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Climate and Environment

In Van Nuys, Activists Protest Outsize Climate Impact Of Super-Rich

People hold large yellow banners reading "the 1% flies, our planet dies" and "ban private jets." Two people sit on top of a pink wooden tower with a pink plane at the top that has black lettering reading "1%"
Members of the L.A. chapter of climate activist groups Extinction Rebellion and Scientist Rebellion blocked the entrance to the parking lot of a private jet company outside Van Nuys Airport, on Nov. 10, 2022.
(Erin Stone
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Local climate activists blocked the entrance to a private jet company outside Van Nuys Airport early Thursday morning. They were calling for a ban on private jets and drawing attention to how wealthy jet-setters are fueling global heating.

The protest was part of a global action Thursday by Extinction Rebellion, a climate action group with chapters all over the world that primarily spreads their message through acts of civil disobedience.

“The primary message here is ‘ban private jets,’” said Karen Morgaine, a sociology professor at Cal State Northridge and participant in the protest. “But I think the overall message is to educate people more about the disproportionate impact that the ultra-wealthy have on our climate crisis. Their impact is demonstrably much higher than your average person.”

While aviation emissions contribute a small portion of total human-caused emissions, private jets have a disproportionate impact and are among the biggest per capita sources of pollution — they can spew more than 2 tons of carbon in a single hour. The average American contributes 14.5 tons of carbon in a whole year.

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Morgaine said private jet pollution reflects a global problem.

"It's also a microcosm of the larger issue, which is that ultra-wealthy countries like the U.S. have a disproportionate impact," she said.  

The unequal impacts of the climate crisis—and who should pay for them—has been a big theme at this week's global climate conference in Egypt, called COP27. From a local to global level, the people and countries contributing the least to climate pollution are experiencing some of the worst consequences.

China and the U.S. spew the most emissions every year, but the U.S. is responsible by far for the largest historical share of emissions that are causing climate impacts we see today, such as more extreme heat and severe droughts. Emissions started dramatically climbing after the Industrial Revolution.

Morgaine and several other protestors chained themselves to a pink wooden pylon with a plane fashioned on top with "1%" painted in black on the tail.

Dylan Kidd, another protestor who chained himself to the pylon, said he hopes their actions spur change among the rich and the famous.

"I just don't see how getting rid of your private jet is going to somehow, like, destroy your lifestyle or your business," Kidd said. "We want the elites to be competing with each other to see who can get rid of their private jet and be cool first."

He said banning private jets is "low-hanging fruit."

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Police arrived to monitor the scene mid-morning. They said they would eventually arrest or cite the activists if they didn't stop blocking the business entrance.

After several hours of chanting and singing, the protest ended in the afternoon with no arrests.

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