Environment & the World

Friday, September 22, 2006

Branson and CGI Investments

Filed under: Climate Change, Corporate Sustainability, Energy — amirj @ 9:42 am

Money talks. So when billionaire Richard Branson announced yesterday an estimated three billion dollar investment in renewable energy initiatives over the next ten years people listened. It was nice to see that when Neil Cavuto suggested that some people believe climate change is still debatable (so why invest so much money in it?) Branson just wasn’t having it. I guess if people can’t be convinced by the scientists, maybe they’ll listen to the billionaires. That in and of itself might be a little irksome, though.

Anyway, back to the investment. You can trust that Branson’s being a savvy businessman about this. The three billion dollars will come from the proceeds of Virgin Group’s airline and train operations, and this money will be reinvested into a new Virgin company: Virgin Fuels. So shareholders and such need not fret–the money won’t wander far.

Virgin Fuels, which will initially focus on bio-fuels, will however share the wealth in the form of international investments. To kick-start the giving bonanza, Virgin Fuels gets $400 million over the next three years, some of which will go to their first investment in Cilion, Inc.–a California based company that will build seven new, cheaper, greener ethanol plants by 2009.

More bits and pieces about the Branson/Virgin investment at the Clinton Global Initiative website.
Bill Clinton has also been making headlines this week thanks, in part, to his 2006 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. The summit brings together a global elite of big names, spanning dozens of political heavyweights, celebrities, business people, academics, philanthropists, and others. The goal is to discuss four progressive global challenges and to secure commitments from these people to invest in projects that will alleviate these problems.

Energy and Climate Change is one of the four areas. You can read some of the issues they’re addressing and also watch taped webcasts of the sessions. One session about Cities of the Future features the Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, William McDonough, and Jamie Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba. Indeed the discussion will be interesting, and these people have plenty of great stuff to say.

So far the Clinton Global Initiative has secured $5.7 billion in commitments to invest in projects related to the four focus areas: Energy and Climate, Global Health, Poverty Alleviation, and Mitigating Religious and Ethnic Conflict. On the one hand, it’s great to see high-profile discussions of these issues, and it’s equally great to know that so much money will translate into efforts to address these problems. On the other hand, one wonders if these megaconferences do more to raise the profile of these global leaders than change the realities on the ground. Furthermore, while I do not doubt that close to $6 billion in investments will make some real differences, one has to wonder what it means when so much of these investments and progressive global leadership and change is couched in the language of business deals and/or relegated to the privilege and whims of a global elite of leaders.

What this sort of project also accomplishes is to strengthen the current patterns of hegemony, to reinforce social hierarchies. So, we might be able to go carbon neutral thanks to corporate leadership without doing too much to change the social structure of our societies. At the same time, one must also wonder how self-defeating these projects might be in other realms, such as mitigating religious and ethnic conflict, when these conflicts might be the very product of the unequal social structures that currently exist.


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