Private jets’ season or the hypocrisy festival in Davos

January nears its end, the economic and political leaders meet in Davos and private jets get an new round of attention. Hypocrisy is getting noticed. Are perceptions already shifting?

BanPivateJets.org went online in September last year. What happened since?

2019 – New voices asking to #BanPrivateJets

The year started with a copiously commented blogpost wondering about why private jets were not yet outlawed. September brought an article asking for the ban on a popular US leftist magazine. At that point I convinced myself that the idea was viable and launched this site.

Early in November, as the electoral campaign for the UK general election had just begun, the Labour Party promised to consider banning fossil-fueled private jets by 2025 if they won. Unfortunately that did not happen. The idea, based on a report by the think thank Common Wealth and the campaign group A free ride, is to incentivize the development of electric aircrafts.

Two weeks later, a Swiss chapter of Extinction Rebellion blocked the private-jet terminal of Geneva airport. Denouncing private jets as an absurd mode of transport they made the news around the world.

By coincidence, on the same day the youth section of the Swiss Green Party had delegates’ assembly. There they decided to include banning private jets in their party platform.

In December, Stay Grounded published the report Degrowth of Aviation: Reducing air travel in a just way, which is as good as its title suggests. The eight key messages they highlight there are really to the point. This is why I wanted to recommend it here.

Before the year ended, three media outlets asked whether private jets should be banned to mitigate climate change. Those were Forbes, CapX and Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. None known for their radical environmentalism.

Davos, the global leaders’ hypocrisy festival

As the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos approached, talk about private jets increased. Different outlets noticed that many guests traveled to the WEF by private jets and helicopter and contrasted it to the declarations on climate change made there. However, mostly they did not openly call out the hypocrisy. becomesAs the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos approached, talk about private jets increased. Different outlets noticed that many guests traveled to the WEF by private jets and helicopter and contrasted it to the declarations on climate change made there. However, mostly they did not openly call out the hypocrisy.

Business insider had for instance a widely circulated article titled: Davos says it is focusing on the climate crisis, but its billionaires and world leaders are still arriving on private jets. UK’s Mail Online went personal on their old prince. German-language newspapers joined in.

On the first day of the WEF, the international unit of the Swiss Broadcast Corporation published an opinion article by yours truly, available in eight languages.

At this point, the Zurich airport tried to push back on this narrative by plugging their so-called sustainable aviation fuel. This is a blend of kerosene with up to 30% bio-fuel. Using it means emitting about 18% less CO₂ over the entire value chain. Industry’s promotional material does not say anything about the other climate effects by aviation.

This a-little-less polluting fuel is just another attempt at assuaging consciences by selling indulgences. Switching from private jets to commercial and from helicopter to train means at least 75% less CO₂ if not much more. Fortunately, reporting has been skeptical. Bloomberg put quotes around the “greener” label. Vice outright reminded the readers that the solution to private jets is banning them.

Damaging the credibility of serious climate activists

As I wrote in my last essay, this hypocrisy has a huge societal impact. The self-styled global leaders ostensibly gather to discuss solutions to climate change. Then, first, they are unable to produce any concrete result in terms of state or corporate policy. Second, they make no meaningful effort to reduce their personal greenhouse gas emissions. In practice, they are telling the public that, contrary to their stated beliefs, they do not think that climate change poses a threat to humanity. Or that they do not care.

While journalists only timidly notice this hypocrisy and fail to report on its broader consequences, right wing figures have a field day. Their followers on social media rejoice at seeing confirmation that climate change must be a hoax. They smear serious climate activists by associating them with the hypocritical guests of the WEF.

Shut up or give up your private jets

This sabotages political efforts directed at the radical changes needed to mitigate climate change. This is murderous and unacceptable. There are only two solutions. Either the hypocritical leaders shut up about climate change and admit that they oppose effective mitigation policies or their private jets have to stay grounded, forever.

Sadly, those traveling to the WEF in the most polluting way seem unable to see their nefarious impact on environment and public discourse. Thus, civil society has to step up and ground the jets and helicopters for them.

Credits for the photo with the helicopters (featured image, symbolic): Kecko, CC BY 2.0, cropped, via flickr.

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