While Taylor Swift was revered by The New York Times for “singing us back to nature” with lyrics grounded in the natural world, her actions are a far cry from being earth friendly. Topping the list for racking up the most carbon emissions of any celebrity, Taylor’s preference for air travel saw her private jet emitting a staggering 8,294 tonnes of CO2 in 2022 alone. To put it into perspective, that’s more than 1,800 times the average person.
the 100 corporations that are responsible for 71% of climate change when they see yall blame taylor swift and kylie jenner for the climate crisis pic.twitter.com/oTntkBZu83— Tayoncé Defense Attorney is an Alien Superstar (@lesbeyonsay) July 31, 2022
But why should celebrities be held accountable, when corporations are largely responsible for the climate crisis we’re experiencing? Well, in the same way a few global corporations are disproportionally responsible for their contribution to climate breakdown, just 1% of people, the ultra-wealthy, generate half of the carbon emissions from aviation with their constant jet-setting.
When faced with corporate emissions on a massive scale, it’s understandable why people jump to the conclusion that individual change won’t lead to systemic change. But we’re not talking about the average person here. We’re talking about a tiny number of private jet users with huge amounts of wealth who emit more carbon than the whole of Denmark. These individuals have the power to set an example and help us reduce the worst impacts of climate breakdown by modifying behaviour, starting with their own. Taylor famously sung “don’t blame me”, but this is an issue she won’t be shaking off in a hurry.
So, are we saying that your actions can’t help?
kylie jenner out here picking which colour private jet she wanna take today meanwhile I gotta chug my iced coffee before my straw becomes paper mache???? explain— ✨just vibes✨ (@MaFavRaps) July 16, 2022
No, absolutely not. A study published by the University of Leeds revealed that if all of us in richer countries made simple lifestyle changes, we could reduce global carbon emissions by a massive 25%.
Every single effort we make as individuals to slow down global heating and reduce the impacts of climate breakdown collectively translates into lives and livelihoods saved. The climate movement needs policy and political backing, passionate individuals and collective action.
Individual action doesn’t detract from systemic and structural change, it deepens and expands it. It is true that we shouldn’t be using the excuse of personal responsibility to scapegoat those in positions of power into making significant changes to lower global emissions. But also, taking individual action can be part of the behaviour-change process. In other words, personal behaviour change and individual action can work together to strengthen political activism.
But perhaps the deeper question is, why when someone famous does something harmful to the planet, do people use it as an excuse to claim their own behaviour is meaningless in comparison?
The rise of influencer culture
Influencers and celebrity culture have been linked to overconsumption and general life dissatisfaction. So it’s up to us to take a step back and think about the media we’re consuming and its impact on our behaviour and mental wellbeing.
Could we be more critical of what we consume? It can be easy to sit back and think “well, whatever I do is pointless” if our social media feeds are saturated with celebs like Kylie Jenner jetting off for 17-minute flights. But don't forget just how much good is out there, and how many people are campaigning for doing better and succeeding. For example, Greta Thunberg has inspired a generation of youth activists, decision-makers and others, helping people fight anxiety with action.
Don’t let other people’s behaviour make you apathetic. Time and time again caring, protest and campaigning has led to significant social and structural change. This is what we need to be focusing on and striving towards.