France is discussing in these days the limitation and regulation of private jets used by the super rich, often for very short journeys. The French Minister of Transport Clément Beaune will present a proposal to the National Assembly, while the deputy Julien Bayou, secretary of Europe Ecology The Greens, has called for the abolition of this type of air transport. The discussion also moved to Italy, where Unione Popolare has included the abolition of private jets in the program, while Alleanza Verdi Sinistra has openly spoken about it on various occasions. The reactions of the right were not long in coming between those who fear the return of proletarian expropriation and those who define it as a “pauperistic proposal of the veteran Left”. The data speak for themselves: only 1% of travelers produce 50% of global emissions from air transport. It is therefore a very broad debate, which does not only concern the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, but which touches on complex issues, such as climate justice and environmental inequalities.
Pollution and emissions from the super rich: a luxury we cannot afford
In recent weeks, the controversy has been unleashed against some American celebrities and their polluting lifestyle. Among the various accusations, the debate on Kylie Jenner, who would have rented a private jet for a trip of a few kilometers, and on her sisters Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, reported by the Californian authorities for excessive consumption of water along with others, was very heated. hollywood stars. The exaggerated, polluting and luxurious consumption of the super rich is certainly not new, but today it collides with a growing environmental sensitivity, which poorly tolerates the excesses of a few rich people. Between environmental disasters (such as the recent flood in Pakistan), climate migrants or environmentally displaced persons, droughts and anomalous heat waves are the most vulnerable populations and those who have contributed least to climate change to pay the consequences on their skin. Not only is there talk of climate justice and environmental inequalities between countries of the global North and South, but also within the industrialized countries themselves.
The non-profit organization Transport & Environment has published a study on the environmental impact of private jets. According to the data provided by the report, in one hour of flight a private jet emits two tons of CO2. To get an idea of the pollution produced, just consider the average emissions of a person living in Europe, equal to 8.2 tons of CO2 equivalent in a whole year. In addition, emissions from private flights grew 31% between 2005 and 2019, much faster than commercial aviation. Only the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have imprinted a temporary slowdown in the use of private jets. However, the trend seemed to be growing again as early as August 2020, when the restrictions for the pandemic were still in place. Private flights from France and Great Britain produce more CO2 than 20 European countries combined. A tenth of the flights departing from French airports are private and half of these traveled less than 500 km in 2019. In the rest of Europe, private jets are also used for short distances and usually carry few passengers, increasing the impact on the climate of these flights.
The detractors of the abolition of private jets appeal to the low number of private flights compared to commercial ones. Still, the Transport & Environment report points out that private jets pollute between 5 and 14 times more than commercial flights, considering the emissions per passenger. 70-80% of the most traveled routes in Europe by private jets are covered by the high-speed rail network, 50 times less polluting than private air transport. For example, Rome Ciampino-Milan Linate is one of the most polluting routes in Europe (485 km and 4037 CO2 [t] produced), but the connection between the two cities is ensured by the high-speed railway line with an hour and 11 minutes longer than traveling by plane.
The alternatives therefore exist and do not require great sacrifices in terms of time for the super rich (the loss is mainly in terms of social status). Talking about climate justice in this case means recognizing the impact that a few privileged people can have on the climate, to the detriment of the majority without the means to deal with the harmful effects of climate change. Economic well-being allows not only the super rich to support a (very) conspicuous consumption, such as the purchase of mega yachts, huge villas and private jets. The richest people on the planet often hold polluting and destabilizing economic assets for the planet, such as oil companies, heavy industries or banking institutions that finance the fossil fuel sector. Unlike the rest of the population, they also have the resources to protect themselves from any environmental disasters or climate crises.
The debate on private jets in Italy
According to the aforementioned report, Italy is the third European country for emissions produced by private aviation. The issues of climate justice also affect our nation, where the disparities between North and South translate into different capacities of resilience to disasters, despite the fact that the most industrialized areas do not seem prepared to face the impacts of climate change. According to a report by the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change, the probability of risk from extreme events has grown by 9% over the last twenty years and days of intense heat in 2019 were 29 more than in the period 1961-1990.
The Instagram page “Jet of the rich”– inspired by the French account “L’avion de Bernard” which monitors the environmental impact of the private jet of the entrepreneur Bernard Arnault and “Elonmuskjet” which tracks the flights of Elon Musk – is collecting data on the private jets of the richest people in ‘Italy. The account initially took care of the journeys of John Elkann and Diego Della Valle, who travel daily in their own jets for short distances. In recent days, the monitoring of emissions has instead concerned the private flights of Elettra Lamborghini, Sfera Ebbasta, Flavio Briatore, Gianluca Vacchi (the Bologna-Taranto flight to buy a kebab is much discussed) and Fedez which emitted several tons of CO2 for travel to tourist locations or for summer tours around Europe..
Among singers and entrepreneurs the name of a politician stands out. Also according to the Instagram page, Matteo Renzi seems to have rented a private jet from Rome to Washington to hold a conference lasting a few minutes. The return flight produced 51 tons of CO2, emissions comparable to those of 18 people over a whole year, adding up all the trips. The leader of Italia Viva in fact commented on the proposal for the abolition of private flights by Sinistra Italia-Verdi and Unione Popolare: “I haven’t heard such an idiocy since the days of Di Maio’s navigators. A seed is being sown for a pro-Soviet turnaround and for the abolition of private property“. Various commentators have spoken of a delusional proposal or have recalled the old fear of proletarian expropriation.
Unfortunately, the debate in Italy immediately took a paradoxical turn, leaving little room for issues such as the ecological transition of the economy, the achievement of climate neutrality and the reconversion of transport. In this electoral campaign, the opportunity to speak seriously about urgent measures that involve the whole community was once again lost. In addition to the abolition of private jets, another proposal could be the imposition of one carbon tax on fuel pending authorization to use hydrogen or electric aircraft.
Why does a simple proposal that concerns 1% of the population meet so much opposition to the point of disturbing anti-communist languages and formulas? Perhaps the fight for the climate and the environment cannot ignore the questioning of economic privileges, a careful analysis of inequalities (social, environmental and economic) and the achievement of climate justice. On the other hand, the majority cannot be asked to recycle, cycle, reduce energy and meat consumption, while at the same time allowing the rich to travel in private and very polluting jets to save a few hours of travel.