Branson defends space trips at eco-prize launch

Sir Richard Branson yesterday defended his plans to offer £100,000 trips into space while at the same time setting up a £12.8m prize for scientists to devise a way of absorbing carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere.

He was speaking at the launch of the Virgin Earth Challenge, which offers a $25m reward for the invention that most successfully removes significant quantities of carbon dioxide over a period of 10 years without harming the environment.

Sir Richard was asked how he could justify such a prize when he owns an airlineand has set up a separate space tourism company. "Let's confront the airline question," he said. "I have an airline. I can afford to ground that airline today. My family have got businesses in mobile phones and other businesses, but if we do ground that airline today, British Airways will just take up the space. So what we are doing is making sure we acquire the most carbon dioxide-friendly planes. We're making sure that 100 per cent of profits we make from our transportation businesses are put back into things like the prize."

Virgin Galactic, his space-tourism company, will use hybrid rocket motors and turbo-fan engines that will be "almost" environmentally benign, he said, and the cost of a space ride could come down to the price of an economy-class ticket.

Flanked by Al Gore, the former American vice president, he said he was offering the biggest scientific prize in history to stimulate interest in the technology of capturing and storing millions of tonnes of man-made carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.

The five-man judging panel will also include Jim Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia theory, Jim Hansen, a leading American climatologist, Tim Flannery, an Australian zoologist, and Sir Crispin Tickell, the former British ambassador to the UN.

If the judges believe a project should win, Sir Richard will pay $5m at the time of their decision and $20m at the end of 10 years - if the goals are achieved. He said he had no idea whether the prize would ever be won but that unless we could devise a way of curbing carbon dioxide levels we faced a major extinction of life.

"We will lose half of all species on Earth, including the polar bear and the walrus, we will lose the coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, 100 million people will be displaced due to rising sea levels, farmlands will become deserts, rainforests wastelands," Sir Richard said.

Mr Gore said the prize should not deflect from other attempts at curbing emissions. "It should not be seen as a substitute for, or distraction from, the main aim, which is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide ," Mr Gore said. "We are now facing a planetary emergency and things that would not have been considered in the past ought now to be considered."

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the initiative but warned that more should be done to encourage more environmentally friendly forms of travel. "Many of the ways of tackling climate change, such as energy efficiency and renewables, already exist, and it is essential that these are implemented as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait for futuristic solutions which may never materialise," Mr Juniper said.

"Sir Richard must also look at his business activities and the contribution they make to climate change. The world will find it very difficult to tackle climate change if air travel continues to expand and space tourism is developed," he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test