How does a billionaire solve climate change? Well he offers a $25,000,000 prize of course! Richard Branson has about 2,500 entries for his prize but as yet has not found a grand prize winner. He does have however a handful of entrants that he is donating grants to, and supporting from his competition. A great initiative from Sir Rich.
I actually just finished reading his book ‘Screw Business as Usual’ and found it to be a fascinating read. The book is basically a reality check that his many companies alongside all the others on the planet are causing a massive deal of damage to the environment and that he has a responsibility to do something about it. It is also filled with other inspiring stories of others with million dollar businesses who are waking up and realising the same thing.
The following is directly from his book:
I have come to realise that, while we must have a sense of urgency about this message, we can’t be too zealous. People who are just trying to keep a roof over their heads and food at the table – or trying to keep their jobs – with the best will in the world really don’t have much time or energy to think too much about climate change and the demise of biodiversity, tigers, whales or lemurs. The doomsday scenario just doesn’t cut it for the average person who remains pretty sceptical when the sun still shines and the snow still falls. Also, they see it as costing a lot of money with new-fangled light bulbs and windmills springing up all over the place while their electricity and food bills keep going up. Many of those people who live in poverty, or on the verge of poverty, will be the ones who will be most impacted by climate change and some of the other environmental issues heading our way. I think Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, summed it up very neatly after a climate conference. I attended Copenhagen, when she said that the trouble with all these climate conferences is that too many experts present complicated and jargonistic data. ‘They’re all specialists’ she said as we chatted later. ‘Copenhagen’s keynote speeches should have been given by farmers who’d lost their living by drought or flood. They should have been given by fishermen who no longer have any fish to catch.’
Environmentalists. Space scientists. Geologists. These people are important. Without their brilliance, their precision, their intellectual honesty, their courage and their passion, we wouldn’t have a clue about the crisis we’re hurtling towards. But these are not the people to wake up a busy and self-involved world. The science behind global warming is solid – but it’s the stories of ordinary people which engage your attention when you’ve half an ear to the radio and you’re racing to pack your kids off to school. It’s their stories that stick in your mind clearly enough that you can deliver them with confidence over a drink with a friend. It’s their plight that makes you think, ‘What if something like this happened to my family?’
It’s true that the planet has had numerous and extreme climate changes in relatively short periods of time. Humans evolved and found new ways of surviving and thriving. The difference between then – historically speaking – and now is that there weren’t some seven billion people around then. Earlier I mentioned the weight of the resources that went into producing a single laptop computer – a staggering 40,000 pounds. But people worldwide want more than laptops. Rightly, they want their share – their turn. They want cars and televisions. They want central heating and air conditioning, they want fast food and fancy modern kitchens with dishwashers and washing machines – the list is endless. Take a quick look around your home, your street, your office. Every single thing you can see is manufactured, using natural material that had to be mined or extracted, and all of this pumps out carbon dioxide – more carbon dioxide than the planet would produce naturally without people around. If a single laptop takes 40,000 pounds or raw material, how much does a car take? I have no idea – but you get the picture. Now, extrapolate that by what eight or nine billion people want for themselves – every day, every week, every year – and the problem becomes instantly clear.
It is people who are affecting the natural cycle cycles of the planet. This is why the issue is so immediate and so important. The world never had this sheer weight of people and consumption before. The difference between life continuing as we know it or breaking down past the point of no return starts at just one degree.
According to Nature Climate Change, ‘Research predicts that a one degree centigrade rise in average temperature will reduce yields across two-thirds of the maize-growing region of Africa, even in the absence of drought. Add drought and that effect spreads over the entire area. Each degree above that causes another breakdown in the environmental chain. Sadly, we could be starting to see these effects with the current devastating drought in East Africa. According to scientists I trust, like James Lovelock, four degrees is the point of no return. It doesn’t really matter if you believe in climate change or not, if you say it’s all a big con or not – little will be noticed by the average person until it’s too late. The damage is being done incrementally so on the surface all still seems well. It’s a bit like a hairline crack in a dam, nothing is seen until the dam breaks.
Coral reefs are just one example. Warmer, acidic seas kill them off. An underwater food chain is destroyed. With nothing to feed on, shoals of millions of brightly coloured little fish vanish. Bigger fish – the ones that feed people – go hungry and die. But they’re not the only thing that goes. Tourists who come for the scuba diving stop coming. Hotels close and local people have no jobs and no income. Fishermen and their boats don’t put to sea because, with no fish, there’s no point. The domino effect is frightening.
Bees are yet another example. I love bees because I think that the beehive is a metaphor for the world. Every member of the community is of equal value although they have different tasks. The bees go out to work and return with pollen. They turn this into produce: honey and wax – all they need to survive. The eggs and larvae are the future of the hive; and at the heart is the queen. She is like Gaia, who lives at the heart of our planet. The queen bee – and Gaia – must be protected at all costs because without the queen we won’t survive. That might seem very airy-fairy, so let’s look at this from a strictly business point of view. The produce of the hive goes way beyond the value of honey. The honey in a single hive earns around 130 pounds. But the value of the crops, the fruit and the vegetables that the hive pollinates is around 600 pounds. In the UK this is worth over 1 billion pounds. In the United States alone, the service of bees as pollinators is worth $15-$20 billion a year – and worldwide it’s estimated to be worth $200-$400 billion. Bees are suffering from many new diseases, such as foul brood and mites, but beekeepers who work hard to maintain a healthy colony can make a good living beyond the value of the honey they produce by hiring out their hives services to a farmer to pollinate his crops. No matter how delicious honey is, we can live without it – but we can’t do without the work of bees. Bees fertilise crops and those crops feed the world. Bees are just one of the many natural resources humanity has built our wealth upon that need to be valued in a radically different way going forward so that we can make sure they are around for many generations to come. The good news is that there are some great pioneers leading the way to change what businesses value and measure.
Richard’s realistic view on climate change and his outlook really gives me quite a deal of hope for our future – and as I often say at my talks – it only takes all of us to do a ‘little bit’ to make a massive change. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.