Elon Musk flies private jets more than any other billionaire—releasing over 2,000 tons of carbon emissions in his wake

May 1, 2023, 8:29 PM UTC
Photo of Elon Musk
A new report names Elon Musk as the most active private jet user in the U.S.
SUZANNE CORDEIRO / Contributor—Getty Images

Elon Musk dreams of colonizing Mars, but here on Earth he’s settled for frequent flier of the sky. The Twitter, Tesla, and SpaceX CEO, and world’s second-richest man, also holds the title of most active private jet user in the U.S., according to a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Patriotic Millionaires. Musk has tried to keep details regarding private jet use private, famously suspending an account from college student Jack Sweeney, and this report establishes just how much Musk flies privately—it’s a lot.

The report from the left-leaning IPS and the Patriotic Millionaires, who regularly urge the government to raises taxes on them, looked at Wealth-X data regarding the relative net worths of jet owners, as well as Federal Aviation Administration user data, along with public information regarding figures like Musk.

Clocking in at a little under one flight every two days, the report found Musk’s travels consumed 837,934 liters of jet fuel and produced 2,112 tons of CO2 emissions just last year—132 times that of the average American. He’s been expanding his collectibles; Musk owns four jets and recently dropped $78 million on a Gulfstream G700, intended to replace his Gulfstream G650ER.

While climate change is a man-made global issue, research like this has found that some particular men are making the crisis bigger, as companies and high-net-worth individuals tend to account for especially hefty individual contributions. This report puts a number on the environmental cost of five-minute flights typical of Musk and other private jet fliers. Wealthy jet fliers release at least 10 times more pollutants per passenger than regular air flights, explain the authors. Private plane usage has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, as the pandemic divided people into their own bubbles. It all means that the wealthiest 1% is responsible for a Godzilla-size carbon footprint, with the report arguing that 1% of the population are likely responsible for half of all air-related carbon emissions. And Musk, the top of the 1%, is an even bigger proportion within that small group.

The affluent’s greater share of pollution has led the IPS and Patriotic Millionaires to call for a jet fuel tax. Recommending Musk pay an extra $3.94 million in taxes—a drop in the (dwindling) water for Musk, who, even with his Twitter shopping spree taking out at least a $20 billion chunk of his fortune, is worth $187.1 billion.

A 2022 Oxfam study found that the richest billionaires emit on average more than 1 million times the carbon dioxide each year as 90% of the population does. Billionaires are also investing in companies that generate greater emissions, Oxfam found; each year the scale of emissions from billionaires’ investments was the same as the yearly carbon emissions in all of France.

It’s not just planes. Ultrawealthy individuals are more likely to contribute to the water crisis with amenities like manicured gardens and pools. Leonardo DiCaprio’s favorite yachts are also carbon wastelands. An analysis of billionaires from 2018 found that two-thirds of their carbon emissions were traced back to superyachts

At the end of the day, inequality ends up costing us all. In 2021, the median household income in the U.S. was $70,784. Musk’s “realized compensation” from Tesla was $23.5 billion in the same year, notwithstanding his profits from other companies down the line. All that extra money gives Musk some more pocket money to spend on his jets.

Busy dealing with the buggy and increasingly alt-right platform that is Twitter, Musk might be more on the move as he attempts to improve upon his latest investment while juggling his other ventures. A Washington Post analysis found that much of his air traffic in 2018 was dedicated to his work, and some for family (and both have increased in the years since). Musk’s insistence on being in person, whether with a bodyguard in the bathroom or not, has also likely led to the need for higher jet usage as he bops from company to company to monitor workers’ attendance. Known for praising his own attendance at Tesla factories and sleeping on the floor, his solution for a struggling company seems to be showing up in person. 

“Until we can teleport, there’s unfortunately no alternative that would allow him to do his job as effectively,” Tesla spokesman Dave Arnold previously told the Post. SpaceX did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

Musk’s already limited time might be better spent curbing his own carbon emissions and addressing an environmental crisis rather than fixating on the underpopulation crisis he’s been vocal about (despite the UN saying the world’s population will continue to grow). If Musk really wants people to build families or much less build a future for their children, he might want to cool his jets on the jet-setting.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Great ResignationCompensationReturn to WorkCareersLaborSuccess Stories