Kylie Jenner has been called a lot of things over the years but this week she got a new title: “climate criminal.”
Over the weekend, Jenner posted a photo on Instagram of herself and her partner, Travis Scott, embracing between two private jets. “you wanna take mine or yours?” she wrote.
The post was ostentatious and braggy, so it’s not surprising that it went viral. But the backlash took on a different tone than the typical Kardashian family hate.
People on the internet decided that by parading her use of private jets, which are notoriously bad for the environment, Jenner was showcasing how little she cares about climate change. Then, someone on Twitter dug up the flight log of Jenner’s jet, which showed she had taken flights as short as 17 minutes to get around Los Angeles (the account originally misreported the flight time as three minutes).
After that, all internet hell broke loose. Jenner was written up as a prime example of a “super-rich” person who doesn’t care about the environment. Gizmodo declared that Jenner was zooming around while the “world is on fire,” while Relevant magazine advised, “Kylie Jenner Should Throw Her Private Jet Into the Trash.”
People also went after her on social media.
“Kylie Jenner truly is one of the worst celebrities out there 😭 not her flexing her absolute disregard for the planet,” one person wrote on Twitter.
“kylie jenner takes 12 minute plane rides. idgaf how pretty you are that’s ugly and so overly privileged 😂,” another wrote.
This information sparked a multiday news cycle — BuzzFeed News covered it too — that shows no sign of slowing down. But the pile-on has followed a familiar pattern. As US news has grown more and more dire, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to upend our lives, the Jan. 6 hearings, and the fall of Roe v. Wade, the general population has found lots of public figures to rage against. People have blasted celebrities for being out of touch and flouting COVID restrictions, while influencers and creators are hounded online for either not sharing their opinions on issues like gun control, or not sharing them fast enough. People leave hateful comments on celebrities’ social media accounts as if they expect them to solve all of society’s problems.
It makes sense that people are angry. Jenner and her rich celebrity friends are highlighting their wealth while the country might be hurtling toward a recession, and inflation means that people are struggling to afford basics. But the intensity and vitriol of the pile-on that has befallen Jenner this week say more about how people feel in our current moment than about the star herself (after all, Jenner is far from the only rich person jetting around).
As the bad news keeps coming, I know I have started to feel completely helpless. When it comes to climate change, the future often feels like it’s out of our control. Many people voted for Democrats, believing the party’s promises to prioritize environmental issues. But last week, Sen. Joe Manchin effectively doomed his party’s climate and energy bill, which was designed to combat some of the effects of the warming planet, when he said he would not vote for it. The New York Times then declared that the Democrats had “nothing to show for” their months of efforts to curb the crisis. That capped off a month of bad climate news; just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court blocked the EPA’s ability to effectively fight the crisis by putting restrictions on its ability to control emissions from power plants, and over the past few days, there have been hundreds of headlines about the record-breaking heat wave in the UK.
For the average person who may want to make a difference, this kind of news can be devastating. News outlets are even writing about how to cope with “climate change anxiety,” with CNBC reporting, “If you find yourself feeling hopeless whenever you think or read about climate change, don’t worry: There’s a scientific explanation.” According to environmental psychologist Thomas Doherty, this anxiety can be dealt with by reducing your news consumption and practicing stress reduction, and by accepting that any individual can only do so much about the problem themselves.
That feeling of hopelessness has been pervasive in the discourse surrounding Jenner’s jet flights. Many people tweeted that reading about the controversy has made their small efforts to try to do something to help the planet seem even more futile.
“Europe is on fire, meanwhile Kylie Jenner is taking 15-minute trips in her private jet,” one person tweeted. “I could recycle everything, buy all my clothes second hand, compost and grow my own food for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t even begin to offset the footprint from one of her flights.”
The seeming uselessness of efforts like the push to switch from plastic to paper straws became a meme in the wake of the controversy.
“kylie jenner is out here taking 3 minute flights with her private jet but i’m the one who has to use paper straws,” someone wrote on Twitter.
Is this the most healthy way to channel our anger and rage? Maybe not, but it’s one of the most accessible outlets. Perhaps Jenner should take the 405 next time. But while her plane use might not be socially responsible, she’s not the biggest climate villain we have.
All these posts reveal one basic truth. The hate against Jenner is at least partly about the fact that in the face of climate disaster, most people feel completely helpless to do anything to stop it. But they can yell at a rich celebrity on social media, and that’s cathartic, at least. ●