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Should Billionaires' Private Jets Be Banned For The Sake Of The Climate Crisis?

I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my pre-high school years but I do remember the vibe in the car one weekend in the fall of 1959 when I was very young and my dad asked me where I’d like to go. In retrospect I’m sure he was hoping I would say Ebbets Field but instead I suggested the recently completed Guggenheim, an art museum I had never been to but whose grand opening I had just read about. We went and was he pissed off! I loved art, went to museums all over the world and when I started making money I started buying paintings.

So I had very mixed emotions when Climate activists started defacing— although not in a way that has seriously damaged any paintings— classic works in European museums like a Van Gogh at the National Gallery in London, 2 Goyas in El Prado in Madrid, a Monet in the in Potsdam’s Barberini, a Vermeer at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. I get the reason but worry about the tactic— not just because of the art itself, but also because of the anger that this kind of tactic generates among the general public.

So wasn’t I happy yesterday when Juan Cole wrote about another tactic that might be more effective and more generally supportable— blockading private jets. “Oxfam,” he wrote, has a new study, Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people. The Executive Summary says that They concluded that quite apart from the 3,300 or so billionaires, the wealthiest one percent in the world emit twice as much carbon dioxide as the bottom 50%. The top one percent, about 80 million people, are a big carbon problem, because if they go on as they are, their CO2 emissions alone will be 30 times larger than is compatible with keeping the heating of the earth to only 1.5°C above preindustrial times— the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate agreement. Zeroing on 150 billionaires in the sample, a tiny proportion of the top one percent numerically but a significant proportion of the latter’s wealth holdings, the study found that together they had a stake in 183 companies that is valued at $2.4 trillion. If you calculate how many greenhouse gases are emitted by these 183 companies and look at how much of them is owned by each billionaire, you come to the conclusion that each of these fabulously wealthy persons is responsible for the emission of 3 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. An average person is estimated to emit 2.7 tons of CO2 every year. Thus, a million times more.”

Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Lead at Oxfam, observed that these super-wealthy polluters “Have escaped accountability for too long.” She added, “Emissions from billionaire lifestyles, their private jets and yachts are thousands of times the average person, which is already completely unacceptable. But if we look at emissions from their investments, then their carbon emissions are over a million times higher.”
Public awareness of this problem is growing, however. On Monday, Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace climate activists stopped private planes from taking off from a field at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Some sat against the wheels of the planes, others bicycled around the field. Inside the enormous airport, protesters waved picket signs and denounced that increase of private jet traffic in the Netherlands. Airplanes emit about 2.5% of the carbon dioxide humans put into the atmosphere each year. But the per capita amount is much higher for private jets that ferry around one or two persons. Eventually the police aggressively arrested them, as the protesters went limp and had to be dragged to paddy wagons.

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