From my earliest memories, I’ve been enamored with Taylor Swift’s music, vibrant style and empowering creative nature.
My love for Taylor has followed me through each of life’s stages; from a carefree young girl with her earliest albums synced to my hot pink iPod Nano, to an angsty teenager desperate for her own Reputation era, to now, as a full-grown woman with a more real understanding of the lyrics and messages.
I know all of Taylor’s songs, own each of her albums and have seen her in concert five times. I even survived the Ticketmaster warzone to successfully secure my tickets to her much sought-after 2023 tour, The Eras Tour.
I’m as close to a “Swiftie” as you can get, yet in recent years I’ve struggled with an interpersonal dilemma between my admiration for Swift as a celebrity and my unwavering desire to advocate for environmental sustainability.
Swift has procured a massive carbon footprint, and in 2022 she topped the list of the biggest celebrity polluter of the year through her private jet use, according to Yard, an environmental marketing firm. Fellow offenders included celebrities like Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian, who collectively took hundreds of flights throughout the year.
This left me questioning myself, wondering if I could remain a fan of someone and simultaneously call them out for their mistakes. I asked myself why I would bother practicing environmentally friendly habits when it is so easily offset by the actions of billionaires.
It’s okay for students to feel conflicted and discouraged in these situations, but staying environmentally conscious should remain a top priority even when it feels useless. An individual calling out their favorite celebrity’s shortcomings is a necessary and important way to start meaningful conversations that can spark universal change.
Taking a private jet comes with the territory of being a touring artist and one of the most famous women in the world. However, the extent of Swift’s disregard for the environment, especially since her whirlwind relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce began, has grown indefensible for me.
Due to her popularity, Swift certainly can’t hop on a commercial flight or an Amtrak train with the general public, but she could fly less, travel shorter distances by car or stay in locations for longer periods of time rather than fly back and forth.
From September to December 2023, Swift’s private jet bounced between tour venues, recording studios and football stadiums, emitting 138 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In comparison, the average American produces about 16 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit.
Human activities, like the use of private and commercial air travel, have raised the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content by 50 percent in less than 200 years, according to NASA.
When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it warms the planet and leads to climate change, which has several serious consequences for the environment and public health. Some effects include changes in temperature and patterns of rainfall and worsening air and water quality, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
To offset the environmental damage caused by a few months of Swift’s flights, nearly 2,300 trees would have to be planted and allowed to grow for a decade, The Economic Times reported.
MaryKate O’Donnell is a fan of Swift’s music but has been disappointed by her recent lack of environmental consciousness, she said.
“[Swift] is a big influence on people in general and I always thought she would be more considerate of things like that, especially since she has such a large platform,” said O’Donnell, a senior recreational therapy major. “To be taking your private jet to just go to a football game is a lot.”
Admiring Swift doesn’t have to equate to blind allegiance and acknowledging the damage she is causing is the right thing to do, as saving our planet is more urgent now than ever.
Climate change is already directly causing crises like displacement, floods, heatwaves, hurricanes and wildfires that are increasing in frequency and intensity. As a result, environmental changes are expected to cause around 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 from undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, according to the World Health Organization.
“I think that you can still appreciate the artists and appreciate what they’re doing and still call them out when they’re clearly doing something that’s either harming the environment, harming other people or harming themselves,” O’Donnell said.
College students, most of whom are members of Gen Z, are one of the most eco-friendly generations yet, with Gen Z influencing other generations toward sustainability, according to a November 2021 study by First Insight, a digital testing platform.
As someone committed to minimizing my environmental impact and combating climate change, I’ve embraced practices in my daily life like recycling and reducing waste, curbing my energy use at home and limiting my reliance on air and car travel whenever possible.
Sometimes I feel like these efforts are wasted when I’m confronted with the reality of a celebrity like Swift, whose fame and privilege grants them access to luxuries that contribute significantly to environmental destruction.
Globally, the 10 percent of the population with the highest income accounts for nearly half of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations.
Rebecca Collins, Temple’s director of sustainability, believes it’s important for students to be critical of the wealthy but also focus on what they can control in their personal lives, she said.
“Collectively as a society, non-celebrities far outweigh celebrities, and so what we do as a society has a bigger impact than what one individual celebrity is doing or collective celebrities are doing,” Collins said.
Although the damage caused by famous and wealthy populations can feel impossible to overcome, the reality is their actions alone won’t offset the power of millions of young individuals making environmentally conscious choices.
“You have to really think about where you have control in your life, so how you’re getting around the city, how you’re getting to school, what you’re eating, how much you’re buying,” Collins said. “I think by just asking yourself those types of questions, especially when it comes to consumption, those are things that you have the ability to influence and really can have a tremendous impact.”
There are a plethora of simple and affordable ways for students to practice sustainability and make a positive difference on the environment. Easy ways for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint include using public transportation, cleaning up outdoors, investing money in sustainable businesses and eating more vegetables, according to the UN.
Rory Sacchi, a sophomore public health major and Taylor Swift fan, tries her best to be sustainable and eco-conscious in her daily life, she said.
“I think in general, I’m pretty environmentally friendly,” Sacchi said. “I use reusable water bottles, I don’t use much plastic. Now that we have a kitchen, we wash and dry our plates, we don’t use disposables.”
Simple steps like these reduce individual carbon footprints and help create a more sustainable future. Additionally, students can have an impact by using their voices through voting and electing officials who are dedicated to slowing climate change and improving the health of the environment.
Voting can have an impact on the environment through the policies and decisions made by elected officials. The Supreme Court and Congress often have the ability to make rulings and create laws that affect the environment, the economy and ordinary citizens.
“Remembering that as a person you have your consumer voice, so where you’re spending your money, how you’re making choices in your daily life, but then you also have a responsibility and an opportunity to express that opinion or those values through voting and electing political leaders,” Collins said.
By choosing candidates who prioritize sustainability and environmental protection, students can contribute to positive changes to benefit their communities and the planet.
In the face of environmental challenges that are amplified by the actions of the wealthy, who are sometimes celebrity idols, the complex feelings that come along with it can be difficult to navigate.
“It’s not like I don’t appreciate you or respect you as a person,” Sacchi said. “I can still follow you, but if you’re not making a change, then it’s gonna be a little harder to listen to the music.”
Students should remain dedicated to their values and continue practicing sustainability for the good of the planet but also take comfort in the knowledge that wanting their idol to do better is not an unreasonable expectation. Instead, it is an affirmation of love for the earth, which each individual has a responsibility to protect.
Students can contribute to a healthier and more harmonious environment through action, activism and encouragement. Everyone has the power to shape a more sustainable future and foster a much-needed eco-friendly era.