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EDITORIAL MARCH 2011
There is a traditional and very true English saying: "People who live in glass
houses shouldn't throw stones."
Recently, Sir Richard Branson, the English cheap flights entrepreneur, broke that rule
very dramatically with his attack on the shipping industry and, most particularly, its
energy inefficiencies and excess emissions.
While no one in the shipping industry would claim that the industry is perfectly
clean or, even, that it is doing all it can to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency,
they are at least trying and they do not need to be informed of their "crimes" by an
airline operator. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
Sir Richard is renowned for his brashness. Arguably, he has made a career of it. He
has also continually boosted his career by his excellent news sense and his adept use of
the media. He obviously knew perfectly well what he was doing when he attacked
"dirty cargo ships" and their owners. His was a very deliberate attack.
Perhaps he was trying to direct the world's attention from the comparatively much
less efficient and much more polluting aviation industry. Without in any way
suggesting that the shipping industry does not have a lot of improvements to make, it is
indisputable that sea transport is infinitely cleaner and more efficient than its airborne
counterpart. Indeed, it is just as indisputable that shipping is vastly cleaner and more
efficient -- and more economical -- than any other means of transport so far invented.
Given that the shipping industry is well known to be successfully -- but probably too
slowly -- "cleaning up its act", what, apart from creating a diversion, was Sir Richard
The simple fact is that in an absolute sense he was just plain wrong. In a comparative
sense, he was much more wrong. His brash, loud, unfair and silly attack invites an
equally strong response from the shipping industry. That would lead to a war that the
aviation industry, of which Sir Richard is a prominent part, simply could not win.
Obviously, no one in shipping wants to indulge in a tit-for-tat battle that will only
highlight the many deficiencies on both sides. Presumably, the aviation industry, like
shipping, is doing what it can to improve its environmental performance. It is in their
economic best interests to do so.
It is very unfortunate that Sir Richard, as a very experienced media "star" should
have used such a strange and unproductive approach to launch what is actually a quite
promising concept. Maybe we could hope he might explain himself better and remedy
some of the damage he has done to shipping when he undertakes his next media stunt.
Sir Richard's original stunt was aimed, apparently, at garnering publicity at the
launching of an interesting and promising new initiative in the Carbon War Room of
which he is a founder and major sponsor. Its Clean Shipping Index which Sir Richard
chose to launch with his silly attack seems to be a good idea.
It will name and shame polluters and, at the same time, praise the good guys who
operate clean ships. The problem with Branson's overly boisterous approach is that it
made the whole shipping industry look bad in the eyes of the general media.
Carbon War Room is, on the face of it, a good idea and a likely valuable contributor
to a cleaner environment even if it is dependent on Richard Branson's largesse for
funding. Because it is so well funded and probably will be well publicised, it has the
potential to do a lot of good.
I understand that the Carbon War Room will work to highlight the environmental
deficiencies of other industries in the future. It is probably too much to hope that it
might next shine its very bright spotlight on the aviation industry or even, perish the
thought, on proposed commercial rocket travel into space! Perhaps Sir Richard might
thereby make amends for his extreme, unnecessary and sensationalist attack on the
PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GLASS
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