Join 3,523 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Branson puts his money where his mouth is
September 21, 2006 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Branson makes $3bn climate pledge Following, perhaps, the recent philanthropic example of Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group has pledged to donate 100% of the profits from his transportation interests for the next ten years to fight global warming. Given California's recent lawsuit against auto manufacturers for contributing to global warming (previously), could this be a way to blunt similar criticisms and liability generated by contributions from Virgin Group's own activities?
posted by kcds (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
No matter what the motivation is, that's a pretty awesome thing to do, IMO.
posted by rmless at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2006


"Take the calculation further: flying a fully laden A380 is, in terms of energy, like a 14km (nine-mile) queue of traffic on the road below. And that is just one aircraft. In 20 years, Airbus reckons, 1,500 such planes will be in the air. By then, the total number of airliners is expected to have doubled, to 22,000. The super-jumbos alone would be pumping out carbon dioxide (CO2) at the same rate as 5m cars."
* * *
"What this means is that the eco-conscious European consumer who jets off for a series of weekend breaks is destroying his day-to-day carbon parsimony. You can buy a hybrid car, switch to low-energy light bulbs in your house and eat locally grown organic food. But the dozen daily decisions on which you base your husbandry are trivial compared with the handful of yearly choices about that holiday or this business trip."


--The Economist, June 2006

Virgin Atlantic's Fleet consists of the following as of August 2006:

5 Airbus A340-300
16 Airbus A340-600 (further 10 on order)
13 Boeing 747-400
0 Airbus A380-800 (6 on order)

(source)

(not making judgments, just putting out facts to inform the debate.)
posted by pardonyou? at 8:57 AM on September 21, 2006


The few times I've travelled on VA flights I loved it. Nice seats, great service. Now let me be devil's advocate:

"The funds will be invested in schemes to develop new renewable energy technologies, through an investment unit called Virgin Fuels. "

So in other words he setup an R&D department as a charity. I'm OK with that as long as they share their discoveries rather than patenting everything and turing it back into a business.
posted by StarForce5 at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2006


pardonyou?:

Flying a fully laden A380 is, in terms of energy, like a 14km (nine-mile) queue of traffic on the road below.

Flying it for how long and for what distance? Same thing for the nine mile queue of traffic - how many cars does that involve? How many people? Going for how long for what amount of time? Whoever wrote this article should not be doing anything relating to economics at all. I mean consider the following quote from the aforementioned article:

"That may not seem much compared with the 60m vehicles that pour off assembly lines every year—or the 1 billion vehicles already on the world's roads. But whereas cars are used roughly for about an hour or so a day, long-haul jet airliners are on the move for at least 10 hours a day. And they burn tax-free, high-octane fuel, which dumps hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the most sensitive part of the atmosphere."

I think this person is a little fuzzy on a difference and use of cars and planes. A car that travels an hour usually travels a distance of around 45 miles or so (rough estimate). The same car usually carries, let's say 2 people. So that's 2 people going 45 miles in 1 hour.

A plane like the A380 can carry as 853 people. And if it's flying for 10 hours the distance it travels would probably be over 1000 miles. There's a biiiiig difference here.
posted by enamon at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2006


Oops that should be "A plane like the A380 can carry as much as 853 passengers." Also that should be 2000 miles not 1000.
posted by enamon at 9:14 AM on September 21, 2006


kcds:

Could this be a way to blunt similar criticisms and liability generated by contributions from Virgin Group's own activities?

What activities are you talking about? I'm not quite sure what you mean.
posted by enamon at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2006


I've become so used to being pessimistic, I can't think for sure that this is a good thing, partly for some of the reasons above. I hope it does turn out to be as good as he says, but I'm not holding my breath (until it's all CO2).
posted by hoborg at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2006


The Virgin Fuel bit does sound a touch shady, charity qua business venture.

However, even if the cynical view is correct and all Branson's doing is investing ten years' worth of revenue into researching alternative fuels, that's still astoundingly benevolent. Especially because he's currently a winner in the transportation game, and alternative fuel leads only to disorder and revolution in that sector. He could very well be putting himself out of business, at least with respect to planes and trains.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:31 AM on September 21, 2006


$3 billion in R&D is huge. Companies need to find new ways to do business as usual without destroying the earth. This is exactly what needs to be done. Three cheers to Branson, a true hero.
posted by stbalbach at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2006



It's nice that he does this, but I wish he would also be concerned about conservation of natural habitats as well. He carved up an island so he can have a get-away -which he also rents if you are interested.

Island home


Again, I think it's great he gives the bucks, but a little more consistency would be nice out of people.
posted by fluffycreature at 10:03 AM on September 21, 2006


enamon, I the first bit of pardonyou?'s article is a bit less vague:

Rolls-Royce says the four Trents on the A380 are as clean and efficient as any jet engine, and produce “as much power as 3,500 family cars”. A simple calculation shows that the equivalent of more than six cars is needed to fly each passenger.

Still not very helpful, though. We need to know what the mean fraction of maximum output an airplane and a car respectively are producing on a typical journey in order to get anywhere.
posted by teleskiving at 10:07 AM on September 21, 2006


Oh, and I wish more rich people were like Gates, Buffett and Branson.
posted by teleskiving at 10:09 AM on September 21, 2006


What, between the balloon flights, Virgin Galactic + SpaceShipOne sponsership, and everything else and now this, it's hard not to like the guy.

Considering "In 2002, the combined sales of the different Virgin holding companies exceeded �4billion.", 3 billion is a whole lot of money to put where your mouth is.
posted by loquacious at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2006


enamon - by "similar activities" I was simply referring to Virgin Group's transportation companies i.e. Virgin Rail and their airlines. Didn't mean to mislead or be cryptic. Incidentally, I don't, personally, think there's any linkage between the California lawsuit and Branson's magnanimity/philanthropy, but I thought the fortuity of the synchronicity was interesting.
posted by kcds at 10:22 AM on September 21, 2006


Man, it sucks to be a Virgin shareholder.

Is it his own money or Virgin's? Becasue Gates and Buffet gave away their own money. Which is great, whatever. But giving away corporate money... dones't the board have to vote on that or something?

Or is he planning on not turning a profit and then donating $0 to fight global warming.

Also, loquacious, sales is not profit. You could have $10bn in sales and make zero profit. It has the potential to be a hollow promise.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 AM on September 21, 2006


Man, it sucks to be a Virgin shareholder.

Yes, I feel a great sadness in my heart for them.
posted by billysumday at 11:06 AM on September 21, 2006


California shows its idiocy again. Every time California wants to cut pollution, money and politics takes over. Remember the all-electric car? With the advent of electric car technology, California regulators launched a zero-emissions vehicle program in 1990 to clean up the state's smoggy skies. They looked at GM’s great all-electric car, the EV1. The car required no fuel and could be plugged in for recharging at home and at a number of so-called battery parks. Under the California program, two percent of all new cars sold had to be electric by 1998 and 10 percent by 2003. G.M. pulled the plug on the project in 2002 due to what they termed “insufficient demand.” What really happened was a legal challenge to the California Zero Emissions requirements that threw out the law. After pulling back the leased cars from California owners, the cars and the technology were flattened like old cars.
I shall not rant about the simpler cures for pollution and global warming but will end with this: To bastardize an old Jewish expression, why should this plan (and lawsuit) be any different than any other plan and lawsuit? You know the movie: Who Killed The Electric Car?
posted by rotoman at 11:08 AM on September 21, 2006


Of course Branson is not in a position to give away other people's money without their consent. As I understand it, he owns 100% of Virgin Group which in turn has stakes of varying sizes in the various Virgin companies. By extension, if Virgin Group owns 51% of Virgin Atlantic then he can commit 51% of Virgin Atlantic profits to this cause.
posted by teleskiving at 11:35 AM on September 21, 2006


GuyZero writes "Becasue Gates and Buffet gave away their own money. "

Gates is giving away our money.
posted by Mitheral at 12:36 PM on September 21, 2006


To cut through the emissions stats discussion above, just click on the Economist link posted by pardonyou, and read.

In a nutshell, aviation (U.S.) contributes only 3.2% of all greenhouse gases generated, versus electricity generation which does 33.9% (see graph 1). BUT, they are high altitude emissions that are thought to have two to four times the impact of the same quantity at ground level.
posted by beagle at 1:06 PM on September 21, 2006


George Monbiot on the environmental cost of air travel. It's depressing reading for those if us who are smug about not owning cars, but take a couple of flights a year.

On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Monbiot is not optimistic that we can research our way out of this one, and his arguments seem sound to me.
posted by nowonmai at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2006


It's about time someone did something like this. Bravo.
posted by ktrain at 2:17 PM on September 21, 2006


Everyone already beat me to pointing out the potential hypocrisy. So I'm just going to start the "write the caption" contest which that photo seems to beg for.



As Branson began to show signs of succumbing to the drug, Clinton waited for his opportunity to strike. "Soon, Bill... Patience..."


posted by poweredbybeard at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2006


Interestingly, there is a long-standing international agreement to not tax jetfuel - and this will cover any proposed carbon taxes - so the airlines have locked away that potential market mechanism. I'm sure governments would simply put a per seat carbon tariff on however.
posted by wilful at 6:13 PM on September 21, 2006


I think this is fantastic, and I wonder what will come of this in ten years.
posted by hooray at 7:42 PM on September 21, 2006


In a nutshell, aviation (U.S.) contributes only 3.2% of all greenhouse gases generated, versus electricity generation which does 33.9% (see graph 1). BUT, they are high altitude emissions that are thought to have two to four times the impact of the same quantity at ground level.

Also, these contributions come from a very small fraction of society, international flights are very likely the most polluting thing individuals will do all year.
posted by biffa at 4:42 AM on September 22, 2006


To add to nowonmai's Monbiot comment, George has a new website, linked to his forthcoming book Heat. Turnuptheheat.org happens, by coincidence, to have Branson and Virgin listed in the Greenwash section; who could fail to be moved by a gift of used printer cartridges?
posted by brighton at 8:47 AM on September 22, 2006


« Older Some people call it a poll-tax:...  |  CDC Recommends it for Everyone... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments