Accuracy in Media

Teen Vogue misinforms its readership by getting confused about statistics in a piece criticizing private jet users and the 1% who produce half of all aviation emissions – but they’re not the same people.

The background to this is the story about Kylie Jenner apparently taking 3-minute flights in her private jet. This could, of course, be true. On the basis of absolutely no research or evidence at all – of course – we would note that it’s the jet’s movements that have been tracked, not those of Jenner. It’s also not unusual for an airplane to land at one airport but then jump to another nearby for longer-term storage. Some places just don’t have long-term parking.

However, in reporting on this story Teen Vogue tells us the following:

Private jets are terrible for the environment, emitting massive amounts of carbon dioxide and used by only a small number of super wealthy people. A 2021 report from Transport and Environment found that only 1% of people cause 50% of aviation emissions.

The link there goes to a report which doesn’t actually mention the 1% and half of emissions, but that sort of linking error can happen to anyone.

What Teen Vogue misses is that private jet users and that 1% are two entirely different groups of people. Private jet users, the billionaires and hundred millionaires, yes sure, their emissions are disproportionate. But that 1% is largely you and me. Assuming that we’re all middle-class types living in a wealthy country, that is indeed us.

Because the 1% being described there is the top 1% of the world’s population. An income (for one person) of $60,000 a year in the U.S. puts you into that top 1% of all global incomes. We can adjust that for household size, country and so on, but that is about where that cut off line is. Most – we would suspect at least – of Teen Vogue’s readership is in households that meet or are at least close to this income range.

The 1% who account for 50% of aviation emissions are not them, those over there with their private jets. They’re us, the readers of Teen Vogue. Which is indeed a different point, isn’t it?

Teen Vogue markets itself as “educating the influencers of tomorrow” and we share that noble goal ourselves. Teen Vogue is also part of the Conde Nast empire and so has the resources to get things right. They gain some 5 million visits a month from their educational work. Largely, as we would all expect, from teenage girls in richer households.

Such education should, we insist, include a certain accuracy with numbers. The global 1% is, with there being 7 billion people out there, 70 million strong. That’s the group who produce that 50% of all aviation emissions. And that group is, in fact, the upper end of the middle class and above in each of the rich countries. The 1% is Teen Vogue’s readership that is, not some other group. Which would be educative to point out, don’t you think?

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