Heat the Rich (1): Friendly, British Virgins, or Paradise?
Small Island States have long been a favourites subject for climate worriers. They’re very flat, like Norfolk,
or, indeed, like Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, and their exposure to sea level rise and hurricanes makes them handy candidates for the title of “countries most menaced by climate change” and a likely source of the climate refugees which we’ve been promised but which have so far strangely failed to appear. They’re also often wholly dependent on bigger powers (about 10% of the population of the Marshall Islands, for some obscure reason, live in Springdale, Arkansas) and are therefore useful voters at COP conferences.
Living on an island has always been a risky business, as was getting there in the first place. Now we can calculate both the risk and the amount by which the risk is increasing because of climate change, which is obviously easier and cheaper than doing something about it, e.g. by building more solid housing and infrastructure.
Billionaires love a tropical isle. When they’re not stashing their loot away in the British Virgin Islands, a colony whose population consists of five fishermen and an accountant in a wooden hut with a brass nameplate, they’re buying hideaways in the Pacific or Indian Ocean or the Caribbean. If the Friendly Isles disappear beneath the rising waves it won’t be for lack of friends. (I’m not sure if if the same can be said of the British Virgin Islands).
The Maldives are every warmist’s favourite example of the fragility of our planet, though the Guardian once gave the game away with an article describing how the government had built an artificial island to house half the islands’ 200,000 population in council houses far from the eyes of tourists.
I had a look at one of the Maldives’ green projects in one of my first articles here describing the Slow Life Foundation‘s resort for green millionaires in the Maldives, “the forerunner and inspiration for a host of imitators who saw the potential in going green,” which has welcomed Daryl Hannah, Richard Branson, Mark Lynas, Jeremy Leggett, and Jonathon Porritt among others.
Richard Branson doesn’t need to go all the way to the Indian Ocean of course, since he conducts his Carbon War Room Organisation from his own private island in the Caribbean. There, dressed in a fetching tropical boiler suit designed by Vivienne Westwood and chomping on a cigar, he composes stirring speeches to raise the morale of the people – “Never was So Much Owned by So Few Grabbed from so Many…”
One of Branson’s first green projects back in 2012 was to create “the world’s first sustainable energy economy” in Aruba, a 20 mile-long island in the Caribbean with a population of 100,000 which is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:
When I first wrote about this three years ago there was this comment under the video by Sandrohin:
“Strange that you allow Aruba to join. They’re known for little respect for nature. Century old trees and green areas are bulldozered away,. The latest ‘raping of nature’ happened just behind the Ritz Carlton this week, A hotel that was opposed by the actual government but once they took over, the first thing they did was signing all permits to destroy the last habitat of birds, crabs and other creatures, Their political campaign jammed traffic for weeks and carbon emission was the way to go.”
which has since disappeared. But there’s this comment by Yairo Martis:
“Meanwhile, on the ground here in Aruba: the Urirama wind park project is stalled – there are no plans for solar panel subsidies nor even tax credits for home owners – no plans for a smart electric grid – no plans for net metering whatsoever – no electric (or hybrid) buses running scheduled service.” The only two “green” projects up and running as we speak are the solar panel ‘farm’ over the airport’s car park, and the Vader Piet wind park… The Aruban gov’t keeps hosting ‘green conferences’, but little is actually done.
You can find out more about Branson’s war on carbon at his site, but for access to the important stuff, the stuff that will make you money, you’ll have to pay. Don’t you know there’s a war on?
But never mind. Branson has his own private Caribbean island – Necker.
Richard Branson first became aware that some of the islands in the British Virgin Islands were for sale in 1978. He .. envisioned using them to put up rock stars for his record label. Upon arrival, they were given a luxury villa and travelled around islands for sale by helicopter. The final island he saw was Necker Island, and after climbing the hill and being stunned by the view and wildlife, decided to purchase the island. After making a lowball bid of $100,000 for the $6 million island ..he was turned down… the owner … eventually settled for $180,000… It took three years and about $10 million to turn it into a private island retreat. Using local stone, Brazilian hardwoods, Asian antiques, Indian rugs, art pieces and fabrics and bamboo furniture from Bali, architects and designers created a 10-bedroom Balinese-style villa crowning a hill above the beach. Each of the ten bedrooms has open walls, giving a 360-degree view and cooling winds from any direction in the house. The island has accommodation for 30 people and rents out at $65,000 a day… Minus labour expenses, the cost of the entire island could be recouped in a mere four months. The cost of staying includes access to two beaches, private pools, tennis courts, scenic views, a personal chef, a team of about 100 staff and a wide array of water sports equipment…
Branson gives more details of his acquisition in this article from 2014.
One Thursday in 1978 I was in New York on business. Making the best use of my time, I admit that I was also there in hot pursuit of a lovely lady called Joan… Joan was in New York with her current boyfriend and she didn’t seem to have any particular interest in me. However, I had the vision and all I needed was a plan. Although by Thursday afternoon I had made no progress with Joan and I was stumped, but as luck would have it a simple question from a colleague and a few phone calls changed everything.
“Richard, I see there are some islands for sale called the Virgin Islands. Are they yours?” .. No, I did not own any of the Virgin Islands. In fact I owned no islands at all. However, I contacted the realtor who was looking to sell these so called Virgin Islands. He asked me if I had an interest in buying one. My reply was: “Yes, I most certainly do have an interest.” …within a couple of hours my private, all expenses paid, weekend trip to the Virgin Islands was arranged courtesy of the most generous real estate agent ..
Joan had no interest in material things, which was one of the many reasons I’d fallen for her. But I somehow managed to persuade her that the prospect of a weekend in the beautiful British Virgin Islands would be more irresistible than a weekend in New York – even with me! The realtor was really quite wonderful. He provided us flights, private helicopters, red carpet greetings, expensive champagne and the most extraordinary house to stay in.
In all honesty, I probably went to all this trouble to get a leg over. However, the next couple of days had a profound impact on my life. I found Joan to be the most engaging and beautiful woman I had ever met. And shockingly, she seemed equally drawn to me. Ideas of a life-partner and children were flooding my mind. The pinnacle of this special weekend came as we flew by helicopter, courtesy of the estate agent, over the shallows on the final approach to one particular uninhabited island. The most turquoise water I had ever seen, eagle rays and turtles gliding through the sea around us. Exotic birds circled overhead and the island itself rising up, covered in lush vegetation. When we climbed to the island’s lush center, we discovered views that took our breath away. I felt like I had discovered the love of my life and a precious jewel of the world in one moment…Looking at Joan I knew I had fallen in love with her. And clearly Joan and I had fallen in love with Necker Island.
So having a private island is all about ‘”getting a leg over.” Robinson Crusoe would have been surprised to learn that. And so, no doubt would have Man Friday.
More details of life on Necker emerged just last month in this article:
Richard Branson demonstrates the unfailing precision of aim which has made him the billionaire he is by pissing into a bent straw in his Pina Colada at 40cm. Next week, see him make his trains run on time…
Hidden away in the beautiful British Virgin Island, Necker Island is my family’s own little slice of paradise. Blue waters lap at sandy beaches, and sunshine drenches the island almost year round. It really is heaven. I’m lucky to spend about six months of my year here – the other six month, I’m travelling the world visiting our Virgin companies and adding my voice to the great work that Virgin Unite does. When I am on Necker I make the most of my time by playing tennis, working from home, seeing the lemurs, kitesurfing, and socialising with our wonderful guests…
I’ve never had a desk in an office since I was a teenager. I prefer to work in a hammock, on a sofa or even in a bath. Now that’s flexible working! It’s critical to get the balance between work and play right. Find time for yourself; work hard but also play hard.
And there’s more on Branson’s green philosophy here:
We have more species on Necker than almost any other island on earth. How we treat our world is a reflection of our humanity, our intelligence, our conscience and ultimately, our very survival. Protecting endangered species is one of the most important things any of us can do. Human beings should never, ever, ever let a species disappear from this earth…
I was hoping to deal with a few more green millionaires and their islands in this article but it’s long enough already.
One of the oddest criticisms of us climate sceptics is the accusation that we’re rightwing conservatives in the pay of Big Oil. Many sceptics are right wing, certainly, but libertarians. I’m an exception in that I believe firmly in state control – to ensure cheap efficient energy supplies, and to make the trains run on time, among other reasons. In my rational moments I cling to the belief that democracy and the rule of law are sacred, since they’re the only weapons we ordinary people have against the rich and the ideologies that they propagate. But I admit that, in writing stuff like this, more primitive political motivations emerge, like the desire to see the Richard Bransons of this world hanged from lamp posts by Lord Deben’s braces, with George Marshall’s hat stuffed up their nether regions.
One of the fundamental problems for socialism, environmentalism and even capitalism is how much and how little should any one person have and how much should that individual contribute in value to earn those positions.
Socialism would argue that everyone is equal but as the great experiments of the 20th century demonstrated, equality equals stagnation or worse. If you get the same reward, no matter how hard you work or how smart you are, what’s the point in trying? At the other end of the scale, capitalism at its extreme means that there is almost no limit how much the fortunate can earn or how little the poor should be paid for their efforts. This also doesn’t work because it kills consumerism, the lifeblood of capitalism. Environmentalism considers consumption to be the root of environmental problems for logical reasons but consumerism is the driver of falling populations. It’s not rocket science to determine that a few people consuming a lot, is less damaging than a lot of people consuming a little. To cut CO2 significantly requires everyone to have very little and have few children. Bit of a lose, lose situation.
Working societies try to find a balance between these issues. Democracy is society’s tool to keep the fortunate from getting too greedy and the poor too lazy and by and large get it right but both ends of society keep trying to game the system. And so we come to the Richard Bransons of this World. They quite literally have everything they could want, except absolute power. Like the kings and princes of old, they want to own everything, including all the land and the peasants. If they want us to move so we don’t spoint the view, then off we go. Environmentalism is just another tool to try and upset the balance. Now we have to move because we’re a threat to the plants and animals. We should WANT to move. And yet we don’t, naughty peasants that we are.
Is the environment doomed? I don’t know but the right answer is not to return to the days when only a tiny few had comfortable lives. If we resist it will force a new solution, not the old bad ones. The plan should be one we agree on, not one we’re tricked or bullied into. Or failing that I think the rich should lead the charge. More king Richard than Richard Branson.
PS your caption for Branson taking a bath should shock me, except I’d already come up with ‘look, no hands’. Tee hee.
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Your criticism of pure socialist egalitarianism is perfectly sensible. It’s not the visible inequality that matters, but the invisible sort represented by Branson running his business from his bath made of solid Brazilian hardwood. I don’t mind that my dentist – for example – earns five or ten times more than I do/did. He works harder, and he’s into underwater photography in tropical locations. Perhaps this expensive hobby makes him better at detecting the exotic flora lurking in my gums, who knows? It certainly adds to the general interconnectedness of us with the world and is therefore a Good Thing.
But like everyone else, he’s at risk of competition from cheaper competition from Elsewhere. Everyone else except the Bransons, for whom there is no Elsewhere, because they’ve taken an option on it and are slowly deciding what to to do with it.
Their first reaction is to protect it and themselves, surrounding their domain with the moralistic ideology of environmentalism, and themselves with a demi-monde of media sycophants. What happens when that ceases to function, I wonder? There’ll be less spent on Balinese interior decorators, and more on armed guards, I would guess. And the ideology will change accordingly.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Branson’s Warroom’s special offers to green insiders to share in his rake off of a percentage of the gains to be made on subsidising green shipping fuels or whatever are a piddling little epiphenomenon in the world’s affairs. The big deal is the shipping itself, who owns it, and who makes the stuff it’s transporting, and that’s not Branson, and it’s less and less us in Europe of America. Maybe Branson is as insignificant in the grand order of things as some oriental princeling allowed to lord it in his ministate by the Roman Emperor, as long as he toes the line. He’s bloody annoying though.
I can’t disagree with your world view. What I feel about Branson can’t be printed. I’d even give an example of hidden inequality – new innovations like computer chips and movies are protected by law and by extension those industries but old invention like steel isn’t. In some ways that’s not a bad thing in that it allows poorer countries to get on the ladder with those technologies but what about those in the west who can’t be the next Nick Park, Benedict Cumberbatch or James Dyson? What happens when those robots everyone keeps talking about arrive?
Not being of the Marxist faith, I really don’t mind the rich per se. I presume some are nice and some are nasty, and some get a bit up themselves like Richard B seems to have done with his Carbon War Room. Their stated purpose:
Low expectations= realistic expectations
Weak mandates = unpopular, a lot of us think ‘green’ is the new ‘junk’, a bit like ‘eco’
accelerate the deployment = force this junk down people’s throats
I do mind that. That level of pushiness is annoying.
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