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Flying to the Rescue

According to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, the peripatetically energetic Richard Branson has announced that he will pledge $3 billion of profits from his Virgin airline and railroad businesses to combatting global warming. He plans to invest in biofuels such as ethanol and rapeseed through Virgin Fuels.

Questions immediately arise like balloons.

1) Will large-scale biofuel farming result in deforestation and monocultures harmful to other living things?

The land to grow the fuel has to come from somewhere. Already butterfly species in Britain are declining because of the destruction of their woodland habitats. Mr. Branson will probably be growing his fuel somewhere other than Britain, but other countries have forests and animals and butterflies to lose.

2) Will Mr Branson’s decision to ride to the rescue of Earth do anything to reduce global warming? The answer depends on the answers to two other questions:

3) Is global warming actually occurring? Many scientists say yes. Many other scientists say no, or, we don't know.

4) If warming is occurring, are man and womankind causing it?

Curiously, for several hundred years during the early Middle Ages, Britain experienced a marvellous warming and drying of the island’s moist climate. In 1265, Simon de Montfort was riding with his prisoner King Henry III and the loyal bachelor knights, trying to keep the reforms, which had begun with Magna Carta, alive. Just as they had for a century past. the long, golden days of summer unfurled warm and glorious.

Just thirty-five years later, the Little Ice Age began. It would last hundreds of years, with plunging temperatures all across Europe, and probably all over the world. One consequence may be that current temperatures seem warm in comparison.

5) Will his plan prove profitable?

Clearly we don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but we’re pretty sure the answer to question 5) is yes, Branson will make a profit. We base our answer on the theory developed by an 18th century Brit, Thomas Bayes, a nonconformist minister and a mathematician whose probability theory has become crucial to data searches used by Google and Yahoo. With Bayesian theory, the likelihood that something will happen can be plausibly estimated by how often it has occurred in the past.

In the past, Richard Branson has always made money, even on ventures others considered risky, therefore he probably will make money in the future. Furthermore his projected profits do not depend on global warming but on the British Government’s recent decision that 5% of all fuel sold in service stations will be from renewable sources beginning in 2010.

The Brits have an 800-year-history of invention that combines technological innovation and private investment, so Richard Branson is following an extremely successful formula. And we suspect he rather enjoys playing the role of chivalrous knight errant to boot.

To read more about Bayes, see the INGENIOUS TIMELINE >