Richard Branson is a British entrepreneur known for his philanthropic projects and his taste for adventure. He is the founder and chairman of Virgin Group Ltd., a conglomerate of separately run companies which include radio stations, airlines, and mobile phones. The Virgin Group now owns around 200 companies in over 30 countries. Virgin also plans to launch commercial space flights over the next few years in a venture called Virgin Galactic.
Branson was born in 1950 in Surrey, England, and was educated at Stowe School, where he established a national magazine, Student, at the age of 16. He is married with two children and lives in London and Oxfordshire.
Question: What should we be doing that we’re not?
Richard Branson: I think the western world almost needs to apologize for the mess it’s made in Iraq. We obviously needed to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but we didn’t need to kill and maim a million people in the process. And that’s created more terrorists than anything.
After the invasion, instead of doing what American did in Japan at the end of the Second World War, and telling the army, “You’re still the army”; the police force, “You’re still the police force”; they just laid all these people off. They just gave them no salaries, no work. They told them to go home. And they basically said, “You’re now terrorists. You’re now alienated against us.” And they just haven’t learned from history.
And I think we almost, as a start, need to say we’re sorry. We made a dreadful mistake. And obviously we’re going to get new leadership in America. We’ve had new leadership in Great Britain.
That’s a chance, I think, to try to embrace our fellow Muslims in the Middle East and around the rest of the world and say we’re sorry. We did it for the right reasons but we did it the wrong way. We need to move forward. And I think if we do that, I think the world potentially is in the best position it’s been in a long time.
We can overcome malaria in Africa. We can make sure that everybody who is HIV positive gets antiretroviral drugs and lives a normal life, and a life long enough to see their children grow up, and be able to bring their children up properly. We can whip TB. We can make sure that nobody suffers from fistula.
We can make sure that most conflicts do not develop into full blown out wars. I think that it just needs leadership, and it needs a mindset. And I think that is all possible.
Question: What are we doing right?
Richard Branson: Sweden has said that by 2020 they will not be emitting any carbon. That’s an incredibly bold statement. It’s a statement which I believe they can fulfill.
If America said that, and the rest of Europe said that, and China said that, and India said that, we’d whip the problem. It’s doable. We’ve got the tools at hand to do it.
And it’s a big, bold statement like that that is needed. Not this, you know, 25 percent reduction by you know, 2025, etc. We need something much bolder than that.
Question: What should we be doing as individuals?
Richard Branson: Well apart from campaigning governments, there are all the mundane things that all of us can do, and all of us should do our bit to try to do.
No light bulb should be short lasting. They should all be long lasting. In fact, any government that hasn’t banned short lasting light bulbs by now should be kicked out. I mean it’s ridiculous.
Air conditioning. I still fight with my wife. I know how difficult some of these things are. But anyway, air conditioning should be turned off as often as possible, and in the evening you just turn it off for five minutes. It’s better than leaving it on. And so as much as possible you should turn it off.
And try to share your car with people as much as possible. Try to take the train rather than the plane if there is a train going the same route that the plane is going.
It’s just lots and lots of little things that can add up.
You’re boiling the kettle just to get enough water for two cups of tea if there are only two of you having tea.
If everybody did these things, again that would make an enormous difference.
Question: What are you doing to realize these ambitions?
Richard Branson: Well Stephen Hawking believes that one day mankind on earth will be destroyed. It could be millions of years. It could be tomorrow. And he said it will either be an asteroid, it could be an experiment that goes wrong, which creates disease that wipes out mankind. Whatever. For whatever reason.
So he believes that we should at least populate another planet. And as part of that beginning, of that potential dream of his, I mean not a very nice dream the first part, but the second part, Virgin Galactic Airways will be born over the next year or two. And the initial stage will be to send people in an almost completely environmentally friendly way, by the way, but I’ll talk about that in a minute, into sub orbital space travel. And then from there we will go into orbital space travel. From there we’ll build hotels in space.
Man’s natural instinct is to keep trying to improve themselves. Our engineers will keep pushing themselves. They're already looking at seeing whether we can’t go from New York to Australia in half an hour by hopping a spaceship out of the earth’s atmosphere and then straight back down again. And I think that maybe in my lifetime we might achieve that; but definitely I think in my son’s lifetime.
And so then we’re looking at giant sailing ships that can be _______ by solo that can go off into future galaxies and see what’s going on out there. Anyway, exciting, exciting things to dream about.