Monthly Archives: December 2006

Sir Richard Branson: Making the Skies Green

At Virgin, we’re trying to develop a new business model that factors in the complete cycle of energy use and carbon output.


By Sir Richard Branson
Dec. 18, 2006 issue – In 1972, a young scientist named Lames Lovelock was developing a hypothesis of how the planet worked called Gaia theory. Lovelock’s theory, named for the Greek goddess of the earth, was that life has not only adapted to our planet’s conditions but shapes those conditions as well. It was scorned and ignored at first, but now Lovelock’s ideas are the basis of our current understanding of global warming and the need to cut carbon emissions. At Virgin, we have been engaged for some years in trying to create a business model for the 21st century that takes into account the whole cycle of energy consumption and carbon output, in order to change the balance. We call it Gaia Capitalism.


This project recently culminated in a $3 billion investment plan for the next 10 years in biofuel production, research and development, and other investments in renewable-energy production. The project will also include investment in new technology to dramatically shrink the carbon footprint of our existing transport operations. Since the transport sector is one of the largest consumers of oil, dramatically reducing the amount of oil used in ships, planes, trains and cars, or even replacing oil with non fossil fuels, is critical to our goals. We think it can happen in our lifetime.

The project began in 1997, when we had the opportunity to buy new trains for the long-distance rail network in the United Kingdom. At the time we pledged to pull out of domestic aviation in the U.K., where rail is capable of competing, and develop trains to be more efficient in terms of carbon input/output than any seen before. That project produced the Pendolino, built by Alstom, an all-aluminum electromagnetic tilt train with regenerative brakes, which use brake friction to create electricity. That allows the Pendolino to return 17 percent of the electricity it uses back to the National Grid. From London to Glasgow it uses nine times less CO2 per passenger than the equivalent 737 flight, making it the most efficient long-distance train in Europe.

Read full story.


Transportation Funding Elusive

Denver Post Columnist Bob Ewegen highlights some of the the challenges of solving the transportation funding puzzle in Sunday’s Denver Post.


Years ago, the Denver Post editorial page proposed raising the state’s motor fuel tax of 22 cents a gallon by a dime.

We suggested using half of that revenue to repair the state’s crumbling highway network. The other nickel would have been earmarked to pay off bonds, so the state could borrow money to begin catching up on its mounting backlog of transportation needs.

Then-Gov. Roy Romer was seldom averse to spending money. Nonetheless, he objected to using bonds to accelerate highway construction, telling The Post’s editorial board he preferred “pay-as-you-go” construction.

“Governor,” I snapped back in exasperation, “we’re paying all right. But we’re not going.”

That was 1996. In the decade since, Colorado’s highway construction backlog has only grown worse. It now constitutes one of the two huge fiscal problems that Bill Ritter will face when he’s sworn in as governor next month, the other being how to pay for our starving higher education system.

To read the full article

Cities Lure White-Collar Workers Onto Buses

Increasing numbers of commuters are using buses as a faster and cheaper way to get to work, new figures show. Urban municipalities are expanding bus services — and adding features like wireless Internet access — in an effort to target white-collar and business employees who might otherwise drive their cars.

Listen to the story by All Things Considered.

High court to hear global warming case


Role of vehicle emissions in global warming take center stage in Supreme Court case:

A dozen states, large cities argue that emissions need to be regulated

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming.

A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles.

Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas are burned. It is the principal “greenhouse” gas that many scientists believe is flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, leading to a warming of the earth and widespread ecological changes. One way to reduce those emissions is to have cleaner-burning cars.

The Bush administration intends to argue before the court on Wednesday that the EPA lacks the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The agency contends that even if it did have such authority, it would have discretion under the law on how to address the problem without imposing emissions controls.

The states, led by Massachusetts, and more than a dozen environmental groups insist the 1970 law makes clear that carbon dioxide is a pollutant — much like lead and smog-causing chemicals — that is subject to regulation because its poses a threat to public health.

A sharply divided federal appeals court ruled in favor of the government in 2005. But last June, the Supreme Court decided to take up the case, plunging for the first time into the politically charged debate over global warming. The ruling next year is expected to be one of the court’s most important ever involving the environment.

“Global warming is the most pressing environmental issue of our time and the decision by the court on this case will make a deep and lasting impact for generations to come,” says Massachusetts’ attorney general, Thomas Reilly.

David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says a legal clarification of the EPA’s authority could determine whether the current administration must regulate carbon dioxide emissions and whether a future one will be able to demand such limits.

At issue for now is pollution from automobiles. But the ruling indirectly may affect how the agency deals with carbon dioxide that comes from electric power plants.

In a separate lawsuit, the EPA says the Clean Air Act also prevents it from regulating such emissions from those plants. That claim would be undercut, Bookbinder says, if the high court rules in the states’ favor in the auto emissions case.

President Bush has rejected calls to regulate carbon dioxide. He favors voluntary steps by industry and development of new technologies to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

“We still have very strong reservations about an overarching, one-size-fits-all mandate about carbon,” James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, recently told a group of reporters.

The administration says in court papers the EPA should not be required to “embark on the extraordinarily complex and scientifically uncertain task of addressing the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions” when other ways are available to tackle climate change.

The United States accounts for about one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of carbon dioxide from U.S. motor vehicles, power plants and other industry has increased on average by about 1 percent a year since 1990.

Now that Democrats will control the House and Senate in January after their election victories this month, there is expected to be increased pressure in Congress for mandatory limits on carbon emissions.

The election results “have signaled a need to change direction” on dealing with global warming, three Democratic senators who will play leading roles on environmental issues recently wrote the president.

But whether there is such a shift actually may depend, in the end, on the Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs in the suit are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. They were joined by cities such as Baltimore, New York and the District of Columbia; the Pacific island of America Samoa; the Sierra Club; the Union of Concerned Scientists; Greenpeace; and Friends of the Earth.

The case is Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 05-1120.