Branson Outlines Plan to Funnel Billions into Green Energy

Richard Branson has promised that the Virgin Group, which he chairs, will invest $3 billion to combat global warming. Branson says 100 percent of the profits made by his transportation and airline businesses will be invested into finding renewable and sustainable energy sources. Melissa Block talks with Branson.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The British billionaire Richard Branson has committed to investing $3 billion over the next decade to fight global warming by developing alternative energy sources. The money will come from profits from his Virgin Group's airline and train businesses.

Branson's announcement came yesterday in New York at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual conference hosted by former President Bill Clinton. Today, Clinton announced the launch of a $1 billion investment fund for renewable energy.

We joined from New York by Richard Branson to explain his own commitment on this issue. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. RICHARD BRANSON (Owner, Virgin Group): Good to talk to you.

BLOCK: You said in the past that you've been skeptical of global warming. What was that skepticism that you had before?

Mr. BRANSON: Well, I suppose to be perfectly honest I hadn't read enough about it. And it was only, I suppose, about five years ago that I started talking to scientists and started realizing that the earth has a potentially catastrophic problem facing it and that something had to be done about it.

BLOCK: And by committing the profits from your own transportation businesses, trains and airlines, you're essentially saying I'm part of the problem, I guess?

Mr. BRANSON: Exactly. I mean airlines put out about 2 percent of the global CO2, and that's rising. Trains actually, in fairness, I think are about the best form of transport there is. But we're still going to put those profits in as well. But what we have to do is come up with alternative fuels for, you know, coal power fire stations, we have to come up with alternative fuels for cars, for air conditioning units, for lories, for buses, etcetera.

And what we'll be doing is searching for those alternative fuels. I mean we'll be immediately investing in fuels that have already been discovered like ethanol plants. But what we need to develop is things like cellulosic ethanol, which can break down the sugar from the waste products from, you know, stems of plants and the rubbish that we throw out.

You know, we to, you know, look for even newer fuels. You know, there's a fuel called butanol, which is more powerful than ethanol. But there isn't a lot of money going into this area and we want to kick start getting money into this area and hope that we can get other business leaders to follow suit.

BLOCK: And do you figure this makes good business sense that these places you're investing will eventually returning profits to you?

Mr. BRANSON: Well, it'll be very worrying if it doesn't make business sense because if alternative fuels don't catch on, the amount of CO2 that is causing the world to heat up, it's really practically a blanket that is getting thicker and thicker around the world. The amount of CO2 is building up every year.

And we will get to a tipping point where if we go beyond that tipping point, we will not be able to reverse it. I mean basically the world will ultimately be snuffed out, and that is just too sad. So the only way to take on the oil companies and the coal companies is to come up with fuels that actually pay their way. So we've got to somehow make a success of it so that we can reinvest more in it so that we can actually replace dirty fuels.

BLOCK: When you look at the future of energy sources, does nuclear power play a role, do you think?

Mr. BRANSON: Yes. I mean I think that we just go to do anything that stops CO2, and nuclear certainly stops CO2. So, you know, with all the concerns about nuclear, the world has got a bigger catastrophe potentially on its hands. And I think nuclear plants are now safe. We need to build as many as possible. We just go to do everything.

I mean effectively, you know, if you could see CO2, what we would be seeing is a fire around the world, which has got brighter and brighter over the last 50 years. And over the next, you know, 20 years, it's going to be a fire that is absolutely raging. And we've got to put that fire out and we've got to use every method to do so.

BLOCK: Well, Richard Branson, thank you for talking with us today.

Mr. BRANSON: Cheers. Thanks very much.

BLOCK: Richard Branson, chair of the Virgin Group, speaking with us from New York. Yesterday he announced that the Virgin Group will invest about $3 billion over the next decade to fight global warming.

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