Taylor Swift Can Be the Climate Hero We Need Now

Originally published by Joseph Romm for Moms Clean Air Force on February 5, 2024.

One of the most viral zingers from last year—the hottest year on record—was this tweet thumb-slammed in response to the global news of America’s beloved pop star taking up with Kansas City Chief’s All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce: “I wish Taylor Swift was in love with a climate scientist.” She’s not, but we climate-concerned folks still stan her.

Why? Because we know that the 14-time Grammy winner could spur massive action on climate change, which, unlike the outcome of the Super Bowl LVIII, will affect all of us beyond imagining. After all, she knows from “Cruel Summers.”

The first thing Taylor needs to do to be a climate hero is to take a look at her emissions. If we are being honest, right now she’s being a climate “Anti-Hero” in at least one important way: her flying preferences.

In mid-2022, her private jet was named “biggest celebrity CO2e polluter this year so far.” Of the toxic contributors that the wealthy have access to, private jets are probably the worst. Taylor has two. A 2023 study found the wealthiest 1% of air travelers cause half of all aviation emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. It is a staggering—“It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me”—stat.

To her credit, Swift has invested in carbon offsets—where you pay someone else to (supposedly) reduce their emissions or plant enough trees to balance your emissions, so the impact of your harmful output is seemingly minimized. A spokesperson explained that Taylor bought twice as many carbon credits “needed to offset all tour travel.” Understandably, though her heart is clearly in the right place, Taylor Swift has fallen for the shameless greenwashing that offsets sailed in on.

“The large majority are not real or are over-credited or both,” as one expert told me for a paper I wrote about the trend. That’s why so many companies, like Nestlé and Shell, abandoned them last year, and Taylor should follow suit. After all, she is an expert on things that look good but are really not: “Oh, my God, look at that face. You look like my next mistake” and “You’ll come back each time you leave ’cause, darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” come to mind.

Taylor cares about climate disruption and the environment. In a 2020 interview, she said climate change was one of the “horrific situations that we find ourselves facing right now,” especially young people. And with her carbon credit purchases, she’s demonstrated her willingness to try out solutions. We hope she’ll consider these steps to raise the urgency of the climate issue.

STEP 1: Investments > offsets

Taylor Swift is in a position to make some very big statements about the mess we are in. In October, Bloomberg reported her net worth had hit $1.1 billion. If we may be so bold, why not create a climate fund to help finance renewable energy in developing countries? She could seed it with $100 million plus 10% of the future gross revenues of all her music and concerts. She could get other musicians to kick in money the way Bill Gates gets other billionaires to boost his efforts.

STEP 2: Get out the youth vote again and then some more

Another great strategy is one she has deployed already on a small scale. Taylor registered nearly 40,000 people last September after posting an Instagram Story for 24 hours urging her fans to do so at Vote.org.

Experts say a boost in young voter turnout could make the difference this year in swing states like Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona. Young people and women—her audiences—care about climate. A November poll found that climate-focused youth were much more likely to say they would vote in 2024.

Taylor can motivate political engagement and drive change. She can make another several major pushes nationally and in key states—first for voter registration and then for actually getting out to vote. Given her huge fan base, she truly could be the one who makes the difference.

STEP 3: We need a great climate anthem

Finally, Swift can devote some of her world-class storytelling talents to writing a catchy and smart—really, does anybody do it better than her?—climate song or two. She’s already written one political anthem in “Only The Young,” for her blockbuster 2019 Netflix documentary Miss Americana. A 2021 analysis of her albums Folklore and Evermore found she “uses nature-themed words seven times as frequently as the other pop songs do.” Nature metaphors spring up everywhere in her songs: “With you, I’d dance in a storm in my best dress fearless” and “The drought was the very worst when the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst.”

That last line is a metaphor for the death of a once-flourishing relationship and the dreams and hopes that withered as a result. If Taylor comes to see that one of the greater things she could do is become a climate hero, maybe global warming won’t wither her fans’ dreams and hopes.

So come on, Taylor Swift: Give us a climate ballad of epic proportions, one that will last for generations.

Joseph Romm is a senior research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT and has authored 10 books including, “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.” He is writing a book about Taylor Swift’s storytelling secrets.