Seattle schoolboy exposes carbon footprint of private jet-loving stars
Seattle schoolboy, 17, exposes carbon footprint of ‘hypocrite’ private jet-loving stars, tycoons and lawmakers who scold ordinary Americans about climate change
- Akash Shendure created a system that tracks emissions of the world’s wealthiest
- Recognizable names topping the list include Rupert Murdoch and Betsy Devos
- The worst was entrepreneur Tom Siebel, with Kim Kardashian also earning a spot
A 17-year-old high school senior created a system that tracks the annual flight emissions of some the wealthiest people in the world – laying bare the substantial carbon footprint of stars ranging from Kim Kardashian to Rupert Murdoch.
Math-loving Seattle resident Akash Shendure began the exhaustive effort just a few months ago, and has since amassed a list of more than 150 ultrarich people and their families, ranked by the estimated emissions they generate by flying privately.
Recognizable names topping the list include media magnate Rupert Murdoch and former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, whose free-flying families are responsible for 4,357 and 4,117 metric tons of carbon dioxide, respectively.
The worst offender, however, was Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tom Siebel – who, like many on the list, has spoken out about the dangers of climate change. According to Shendure, the billionaire is responsible for 4,649 tons of yearly emissions.
For reference, the average American emits 15.52 tons of carbon dioxide per year, meaning many of the celebrities and tycoons to grace the list are generating hundreds of times the pollutants of a typical US citizen. Siebel’s carbon footprint, for instance, is equal to that of more than 299 typical US citizens.
The interactive list has laid bare the substantial carbon footprint of stars such as Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner (pictured at right on her private jet with mom Kris)
Math-loving Seattle resident Akash Shendure began the exhaustive effort just a few months ago, and has since amassed a list of more than 150 ultrarich people and their families
Calling the campaign the Climate Jets project ranks, Shendure, a self-professed physics whiz, told The New York Times Tuesday that he came up with the idea after Twitter decided to block an account that had been tracking the private flights of Elon Musk, in December.
Musk, the site’s new owner, would also engage in mass suspensions of a half dozen journalists he claimed ‘doxxed’ him for posting Tweets related to the tracked flights.
At the time, the decision stoked fears over Musk’s position of power as the new head of one of the world’s premiere social media platforms – and spurred Shendure to pursue his own tracking effort – this one geared toward affluent people in general who regularly fly in private jets.
Looking to see what data was publicly available, the teenager quickly drew on what few resources were publicly available, gleaning the locations from various high-profile aircraft from a compilation created by a network of volunteers, and learning the carbon dioxide emissions for each type of fuel through government data.
Identification numbers for the jets – many of which belong to businessmen and stars who have criticized efforts to quell global warming – came from a database designed by the 20-year-old operator of the since-pulled Elon tracker, Jack Sweeney.
In 2021, Musk offered Sweeney, 20, $5,000 to take down the account, which he saw as a risk to his safety. In December, after taking the reigns of the multibillion-dollar company, Musk pulled the account, arguing that profiles that publish where people were located in ‘real-time’ were a ‘physical safety violation.’
Musk, meanwhile, also made Shendure’s list as the world’s 41st worst offender in regards to emissions, blamed for 1,699 tons this past year alone.
Shendure’s calculations further found the Tesla CEO’s private aircraft emissions surpass the collective carbon footprint of 109 average Americans, achieved after 190 flights in a single aircraft – or 14-and-half straight days in the air.
The worst offender, however, was Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tom Siebel – who, like many on the list, has spoken out about the dangers of climate change. According to Shendure, Siebel is responsible for 4,649 tons of emissions – almost 300 times that of the average American
That said, 40 others – including billionaires such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, and stars like Kylie Jenner, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jay Z – far surpassed the outspoken Twitter honcho in terms of pollutants.
But at the outset of his tracking journey in late December, Shendure told the Times that he still did not have the resources necessary to correctly tally the emissions of the world’s wealthiest residents.
Speaking to the paper in an interview, he revealed he initially encountered difficulty when it came to calculating exactly how much fuel each jet consumes.
Now fully up in running, the interactive tracker, which constantly being updated in the real time, has unmasked some the most egregious culprits when it comes to air travel
Many to make the list have now been unmasked as hypocrites by the Seattle high schooler, after criticizing others’ efforts to quell climate change. Pictured are offenders 13 through 29, ranked by the emissions they generate each year through private jet travel
Billionaires such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, and stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Z were also among the top offenders. Pictured are the rest of the well-off polluters that rounded out the top 50
However, in a stroke of luck, a company that sold this type of data – which was not named in the Times piece – inexplicably gifted the youngster the information when he reached out and asked.
Shendure – who also runs a website that provides various math activities and services for students and teachers – reportedly told the company that he needed the information for an educational project.
‘They sent it to me, which was really nice of them,’ he told the Times on Tuesday.
After obtaining that elusive data, Shendure proceeded to analyze the information using programming languages Python and R, and went on to build the fully interactive website completely from scratch.
Within weeks, Shendure said that he discovered that well over 100 people who own private jets are emitting at the very least dozens – and in many cases, hundreds – of times what the average American does in a year, solely through flying.
Shendure, a self-professed physics whiz, told The New York Times Tuesday that he came up with the idea after Twitter decided to block an account that had been tracking the private flights of Elon Musk, in December
The realization, Shendure said, came as particularly pronounced due to the fact that Americans boast some of the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world.
‘It was surprising to me that this wasn’t being talked about more,’ he told the paper, adding that he spends most of his free time on the pet project.
Now fully up in running, the interactive tracker, which constantly being updated in the real time, has successfully unmasked some the most egregious culprits when it comes to air travel.
Simultaneously, many to make the list, as previously mentioned, have been unmasked as hypocrites by the Seattle high schooler.
Siebel, along with the prominent Murdoch and DeVos families, rounded out the top three – who collectively account for the same amount of yearly emissions as nearly 850 ordinary Americans.
Other recognizable names to top the teen’s list include New Corp media magnate Rupert Murdoch, 91, whose family’s carbon emissions equal that of 280 typical Americans. Murdoch recently expressed desire to move his media outlets toward a carbon-neutral future
Siebel, the 70-year-old founder of Silicon Valley software company Siebel Systems and the founder and chairman of AI firm C3.ai, has repeatedly voiced concerns over climate change.
Just last month, the tech mogul – who is worth more than $3.5billion – penned an open letter touting the importance of AI in the country’s fight to address the ongoing phenomenon.
In a piece titled ‘Without AI, we won’t meet ESG goals and address climate change,’ Siebel wrote: ‘The world is in a precarious condition due to climate change.
‘Not surprisingly, companies are facing immense pressure from investors and customers to improve their transparency and performance on ESG issues, and many are getting positive feedback for their success.
‘But the current state of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs is not making an adequate difference for climate change fast enough.’
Climate activist Gates – the 13th worst private jet polluter – is seen stepping out of his private jet after taking an Earth-killing flight earlier this month. In a recent interview, Gates – who says his planes use eco-friendly fuel – said that he wasn’t part of the problem
Those assertions came from the single worst offender when it comes to air travel pollutants, who, according to Shendure, spent a full 35 days in the air in 2022, taking more than 458 flights one three different private planes.
Similarly, the second worst polluter according to Shendure’s calculations, News Corp kingpin Murdoch and his clan, recently expressed a desire to move his media outlets in his native Australia toward a more carbon-neutral future.
The change of heart from the 91-year-old mogul – whose media empire includes Fox News – came years of casting doubt on global warming and attacking politicians who favored corrective action as a solution.
The third worst offender, 65-year-old DeVos, is no different – in 2017 she underwent a swift about face in her previously neutral stance toward climate change, which saw the Trump staffer keep quiet about its inherent dangers.
Last year, according to Shendure, the DeVos family – who live in a sprawling, multimillion-dollar, 22,000-square-foot mansion overlooking to Michigan’s Lake Macatawa – took 597 private flights in three aircraft last year, for a total of 911.38 hours, or 37.97 days, in the air.
The third worst offender, 65-year-old Betsy DeVos, is no different – in 2017 she underwent a swift about face in her previously neutral stance toward climate change, which saw the Trump staffer keep quiet about its inherent dangers
In fourth place was American billionaire businessman and climate change advocate Samuel Zell, the founder and chairman of private investment firm Equity Group Investments.
In 2018, Zell’s company issued $400 million in green bonds, expected to generate proceeds of $396.7 million, which the Zell, 81, at the time said would be funneled into green real estate projects.
Last year, Zell took 381 flights in three separate aircraft, for a grand total of 795.81 hours in the air – or just over 33 days.
Other billionaires such as Mike Bloomberg and Robert Kraft, both 81, rounded out the top ten – with each man responsible for just under 3,200 tons of carbon dioxide emissions apiece.
Also near the top of the rankings were fierce climate change activists Gates, 67, and rival Jeff Bezos – both of whom recently defended their private-plane use by saying the fuel they use is ‘sustainable’ and thus eco-friendly.
Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, came in 38th, with the Amazon boss’ jet travel the equivalent of that of 114 average Americans, according to Shendure’s calculations.
Gates, the 13th worst in terms of jet pollution, told BBC earlier this month after being pressed on whether or not he was a hypocrite for espousing climate change warnings – while jetting around the world on his massively polluting private plane – insisted that he was not part of the problem.
Gates, who is worth $117billion, argued that because of the amount of money he pays Climeworks – a company which, for a monthly fee, offsets carbon emissions, he should be exempt from being grouped in with other tone-deaf jet setters.
The Microsoft founder said not only was he ‘comfortable’ with his position, but touted his sustainable-energy research company Breakthrough Energy.
Bezos, meanwhile, came in 38th, with the Amazon boss’ jet travel the equivalent of that of 114 average Americans, according to the schoolboy’s calculations.
Nearing the top 50 was Kardashian, who private jet is pictured here in Cairns, Australia in July of last year. Her personal flights accounted for 1,500 metric tons of emissions -equal to that of more than 99 Americans
Ahead of Bezos were several other A-listers including Seinfeld, Jay Z, and Mark Zuckerberg, all of whom have expressed a desire to address rising green house emissions.
Nearing the top 50 were Kardashian, 42, and storied director Stephen Spielberg, 76, whose personal flights accounted for just under 1,500 metric tons of emissions each -equal to that of more than 99 Americans.
Other notable names to grace the lists included Taylor Swift, 25-year-old Jenner, and Dr Phil, whose 2022 emissions each stood at more than 60 times that of the average American.
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