Image for article titled Taylor Swift: A Relatable, Carbon-Emitting Queen

When your friends borrow your private jet, they rack up a lot of carbon emissions. It happens to me a lot.

The biggest celebrity private jet users were listed in a Rolling Stone piece last week. America's sweetheart herself, Taylor Swift, who has racked up 8,293.54 tonnes of carbon from 170 trips in the first half of the year, was at the top of the list. The average American household emits less than that. Swift's press team issued a statement to Rolling Stone that said, "To attribute most or all of these trips to her is blatantly incorrect." Okay, that's right.

The brouhaha has resulted in some very good meme. At this moment in history, when capitalist systems are failing to solve huge problems, but our individual ability to do anything about it is limited, it is an important reminder.

Swift has made a career out of relatability, which is one of the reasons she was a surprise top rank. TheKardashians have become symbols of waste and excess due to their jet use. Taylor's carefully crafted image has always been the girl next door, the celebrity who connects with her fans and is not afraid to write songs about famous exes. Swift's more recent albums, which have focused on woodsy themes and "cottagecore" vibes, have helped sell an image of her as an outdoorsy, nature based star. A sign that the marketing on the eco-friendly celebrity package rarely matches the actual content inside is her carbon emissions.

People leapt to the defense of a beloved celebrity. Some Swifties argued that Swift was too famous to be able to travel like a normal person and that it was the system that should be angry about climate change. Making excuses for a multi-millionaire pop star is certainly a choice in the year of our lord 2022, but I see echoes of their argument all the time. Their view is the logical end point of the trap we are all in at the moment of climate change and capitalism.

I talked about climate change with a friend who doesn't think about it all day. We were talking about how she was going to take a trip out West in a few weeks and the situation with the dry land. She doesn't care about the carbon emissions of taking a plane trip when ExxonMobil is still in business.

She's not the only one. People are against the idea of everyday choices fixing the situation. They are correct in saying that the idea of a carbon footprint was created by an oil and gas company. When oil companies are logging record profits, when plastic pollution is conspiring against real reforms of our waste systems, and when politicians drag their feet on real action, personal responsibility in our capitalist system is meaningless.

It is a difficult thing to discuss. I feel like it is hard to care about individual choices when you know how little matters in the grand scheme of things. I still take trips on planes even though I forget my cups and straws at coffee shops. Being a climate person is like living out a Mr. Gotcha comic.

When it comes to billionaires with outsize carbon footprints, the fixes we need are not individual. If Taylor Swift suddenly stops flying in her private jet forever, it will make a bigger impact than if I stop eating meat for a year. It makes sense that people are tired when our culture tries to shift blame onto individuals rather than the corporations and systems with power.

Wide-scale change has something to do with our individual actions. It could do a world of good if everyone made the same changes. It is possible that the value in ordering a veggie burger or driving an electric car is to show others that these choices are available and should be part of the new world we are building. In calling out behaviors that late-stage capitalism has conditioned those of us in the West to think as normal, like eating meat with every meal or regularly going on international vacations, there is a definite benefit. Surviving the climate crisis will require rethinking how we treat the world and how we order our society. There is a legitimate question of whether billionaires should exist in a world where the climate has changed by income inequality.

There is a danger of sliding scale expectations. We arrive at the end of excusing billionaires for taking private jets on 10-minute trips if we use the blanket excuse of capitalism. It would be a great idea to ban private jets since 1% of the world's population is responsible for 50% of airline emissions. The United States accounted for an outsize chunk of global airline emissions, with emissions larger than the next 10 countries on the list combined. Some people in the U.S. are Taylor Swift-size polluters, but we are doing a lot of damage to the environment.

All of us are trapped in the same shitty system, but that doesn't mean we don't have choices. I would be in favor of a collective shaming system to stop celebrities from ruining the planet. Taylor's status as an every girl can serve as a good reminder that some actions we think of as normal are actually quite damaging.