week, and that’s a climate win in itself. Add the fact that climate justice is going viral, and you’ve got two. Sure, there’s still quite a long way to go (don’t look at the comments on Drake’s response, you might get depressed). But that’s always been the case, and probably will be for awhile. This is the long haul fight. Gotta celebrate when you can.
Who else is taking extremely short flights?
Last week, for fun, I went through the @CelebJets account and made a note of every celebrity flight that lasted under 20 minutes. The data went back to May 30. I found 36 flights.
Of those 36 less-than-20-minute flights, nearly one third belonged to members of the Kardashian family. Kylie Jenner’s private jet took eight of those flights, seven of which were between Van Nuys and Camarillo. Kim Kardashian’s private jet took the other four, two of which were from Van Nuys to Camarillo.
But even though the Kardashian family has the most sub-20-minute private jet flights, they’re not the highest emitters of the bunch. That honor goes to Drake.
Because Drake’s Boeing 767 is so big, an 11-minute flight—like the one his jet took from one Miami airport to another Miami airport on June 13—emits as much as 5 times the amount of carbon as a Kardashian jet would flying the same distance. Drake’s jet may have only taken five sub-20-minute flights since May 30, but the combined carbon impact of those flights amounts to 21 tons: the equivalent of about 4 homes’ entire electricity use in a year. The combined emissions impact of the Kardashian’s 12 sub-20 minute flights was about 15 tons of CO2.
Tom Cruise is on the spreadsheet three for sub-20-minute flights, two of which take off and land at the same airport. But at least one of those flights seems to be explained by the fact that he’s flying a North American P-51 Mustang: a one-seater fighter-bomber used during World War II.
You can explore the rest of the data by clicking the button below.
The disproportionate climate impact of private jets. Transport & Environment, May 2021.
How the world’s richest people are driving global warming. Bloomberg, March 2022.
One man’s lonely, lonely fight to ban private jets. Vice, July 2022.
Charlie Jiang on making the American Dream attainable again. National Bioneers Conference, 2018.
COOL PODCAST ALERT: If you’re looking for a new podcast, I highly recommend “Hazard NJ,” a new project from investigative journalist Jordan Gass-Poore and NJ Spotlight News. Each episode contains a deeply reported narrative story about a toxic Superfund site in New Jersey, and the people at the center of the fight to clean it up.
With compelling characters, complex villains, and a soundtrack reminiscent of Stranger Things, Hazard NJ is basically a true crime podcast—except the crime it spotlights is pollution and climate change. It's a great example of compassionate, human-driven climate accountability journalism. Click the button below to check it out. (I recommend Episode 3).
AN UPDATE ON HIRING: The interview process is well underway for the enterprise reporter position at HEATED! I have already interviewed so many wonderful applicants, and continue to receive and review new resumes on the reg. To that end, I’ve added a deadline for submitting materials: August 5, 2022. So if you want to work as a reporter for me, please get your stuff in by then! And e-mail any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to support HEATED’s hiring efforts while paid subscriptions are paused, you can contribute to our hiring fund! No pressure, though.
CATCH OF THE DAY: Have you missed Fish? So have I. I moved out to California during my hiatus, and left our boy on the East coast. NO, I did not abandon him—as dedicated readers know, Fish isn’t actually my dog. He belongs to my old roommate, Lara. But I still get a steady flow of photo updates which both Fish and I are happy to share with you. Here’s him looking particularly concerned on a stoop. Perhaps he’s looking for me?
See you next week.