Taylor Swift's bad reputation for CO2 emissions

Last year Swift’s prolific private jet use was brought into focus, writes Thomas Bywater.

Sustainability marketing firm Yard accused two private jets owned by Taylor Swift of generating 8293.54 tonnes in carbon emissions in six months. With flight records showing 170 journeys taken between January and July 2022, it was the largest carbon footprint of a list of celebrities named by the report.

Swift’s two Dassault Falcon jets have clocked up an additional 166 hours of flight time since the US tour began. However, this pales in comparison to the combined emissions of fans travelling to Eras shows.

Many of the audience are expected to travel over 2700km.

The Eras Tour’s carbon emissions appear to reinforce the US pop singer’s position as the climate “Anti-Hero”.

What does 5.3 million tickets look like?

News that there would be no New Zealand or Western Australia dates for the all-stadium tour was met with dismay in June. Not only because of how difficult tickets were to come by, but because Kiwis would then have to schlep their way to Melbourne or Sydney. The only people who seemed thrilled by the idea were airlines and hospitality providers.

Air New Zealand added 2000 additional seats across the Tasman specifically for demand from showgoers.

“We saw a surge in demand for the final day of our Tasman sale with more than 3500 Kiwis booking flights to coincide with concert dates,” said the airline’s chief customer and sales officer, Leanne Geraghty.

Qantas added 16 flights across the ditch, roughly 4800 seats, on top of 11,000 domestic fares to get travellers to shows in Victoria and New South Wales.

While many of these new seats come from upweighting aircraft from Boeing 737s to bigger A330s, there are many flights that would not have happened without the Taylor travel boom. The Aussie airline said it had added 60 new flights in February to cope with a 1500 per cent increase in demand. Planes that would not have taken off if it weren’t for the Eras Tour.

There are 9256 tonnes of additional carbon from additional return airfares from New Zealand alone.

If Taylor will not come to New Zealand, the Kiwis will come to Taylor.

But what’s the morality of hosting a world tour, and can musicians tour the globe without it costing the earth?

27 venues, 19 countries...

Singapore, Australia see Taylor Swift travel boom

Following the release of dates in Australia, fans lucky enough to secure tickets were faced with hotel prices at two and a half times the standard rate. Online fan forums were awash with claims that accommodation in the city had spiked to $400-$500 a night.

“The problem is a lot of people will HAVE to fly,” says concert-goer Ash Louise.

She was planning travel from Brisbane having secured a ticket in Melbourne. An 18-hour drive is not practical, especially if she has to be back at work for Monday.

It’s not only in Australasia that this effect is being seen, but across the Pacific.

Southeast Asia might be the region that has seen the largest uptick in Taylor-related air travel. Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines were similarly snubbed for Eras Tour dates, despite enormous demand. Instead, six dates were added to the Singapore National Stadium. It is the longest run of shows anywhere on the tour circuit.

Some 22 million users registered for access to the 330,000 available tickets during the July 7 general sale.

With six shows between March 2 and 9 next year, the city state has become the centre of a pop music pilgrimage. Airfares, accommodation and travel costs have skyrocketed.

There has been a huge surge in travel bookings from the Philippines, with many making the 2400km journey from Manila. Airfares for the route on Singapore Airlines between February 29 and March 8 were already double the cost of the prior month.

The Philippines has a fanatical fan base of Taylor Swift music, second only to the US. According to Spotify streaming data, the superstar has had 230 chart appearances there, with nine number 1 hit singles.

One Taylor Swift tragic told the Straits Times he had spent $3600 for flights and accommodation after securing tickets.

“I’ve never been to Singapore, but [I’d do] anything to see Taylor Swift,” he said.

Although Singapore Airlines could not divulge whether they were considering adding additional services, a spokesperson for the airline told the Herald it is standard practice to add more flights in the face of prevailing demand.

“While we’re unable to provide specific figures on year-on-year trends on bookings into Singapore due to commercial sensitivities, we have seen continued strong demand in our forward bookings into 2024, including through March.”

Other airlines including Malaysian Airlines and Jetstar were already upping services to the city on the straits, from Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. While much of this follows seasonal demand, the cost of flights over the week of Swift’s tours has soared by between 50 and 130 per cent.

A representative for Taylor Swift’s management had previously said that the production was offsetting the show’s carbon emissions.

“Before the tour kicked off in March of 2023, Taylor purchased more than double the carbon credits needed to offset all tour travel,” a spokesperson told Insider and JetSpy in August.

However, the Herald could not obtain an exact tonnage of offsets from the tour management nor information on whether the calculations included audience travel or just travel undertaken by the two Dassault jets, N621MM and N898TS.

In either case, offsetting travel is not the same as reducing travel emissions.

As other touring production companies have shown, carbon credits are one tool for addressing sustainability, but it is always preferable to reduce overall travel rather than offset fuel that needn’t be burned.

The moral dilemma of music touring

We are in a golden age for blockbuster shows and live performances. The pyrotechnics are brighter, the uniforms larger, the music louder.

Given the slump in recording artists’ earnings from around $1.50 per record to about $0.003 to $0.005 for an online stream, touring has become ever more important. It’s not surprising that eight of the 10 largest-grossing tours of all time took place in the past decade. On that league table, the Eras Tour already ranks at number 2, following Swift’s US shows.

With tickets to Swift’s Australian shows costing between $86 and $412 - and each show being attended by more concert-goers than most artists see album sales in a year - the stadium tour is the new focal point for pop stars on the make.

This renewed focus on travel and touring also comes at a time when artists are facing greater scrutiny for carbon credentials.

Billboard and logistics trade magazine Commercial Truck Trader estimated the Eras Tour relied on between 50 and 90 semi-trucks to drive between Taylor Swift’s 146 US shows this year.

The last time the superstar appeared in Auckland, her show logistics arrived in two Antonov AN-124–100 planes - a Ukrainian-made heavy transport plane more often used to transport battle tanks and rocket thrusters, with a thirsty fuel consumption of 12.6 tons of A1 Avgas per hour.

However, by far the largest sustainability consideration when it comes to a stadium-sized tour is still the transport of a combined 100,000 concert-goers - especially when airlines are required to put on additional flights to accommodate them.

Bigger might not necessarily be better for all aspects of touring, or the planet.

Taylor’s pair of swift Dassault Falcons
Last year Taylor Swift came under scrutiny over a pair of private jets, a Dassault Falcon 7X and a Dassault Falcon 900, N621MM and N898TS. Swift’s jets have taken a combined 140 flights since the Eras tour kicked off in March 2023.
The planes are so prolific they have an automated social media account, tracking their every movement: @taylorswiftjets.
230 flights and counting.

Last year UK musicians ColdPlay’s half-a-billion dollar extravaganza, the Music Of The Spheres Tour, tapped into the fact that pop concerts needed greater environmental accountability.

As ColdPlay’s lead songwriter Chris Martin put it, the musicians were “very conscious” of the climate crisis. The Fix You singer was equally aware there were huge levels of emissions and a massive amount of plastic that goes to waste. (“... When you lose something you can’t replace”.)

In June the band said in a statement they had still fallen short of their self-imposed target of a 50 per cent reduction on CO2e per show, compared to their 2016 world tour. The 47 per cent reduction was commendable, except for the fact it had “not included fan travel to and from the venue in our direct emission figures”.

Beyond accusations of “greenwashing”, some environmentalists were encouraged that tours were making an effort to become more energy efficient.

MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, which was tasked with auditing the show’s sustainability, said the exercise showed the vast volume of emissions that come from a production of this scale.

Professor John Fernandez of MIT said it was a wake-up call that the touring industry needs to “take seriously the reality of living and making music in the Anthropocene”.

In the tour’s sustainability pledge, fans were encouraged to use low-carbon transport to and from shows and to offset travel by planting at least one tree per ticket bought. However, the tour organisers had few ways to accurately calculate the distance travelled by showgoers.

Whether tour organisers can find better emission economy by offering more but smaller performances - or alternatively, by relying on concertgoers to travel internationally to fill larger venues - is a tough problem to solve. But travel is a big part of the equation.

Sustainability is arguably the least sexy part of international pop music. When 90,000 fans cram into Wembley Stadium next June during the Eras Tour, you can guarantee not one of them will be there for the carbon credits or compostable cups.

While ColdPlay fell short of their proposed sustainability goals, they did go some way to accountability and a long way to raising the issue with audience members. But if concerts are punished for reporting emissions targets, there is less incentive for tours to have them.

As Swiss pop-philosopher Alain de Botton recognised back in 2014, celebrities like Taylor Swift and climate change are inextricably linked.

In his book News: A User’s Manual, he half-jokingly said that in the battle for interest between the American chart-topper and Antarctic ice levels, climate change doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

“We are interested in Taylor Swift’s legs not because we are evil - but because we are wired in unhelpful ways,” de Botton wrote.

“If we are going to be interested en masse in the defrosting poles, we need to take our fragilities on board and therefore get serious, very serious, about trying to make important news not just ‘important’, but also beguiling - almost as tempting to hear about as Taylor’s legs. Then things stand a chance of changing.”