In July 2022, Soapbox Project launched a justice-centered writing fellowship. This is Gabrielle Nebeker's inaugural column, Pop Climate. Gabrielle is on a mission to talk about the cultural moments that matter, because everything we choose to consume (or not) has an impact on the environment, including every pop culture moment and meme that crosses our timelines. Welcome to Pop Climate.
I am a longtime Kardashian viewer. I watched for years, turning on E! whenever I was in need of the familiar and comforting bickering, hijinks, and excess of the Kardashian-Jenner clan. If you do not find yourself in the same boat, please bear with me. I am not here to give you updates on the latest business venture, child, or scandal spawned from Kris Jenner’s strategic mind.
This is the first article in a new column for Soapbox Project: Pop Climate. Because everything we do or don’t do, or consume or choose not to consume affects the climate in some way - be it positive or negative - and I am on a mission to talk about it all. This is true for every pop culture moment or meme that comes across our timelines.
So what is the climate story for the Kardashians, you ask? Well I am sure there are many, and I - frankly - cannot promise this is the last time I’ll mention them in this column! But today I want to talk about Kim Kardashian’s cashmere private jet. That sentence alone contains multiple climate stories, but I was particularly struck by the pride Kim exuded as she showed the producers of the docuseries around the brand new private plane.
Rap music plays softly in the background as Kim emerges from her car and takes a video of the shiny beige aircraft. “It’s, like, so pretty,” Kim comments in the trademark Kardashian monotone, filming a video that I can only assume was broadcast to her millions of Instagram followers. Once on the jet, Kim proceeds to show Hulu viewers around the custom wood, paint, bathrooms, and aforementioned cashmere details in a way that was reminiscent of an old episode of MTV Cribs.
But MTV Cribs premiered in 2000, long before climate change was at the forefront of so many minds. That was a year before the U.S. Supreme Court declared George W. Bush our president, six years before Al Gore released An Inconvenient Truth. (To be fair, it was also 3 years after the Kyoto Protocol was ratified, 10 years after the first IPCC report, and over 40 years after certain big oil companies knew what was going on). Given all we know about climate change, why haven’t we, as a culture, outgrown gratuitous shows of wealth? What was once at best aspirational and at worst envy-inducing, is now a visual reminder of the damage overconsumption has on our environment - and our future.
And yet, the Kardashians built an empire showing us inside their museum-like mansions. There is an entire channel devoted to elaborately renovating houses most of us will never be able to afford. MTV Cribs is still on! We spend our nights deep in scrolling TikToks that show us fashion hauls or home transformations in 6 seconds made possible with an Amazon prime membership and a little DIY-spirit.
I am not here to tell you we can carbon-footprint shame our way out of climate change. However, Kim should feel too ashamed to use such a jet, which emitted 2 tons of CO2 in a recent 17-minute flight, let alone brag about.
Private jets are only one small part of the glamorous lifestyles of the rich and carbon emitting. Mansions suck up energy and just one requires the chopping down of about 380 trees to build; fashion trends set by influencers crowd landfills to the tune of 11 million tons of textile waste from the U.S. alone; and the cosmetics they sell us fill our oceans with plastics - adding to the 14 million tons of microplastics already there. The top 10 percent of emitters are responsible for nearly half of all CO2 emissions. The world’s wealthiest 1% have a carbon footprint 175 times the size of those in the bottom 10%. Why - given everything we know, and all the horror climate change is inflicting upon us today - are these material accomplishments still considered a source of pride? Why are they still the dream?
In order to have a more livable future for all, the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and famous can no longer be the goal. Mainstream American culture - which is responsible for the majority of historic carbon emissions - has to stop idolizing unnecessary luxury and speed, the latest fashion trend, the perfect mansions in the car-dominated suburbs, and instead choose different goals. We have to dream of sustainable public transport, rapid renewable energy development, clean water for all, and communities and governments that provide the support necessary to live in a threatening climate. We need goals that foster community, equity, justice, and a future that allows all people to thrive - not just those with the last name of Kardashian or Jenner.