Feb 102007


Reported firstly in New Scientist, this grand attempt by Richard Branson to save the planet for all humanity leaves Bannerman just a little non-plussed.

The list of judges for Branson’s competition, which takes it’s inspiration from the Ansari X-Prize and John Harrison’s 18th century competition to accurately measure longitude, is impressive to say the least. Take Al Gore and Branson himself out of the mix, and you’re still left with a cadre of highly knowledgeable and respected climate scientists, including Australian of the Year, Tim Flannery. Then there’s James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Theory; James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute and Sir Crispin Ticknell. Certainly a collective of intelligent minds not to be sneezed at.

The rules of the competition, which doubtless require much greater expansion than displayed on the website, are more than a little vague.

Entrants must submit a commercially viable design (the “Design”) to achieve the net removal of significant volumes of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least 10 years without countervailing harmful effects (the “Removal Target”). The removal achieved by the Design must have long term benefits (measured over say 1,000 years) and must contribute materially to the stability of the Earth’s climate.

The prize fund will be awarded to (or shared amongst) any entrants whose Design (in the opinion of the judges) achieves or appears capable of achieving the Removal Target and other criteria set out in paragraph 7 and which in the opinion of the judges makes an outstanding contribution by way of innovation in the fields of engineering or the other physical technologies or in the application of the physical sciences, which is or will be for the benefit of the Earth’s climate.

New Scientist writes that the target mooted is some 10 billion tonnes of CO2. Is that 10 billion tonnes over ten years, or a capability of removing 10 billion tonnes each year for ten years? The competition rules, however, don’t state this categorically. It’s merely defined as "Removal Target". But a ten year competition?? No, Bannerman is afraid that a ten year competition aimed at, presumably industry, to resolve the planet’s climate change woes – actually they’re not the planet’s woes, they’re ours – is hardly likely to grab the public’s interest, let alone that of politicians. It’s the latter which Branson needs to get on board any ecology push. He knows this, which is why this punt on a big-fanfare, Ansari-like contest seems so pointless. Were this a contest to promote new or improved existing technologies with a cut-off date, say, three years in the future, even if the prize weren’t quite as large, more public interest might be fuelled. A three year contest would be of more interest to the media who would be more likely to follow it, as opposed to a ten year competition which no-one is likely to remember after the first five.

Seriously Richard, Bannerman thinks a lot of you as a human being, and as a Captain of Business, but sometimes you really do seem to come out with the most outlandishly, left-field, quirky stunts.