With DiCaprio still aboard the yacht, his Instagram account posted to his 54.5 million followers: “If we’re going to combat the climate crisis, we must face hard scientific truths and take action” beneath a promo image for his film Don’t Look Up. Thanks to the energy required to store and transmit data to your TV or device, even watching his movie about impending doom cost us another 18,000 metric tons of carbon emissions in just weeks. (That’s based on the estimated 55 gCO2/hour for watching Netflix and the reported 322 million viewing hours for Don’t Look Up as of January.) That’s not including the 3,370-metric-ton carbon footprint left behind by the average film production.
Now, that’s not to undermine DiCaprio’s advocacy and charitable work — although a recent Oxford study challenges the effectiveness of celebrity activism, citing a lack of measurable outputs and potential negative consequences when a big name’s credibility is called into question. And neither are the streaming habits of millions comparable to one celebrity’s vacation. But these carbon disparities and activist inconsistencies underpin a major challenge in the fight against climate change: the general public feels increasingly helpless.
Can we do anything about private jet emissions?
If Leo’s holiday superyacht jaunt tells us anything, it’s that we can’t rely on the CO2 self-restraint of even the most well-intentioned millionaires (or billionaires).
Experts agree that, while a blanket ban on private jets is impractical, “implementing an effective policy to diminish emissions from private air travel is possible,” says David Carlucci, former New York State senator, Green Amendment sponsor, and cosponsor of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
He points to the actions taken by our neighbors up north. Just as American celebrities came under fire for their high emissions, Canada announced its Select Luxury Items Tax Act. This policy will add a 10% tax to the purchase of items like private jets and yachts. “They believe that the tax will make luxury travel less attractive, lowering carbon emissions from private aircraft,” Carlucci says. After all, the trend of private travel will not end on its own, “so making consumers pay for these habits and investing raised revenues into electric travel would be an ideal solution.”
We can work to make all air travel more sustainable, too, explains Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and environmental policy guru for former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Strategies could include technical mandates for more efficient jet engines, cleaner-burning fuels, incentives to develop and deploy zero-emission planes, and methods to reduce flight miles or idling engines at airports,” he says.
These approaches can mirror past sustainability success stories, such as California’s vehicle emissions standards and federal fuel economy standards. “[These] have been ratcheted tighter over time such that today’s cars are over 90% cleaner than our parents’ cars and trucks,” Tamminen says. Environment-focused lawmaking also helped pave the way for the development of zero-emission vehicles.
“We still have time to keep things from getting even worse, but only if we take personal action to reduce our carbon footprint and support political leaders and policies that regulate industry, like the aircraft industry,” Tamminen says. So, by all means, keep yelling at celebrities on social media if you want — but remember your ballot in local and state elections can shout even louder. ●