At a press conference this morning, the Virgin magnate said that he had been driven to offer the ‘Virgin Earth Challenge’ because he wanted a future for his children and grandchildren.
Branson’s prize was endorsed by the American vice president Al Gore, the eminent climate scientist James Lovelock, international policy maker Sir Crispin Tickell, author Tim Flannery, NASA scientist Jim Hansen, and Dr Steve Howard, chief executive of The Climate Group.
The announcement of the prize was given a lukewarm reception by journalists, who wanted to know how Branson could offer the prize whilst simultaneously operating a transatlantic air fleet and, in the near future, a low-orbit space flight programme. Branson said that although he could afford to close the Virgin Atlantic airline today, its place would simply be taken by British Airways. He also claimed that his engineers had made his space-flight Virgin Galatic programme “environmentally benign”, although he was unable to provide specific details.
Branson’s assembled panel seemed to have widely differing views on how the prize would be administered: the Virgin boss was keen to stress that technology would hold the key to solving climate change; Al Gore argued simultaneously that mankind already possessed the technology needed to tackle global warming, and that a lack of political will was the only impediment; and Sir Crispin Tickell put forward the idea that the prize be used to change public and consumer attitudes.
The most encouraging announcement of the conference came from Australian writer Tim Flannery, who joined the assembly via satellite link from Sydney. Asked by an ABN journalist whether he was embarrassed by Australia’s track record on tackling climate change, he said that he had only become “more determined”, and promised that 2007 would be the year “that all Australians must become very serious about climate change.”
This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2007