“I can’t think of anything more stupid than to talk about bringing coal back.”
Sir Richard Branson didn’t mince words when I asked him about promises made during the presidential campaign to bring coal jobs back. Our conversation was part of Washington Post Live’s CEO Series Executive Actions held on April 28 that we turned into the latest episode of “Cape Up.”
None of what the British billionaire said should have come as a surprise. Branson, in town for the climate march on April 29, is an advocate of renewable energy and among those trying to figure out how to slow the rate of planet-killing climate change. When I asked him why the research of climate scientists doesn’t get through to skeptics in Washington, Branson said to knowing laughter, “Well, it seems to be unique to America, the climate skeptic. As Americans, you’ve got quite a few things unique about you at the moment, but climate change is one of those things.”
There is hardly an issue Branson doesn’t care about. Carbon in the atmosphere? “We set up the Virgin Earth prize, a $25 million prize, to see if anybody could come up with a way of extracting carbon out of the earth’s atmosphere,” he said.
Air travel? “It’s a lot more fun running an airline that has people who smile and are friendly to their passengers, rather than the reverse,” Branson said when I asked him about what happened with United Airlines. He also got into why Virgin America was sold to Alaska Airlines.
Space travel? “Space can play, and already has played, a massive, positive role back here on Earth,” Branson said as he talked about Virgin Galactic’s efforts to initiate civilian space travel. But he wouldn’t commit to a timeline. “I’ve made the mistake of giving dates before and being wrong,” he joked.
Branson also cares about criminal-justice reform, the war on drugs, the death penalty and gay rights. But there is one issue he said he didn’t care about. “I try not to care about Trump’s first 100 days,” he said.
Branson so hates ties that he is known for taking scissors to the ties of unsuspecting interviewers. “You’ve got a very nice tie so I think,” he said to laughter and applause, “we’ll spare you.”