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We Need to Outlaw Private Jets.
For environmental and morale reasons.
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Nothing symbols unlimited wealth like the privilege of enjoying flying. While most of us must submit to long security lines, cramped legroom, and a stranger who hogs the armrest every time we fly, the ultra-rich are exempt from these problems. Instead, they travel on private jets, where they’re served chilled champagne, seven-course meals, and all the legroom they could ever need.
On the surface, an individual owning an airplane appears no different than you or I owning a car — it’s simply a vehicle, although quite more lavish. But upon deeper inspection of the 1%s’ preferred method of travel, it becomes apparent that private jets are an unequivocal negative for society, and should therefore be outlawed.
Air travel as a whole is terrible for the environment. The average airplane emits around 100 times more CO2 per hour than a bus or train. In total, flying contributes about 2.4% of all annual global CO2 emissions, more than the entirety of Germany. If we want to slow climate change and preserve the planet, society is going to need better ways to travel. (I’ve written about the need to nationalize the airlines and build high-speed rail, partly for this purpose.)
But until mass, eco-friendly transportation is established, we’re going to need to approach air travel (as well as many other things), through a cost-benefit examination. When deciding which activities are permissible, we must weigh if the benefit to society outweighs the damage to the environment.
Through a cost-benefit frame, shipping (the U.S. moved over 666 billion dollars worth of goods by air in 2022) and mass transit are still necessary and worth preserving (though we should always be searching for ways to improve them.) But what clearly fails the cost-benefit test is the ability of oligarchs and their cohorts to travel in lavish solitude, simply because they don’t want to be bothered by traveling with the rest of us.
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While it may be necessary for key figures such as Presidents and Prime Ministers to jet across the world to conduct important affairs, no such rationale exists for the ultra-rich. Take for example the private jet of Elon Musk, which was tracked via tail numbers by the now-canceled Twitter account @ElonJet. Musk’s most frequent destinations were Los Angeles, Austin, TX., and Brownsville, TX. L.A. is home to the fourth busiest airport in the world, making private flights unnecessary. Austin and Brownsville are only a 5-hour drive apart and certainly don’t require a plane to travel between them. (Although in fairness to Musk, a Tesla can’t make it that far.)
According to @ElonJet, the personal jet of the Twitter/SpaceX/Tesla CEO flew 134 times in 2022. Just this plane alone produced over 1,800 tons of CO2, more than was produced by 391 cars. The shortest flight of Elon’s aircraft was just 6 minutes. It is unknown if this was a whimsical joy flight or just the pilot repositioning, but that is irrelevant. Global temperatures make no exception for omissions caused by making a second attempt at a parking job.
This is the environmental consequence of just one private jet. According to Airbus Corporate Jets, there are approximately 23,411 private jets in operation, with 62.5% of them operating out of the U.S. (14,632). If emissions standards hold across the board, that means this private fleet is producing 26,337,600 metric tons of CO2 every year. That’s the equivalent of about 5.75 million cars, about the amount used in all of Sweden.
With the debate on whether or not emissions heat the planet’s atmosphere settled, the discussion is now focused on what to do about it. Considering the disproportionate cost to the Earth with no benefit for its people, outlawing private jets is an obvious measure we should take.
The unnecessary environmental damage caused by private flights is the predominant motivation to outlaw private jets, but it is not the only one. In order to acquire a private jet, one must be wealthy beyond reason. Like any commodity, the price tags on jets vary, but they start around $3 million and go up to $660 million. Comparatively, 42% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. With such a drastic difference between the upper and lower classes of our society, the mere existence of personal jets is the oligarchic’s twist of a knife into the soul of the working class.
Wealth inequality is a cancer upon society. The troubles that arise when there is a great discrepancy in resource allocation between the many and the few have been observed by nearly every civilization. Critiques of wealth inequality can be heard from a mishmash of historical figures such as Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, and Pope Francis. These men shared neither a common age nor an ideology. Their similarities extended only to the point of common sense and observation of the obvious fact that when a society bestows endless wealth on some and little to others, its days are numbered.
While the outlawing of private jets could come with some form of government seizure, re-selling the assets for public revenue is not the concern.
Alongside concerns of climate change, a significant rationale to take away the play-things of oligarchs comes from the need for us — the people — to practice self-respect. What the working class lacks in wealth it more than surmounts in numbers. We are the majority of the Earth, yet we do not act like it. We allow the few to destroy our planet, all so that they may travel between their manisons without having to fratrinize with us common folk. In order to steer society towards a future that is more equitable, plentiful, and just, we are going to have to stand up for themselves.
I can’t think of a better place to start than by telling the ultra-wealthy — who have acquired their wealth through the development of nature they did not create and the extraction of value from the labor of others — that we will no longer tolerate them destroying our shared planet because they are too egotistical to travel with the likes of us.
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What do you think about the idea of outlawing private jets? Should we do it? Why, or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.