Elon Musk under fire as flight tracker reveals private jet made 9-minute trip

Tech heavyweight Elon Musk is coming under fire once again after a flight-tracking Twitter account revealed that his private jet took the short trek from San Jose to San Francisco – a flight route that reportedly lasted no more than 9 minutes.

Twitter user Hayden Clarkin reshared a screengrab of the Tesla CEO’s travels, which were originally captured by the automated bot account, @ElonJet, which is one of more than a dozen accounts run by university student Jack Sweeney, a sophomore university student who tracks private-jets owned by celebrities using data from sites such as ADS-B Exchange.

“Elon Musk took a 9 minute flight to San Francisco from San Jose, which is 5 stops on Caltrain. I literally have no words,” tweeted Mr Clarkin, a self-described “Transit Guy” and founder of TransitCon, an annual transit conference that features “the brightest minds in public transit”.

The transit expert emphasised how the same 40-mile trek taken on Caltrain, a California commuter rail line serving the San Francisco Peninsula and Santa Clara Valley, would’ve been just five stops.

“Oh great point, SFO and San Jose would be a stop away from each other on the HSR project he’s tried to derail,” the transit expert added in a follow up tweet, highlighting how Musk has been a vocal critic to the proposed high-speed rail project connecting major cities in California in lieu of his proposed Hyperloop that would traverse passengers along the 380-mile trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 35 minutes.

While experts have cast doubt on the billionaire’s ability to move people at such hypersonic speeds along the California coastline, the SpaceX founder has routinely cast his own aspersions on the prospect of a high-speed rail project in California.

“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory] — doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars — would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” wrote Musk back in 2012 about the high-speed rail project in California, SFist reported.

Regardless of public transit options available to them, the public did not take kindly to once again seeing an ostentatious display of climate crisis flippancy by one of the world’s richest, a trend that has, unseemly as it is, become all too common for some of the country’s top 1 per cent.

“That’s a 40 min drive at most. WTF,” tweeted one user, while another made the hyperbolic comparison of it being equivalent to the billionaire using “an f-15 to his downstairs bathroom”.

Others highlighted the irony that Musk, a businessman whose been touted as being a sustainable transit innovator with his electric car company being among one of the first to offer the fossil-fuel-less alternative, is responsible for an unequal share of CO2 emissions.

“Behold! The man being trusted to create sustainable transport!” tweeted user Tony Arnold.

Not everyone online felt it was worth ostracising the tech executive for his short treks up and down the West Coast. Some even took to pointing out how the country’s own president – who recently signed into law a sweeping bill related to climate, healthcare and taxes that calls for $369 billion in spending on climate and energy programs – had recently travelled on Air Force One from Washington, DC, to Wilmington, Delaware.

“Biden took a 747 from DC to Delaware. 24 minutes,” tweeted one user, while another chimed in asking, “how many stops between DC and Wilmington”?

Some users pointed out how this extra-short trip could be an example of the jet being transferred to a new airport for take-off for another client.

This theory, which was originally proffered by Mr Sweeney last month in response to Kylie Jenner’s viral short flight, was also confirmed by hip-hop star Drake when he wrote last month in response to one of his tracked flights: “This is just them moving planes to whatever airport they are being stored at for anyone who was interested in the logistics… nobody takes that flight.”

An OxFam report from 2020 that tracked the critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth between 1990 and 2015 found that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity.

“The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of the emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015,” the findings from the report read. The richest one per cent were found to be responsible for 15 per cent of emissions during that same time period, which is more than all the citizens of the EU and more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent).

This brazen display of CO2 disregard has not boded well for celebrities in recent months, particularly as more of the world’s population becomes further swayed that governments and individuals should recommit to tackling rising temperatures in the light of extreme weather events that are increasingly becoming the norm.

In July, Kylie Jenner, the reality star turned makeup entrepreneur valued at $900m, was raked across the coals by her young social media following after it was revealed that she’d jettisoned on a 17-minute private flight from Camarillo, Calif., to Van Nuys, Calif. – just 40 miles.

Climate conscious fans of Taylor Swift were also recently disparaged to hear that the pop sensation’s private jet had racked up 170 flights between 1 January and 29 July 2022, with an average flight time of 80 minutes and 139.36 miles per flight, sustainability marketing firm Yard reported earlier this summer.

A spokesperson for Swift has denied the firm’s characterisation of the private jet’s usage, noting that “most or all” of the flights taken by it were done while being “loaned out regularly to other individuals”.

Regardless of who was on board, the firm calculated that, in total, Swift’s jet was responsible for 8,293.54 tonnes of flight emissions in 2022, which is approximately 1,184.8 times more than the average person’s total annual emissions.

Even outside of private jets, the emissions generated from the aviation industry underscores some of the carbon inequality issues facing the world.

For instance, though more than 90 per cent of people globally have never flown, just one per cent of the world’s population is responsible for 50 per cent of emissions from flying.

Around the world, the aviation industry accounted for 2.4 per cent of total CO2 emissions in 2018, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. That figure, though small when considered initially, does camouflage the fact that if the industry were to be ranked as a country in the 2019 national GHG emissions standings, it would come in sixth place

There are also non-CO2 warming effects from the aviation industry that aren’t considered when just observing their emissions. This includes warming from an airplanes’ contrails – which are the “condensation trails” of clouds that people on the ground see trailing behind a jet as it stretches across a blue sky.

The EESI cites an updated analysis from the journal of Atmospheric Environment which includes some of the non-CO2 emissions in the industry’s overall impact on the climate crisis, which found that the climate impact accounted for 3.5 per cent of total anthropogenic warming in 2011 and was likely the same figure in 2018.

More troubling, however, was that the same journal predicts that, based on current passenger growth patterns, commercial aircraft emissions could triple by as early as 2050.