Richard Branson

Article excerpt

Byline: Sharon Begley

His empire includes airlines, mobile phones, digital publishing, and space travel. Why the billionaire high-school dropout has added climate change to his agenda.

You have said that on global climate change, governments cannot lead by themselves. What role do you believe governments should play?

I don't think governments can lead alone on anything, really. I think the world is moving much more to a world where the business community has to work closely with governments in helping them get a lot of problems resolved. And I'm a strong believer that business should be a force for good, not just a money-making machine for its shareholders. When it comes to climate change, business has to play its part, because governments have largely forsaken the world and not grasped the nettle. I think if governments were to set the rules by which we all played, to incentivize industry to move in a particular direction, that would really help us get on top of the problem.

Are you surprised by the intensity of climate denialism in America, including among candidates just elected to Congress?

The scientific community is not skeptical, you know. But let's assume the odds [of climate disaster] were only 50/50. If you have a 50 percent chance of getting knocked over by a car crossing the road, you're going to take out insurance, or you're not going to cross the road. And it just seems to me that at the very least we should be taking out insurance. But more than that, in America I don't even talk about global warming anymore. I just talk about the fact that the resources are being depleted fast. Even the skeptics must realize that we are fast running out of oil, that we're only a few years away from demand for oil exceeding supply, which could create the mother of all recessions if fuel goes up to $150, $200 a barrel, and that the West should not be reliant on foreign oil from a stability point of view. So I think whichever way you look at it, we must try to find clean fuels. It's up to business to innovate, to come up with fuels that can power our planes that don't emit carbon, with ways of utilizing the sun and the wind at a fraction of what it currently costs. And it's up to governments to set ground rules that encourage clean energy, home-produced energy, by not taxing it at all whilst the industries are in their infancy and replacing the taxes they've lost with slightly higher taxes on the dirty energy.

Why did you set up a Carbon War Room?

We decided that carbon being the enemy--some people argue that carbon is as big an enemy as World War I and World War II put together, and you could throw in a possible third world war as well--then where is the war room? …