The TH Interview: Sam Branson, Environmental Activist
When I recently had the chance to chat by phone with Sam Branson, son of Virgin's Richard Branson, the subject at the top of his mind was his upcoming trip to Ellesmere Island along with folks like Will Steger and Sigrid Ekran as a part of Global Warming 101. An expedition expected to raise awareness among young people about the realities of global warming via unprecedented access to their day-to-day observations of melting ice and a changing world via the internet. So read on to see what he's up to, and how you can follow along.
TreeHugger: What made you decide to get involved with Global Warming 101 and the trip to Ellesmere Island?
Sam Branson: Well, Will Steger invited me on a trip from Clyde River and I enjoyed it and learned a lot about global warming, and he invited me on this trip and I decided to go because of the excitement of looking at Ellesmere in a way not many people have seen it and seeing the effects of global warming on the ice shelf. I think it will be amazing to see and traveling up by dog team as well.
TH: Have you always been concerned about the environment or is that something that's sort of evolved as you've moved through life?
SB: Well I've traveled to a lots of places and I've always been interested in wildlife, but as I got older global warming became the balance of that, and so I've always been but now more than ever I'm interested in preserving our environment.
TH: So what changes have you made in your own life to reduce your carbon footprint?
SB: Small things like changing my light bulbs and not driving a car unless you need to. I've actually sold my car to get a smaller engine car, and we're making the island in the Caribbean 99% eco, putting up windmills and we're setting up a resort nearby which I think is the first resort that is 100% eco-friendly. We're also busy educating ourselves.
TH: There's a pretty broad group of people traveling with Will Steger, who is a legendary polar explorer. What do you believe is your role on the expedition?
SB: I think sort of bringing what we experienced to our generation to help bridge the gap between younger generations and the issue.
TH: I heard you speak at the Explorers club in NYC where you mentioned that it would be a shame to "win hearts and minds only to find out it's too late to make a difference". How do you believe each of us can accelerate the process by which the public gets on board taking action in the fight against climate change?
SB: With a lot of people they're so concerned and a lot of other people think they don't have time, but all it takes is small changes and it adds up to make a big difference. And business is seeing that people take environmentally friendly businesses seriously, especially in England. People need to realize that we have a voice together, especially young people. They're going to be in a position where they can make a difference in the time to come.
TH: Simply growing up as the son of Richard Branson has to present itself with some interesting opportunities. How do you believe that experience has shaped your worldview when it comes to environmental issues?
SB: From a young age being able to travel and see beautiful places and you look at nature and be inspired by it and see how fragile it is. And when anyone who has traveled falls in love with the world and sees what a beautiful place it is they realize what a shame it would be to let that go to waste. Also, the opportunity to meet incredible people has inspired me, and helped me realize that you can make a difference. So mixing the two has sparked my interest in the issue, and definitely led me towards feeling I can make a difference.
TH: Has your Dad influenced you with this? I mean, sometimes it's difficult for parents and their children to move in any given direction together. Has he encouraged you to be more eco-minded or has it been more of a decision you've made on your own?
SB: He definitely has; he's sort of heading that way and as he's getting older he's doing more things for the world and the environment, cutting down on fuel consumption costs by increasing efficiency in business and so on. In fact, Virgin just flew the first 747 on bio-fuel from London to Amsterdam so that proves you can use it in jets. Bio-fuels may not be the answer but it proves we can find alternative solutions. And it's important to note that the bio-fuel used in that effort was not from corn so as not to affect the food supply. He's working with James Lovelock and they're coming out with some ideas on alternative bio-fuels and things like that. Algae is very efficient and that's some of what they're working on.
So yes, he's definitely rubbed off on me.
TH: You're a great example of a young person that's making a positive difference. Besides the trip to Ellesmere, how else might you be looking to get involved in the fight against climate change?
SB: It's hard to say because when I get home and talk about my trip a bit I might consider doing another expedition, but definitely keeping the environment in mind. Working on projects when I get home will take up most of my time but it's certainly important to keep environmental issues in mind on a daily basis.
TH: When you come back from the trip to Ellesmere there will have been millions of school kids who've followed your adventure, but in many ways their world will continue moving forward in the same way. If you can reach them with one message, what might that be?
SB: That the world is so great and powerful a place and seems so huge and complicated to us, but it's really such a fragile place. One change would be to educate yourself, and you can't understand any change if you can't understand how it already works. So work to understand in a small way how the world works and what you can do to make a difference.
To follow the expedition online head to www.globalwarming101.com">www.globalwarming101.com.