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What is the difference between Richard Branson and Bibi ?

By Kristof Decoster
on January 19, 2015

2015 is money time for the sustainable development (SDG) & climate agendas.  Or so we hope.

Last week  the campaign  Action/ 2015 kicked off, among others with an open letter by a number of high profile politicians, activists and celebrities. In the letter, they address world politicians, reminding them that the actions they are going to take (or fail to take) in 2015 will decide the way the world turns for decades to come. In their words: “We believe it’s just possible that we could end 2015 with a new global compact – an agreed pathway to a better, safer future for people and planet that will inspire all the citizens of the world. We can choose the path of sustainable development. Or we might not – and regret it for generations to come. Which side of history will you be on?

Lovely message.

The question is: WTF is Richard Branson doing on this list?

Why is it that people all around the world were – rightly – baffled when Mr. Netanyahu showed up (even if self-invited)  in Paris for the ‘Je suis Charlie’ freedom of speech march in Paris, but nobody seems to care much about the hypocrisy of Mr. Virgin when he targets politicians with an SDG message for a fairer and more ecological global compact?  Well, Naomi Klein of course cares in her latest book, but so far the global public (or social media) aren’t  following her lead.  ‘Freedom of speech’ – with all the caveats that the latest Charlie debate has made clear – and ‘sustainable development’ are obviously still playing in a different league when it comes to the world’s attention. The Premier League and the Jupiler Pro (=Belgian) League, I’d say.

The hypocrisy of Netanyahu’s (and a few other world leaders’) presence in Paris was obvious for all, but Branson’s SDG “track record” passes without much notice in the media. Presumably, the man is on the list of signatories because he helped set up The Elders, a group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.   Anyway, it’s a dumb idea to have him on this list in this vital year. His SDG legitimacy is nil. As in ‘Zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, cinco’.

As a reminder, Branson was one of the inventors of budget airlines – undeniably, an innovative and entrepreneurial way to help destroy the planet as a habitat for the human species . Lately he’s been very keen on developing commercial space transportation – he intends to “democratize” space tourism (well, still 200000 $ for a space journey). Sounds like another brilliant, ecologically friendly and very inclusive idea.

If Branson is serious about his commitment to assist in the post-2015 quest for a truly sustainable and more inclusive planet, it’s time he changes his business in a trademark “disruptive” way. Otherwise he’d better shut up. As a start, he could do something about his dodgy (but no doubt ‘legal’) tax record. “Today, the Virgin group is a vast warren of around 400 companies registered offshore (in places including, aptly, the Virgin Islands)”,  we read somewhere. Nothing unexpected from a Davos fixture, I guess, which is exactly the problem.

Michael O’Leary from Ryanair has many flaws, but at least the man has the decency not to pretend he wants to save the world while doing exactly the opposite. So if we are serious about ‘planetary health’ and the SDG agenda, we better also start campaigning for the removal of ‘false friends’ like Branson from lists like these – unless if the man changes his ways. Only then he’ll earn the right to lecture world politicians on the urgent need for a juster and sustainable world.

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