For weeks, scrutiny over singer Taylor Swift’s travel in private jets has been bubbling up on social media, with people pointing out the planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide released with every flight.
The megastar is dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, one of the NFL’s most celebrated players. The growing romance between the couple has been closely watched, with Swift showing up at several games—which has meant much travel on private jets. The chatter got even louder the last few days after the Chiefs beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, sending them to the Super Bowl, which is in Las Vegas on Feb. 11.
Swift, the hitmaker whose dominance of pop culture now includes the first tour to gross more than $1 billion, is the latest in a long list of celebrities, government officials and elite businesspeople to come under scrutiny about private jet travel. A look at Swift’s recent travel, carbon dioxide emissions from private jets versus commercial planes and one of the most common, albeit controversial, solutions floated to address such pollution.
SWIFT’S CARBON FOOTPRINT
If Swift attends the Super Bowl, she will be traveling from Tokyo, where she is on tour. That will mean more than 19,400 miles (30,500 kilometers) by private jet in just under two weeks. Just how much carbon dioxide will that be?
While exact carbon emissions depend on many factors, such as flight paths and number of passengers, a rough estimate is possible, said Gregory Keoleian, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. Traveling 19,400 miles on a Dassault Falcon 900LX, one of Swift’s jets, could release more than 200,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
That would be about 14 times as much as the average American household emits in a year, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
How realistic commercial travel would be for Swift is open for debate. After all, she’s so famous that, even if she wanted to, flying on commercial flights might be chaotic for an airline crew and any public airport she frequents. Keoleian said there are other important ways that public figures flying private can address climate change, such as through their influence on public attitudes and perceptions, investments and who they vote for.
The controversy over Swift’s use of private jets illustrates the “great disparity” between the wealthy and lower-income people when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions each person generates, said Julia Stein, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.
“You’re seeing this play out on kind of a microcosmic scale (with Swift), but that’s true too of industrialized countries their carbon emissions historically,” she said.
Swift is the latest of many famous people to be scrutinized over pollution from their globe-trotting. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio and many others have periodically gotten attention for their travel on private jets.
“It’s striking that Ms. Swift gets so much of the outrage when private jet customers are overwhelmingly men over 50,” said Jeff Colgan, a professor of political science at Brown University. “The focus really should be on a broader class of people.”
Big events, from Olympic Games to the annual U.N. climate summit have also been criticized because of the thousands of people flying in to attend, travel that all contributes to climate change.
All air travel creates emissions, though private jets produce much more per person. A 2023 study by the Institute for Policy Studies found that private jets emit at least 10 times more pollutants per passenger compared to commercial planes.
One often discussed way to address air travel pollution is paying for carbon offsets, which aim to balance out emissions released. For example, trees pull carbon out of the air, so offset programs include planting trees that, at least in theory, balance out pollution from air travel.
Gates has defended his travel by private plane by saying he purchases offsets and supports clean technology and other sustainability initiatives. Swift’s publicist did not respond to a query from The Associated Press, but told The Washington Post that the singer purchases offsets. The publicist didn’t provide details.
Still, there are many questions about the effectiveness of offsets. They are loosely regulated and investigations by news organizations in recent years have shown some programs overestimate how much carbon is being captured or have questionable practices.
“Offsets are still the Wild West of climate change and have been riddled with fraud, failed projects, and dubious effectiveness,” said Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, a group that publicizes climate solutions. “Planting trees, for example, might work — or not — depending on how the forests are managed in the long run.”
Foley, along with many climate scientists and policy experts, argue that instead of offsets for air travel, it would be much better to sharply reduce the use of planes, particularly of private jets, while developing cleaner fuels. Several airline companies are also developing planes that are powered by electricity, and thus will not have emissions.
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