These celebrities cause 10,000 times more carbon emissions from flying than the average person

(The Conversation, 22 Oct 2019) The jet-setting habits of Bill Gates and Paris Hilton mean that they produce an astonishing 10,000 times more carbon emissions from flying than the average person.

This was the conclusion of my research mining their social media accounts (tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts) as well as those of a number of other celebrities for clues as to where they were in the world over the course of 2017 and how they got there. As such, this estimate is conservative – they may well have taken more flights and not volunteered the information to their millions of followers.

This highlights the insane disparity in carbon emissions between the rich and the poor. In 2018, an average human emitted less than five tonnes of CO₂ overall. But this hides vast differences in individual contributions. In the case of air travel – the most energy-intensive human activity, no other human activity consumes as much energy in such a short time – the global average is 115kg CO₂ per person per year. Yet the vast majority of humanity never fly. This average is created by the staggering emissions of the richest proportion of humanity. I calculated that Bill Gates, for example, causes at least 1,600 tonnes of CO₂ to be emitted into the atmosphere – and this is from flying alone.

Of course, it’s not only celebrities who are the problem. Recently published figures reveal that 1% of English residents are responsible for nearly one-fifth of all flights abroad. Nearly half (48%) of the population, meanwhile, did not take a single overseas flight in 2018.

Carbon inequality

Calling out the extent of this disparity is key given that humanity has agreed to stabilise global warming at 2°C. To achieve this goal, emissions of greenhouse gases have to be reduced drastically. The Paris Agreement accepts that the burden should be better shared around: countries that emit a lot per citizen should make greater contributions to decarbonisation.

Of course, there will also be disparity within each country: some high emitters as well as some who hardly contribute to global warming at all. I wanted to find out just how central the highest emitters might be to this question – just how much of the burden we should expect them to take on. Celebrities, by definition, are influential and often wealthy. While anecdotal evidence suggests that they are also frequent fliers, it has been difficult to determine their contributions to global warming. Very wealthy people are rarely represented in household surveys. To find out, I tracked the jet-set lifestyles of ten celebrities by analysing their ample social media presence.

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The Conversation, 22 Oct 2019: These celebrities cause 10,000 times more carbon emissions from flying than the average person