Can this Cool Planet Experience change the conversation on climate change?

10 Jan 2018

Richard Branson (centre) cuts the ribbon on Cool Planet Experience in Wicklow. Image: Justin Mac Innes/Jason Clarke Photography

In Wicklow, Richard Branson cut the ribbon on the world’s first permanent visitor centre dedicated to climate change. Dr Claire O’Connell went to the launch.

We need to change the conversation about how we can tackle climate change. It’s not about restrictions and doing without, it’s about being informed, using energy smartly and taking opportunities to save the world.

Those were strong messages at the launch earlier today (10 January) of Cool Planet Experience in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, where Richard Branson cut the ribbon on the world’s first permanent visitor centre dedicated to climate change.

‘We want to make sustainability so cool that it becomes the norm’

Good sense to tackle climate change

Asking people to ‘do without’ in order to tackle climate change is not going to work, and instead we need to be informed about new technologies that can help us live our lives more sustainably, according to Norman Crowley, Cool Planet Experience co-founder and CEO of energy efficiency company Crowley Carbon.

He spoke about how Crowley Carbon convinced business clients to use energy more cleverly and thereby cut consumption by 50pc, which makes good business as well as environmental sense.

But there is also a need to inform consumers about the positive steps we can take. Enter Cool Planet Experience, which will open its doors next month so visitors – particularly school children – can learn about climate change and the opportunities to do better for our planet. With the first exhibition almost up and running in Ireland, plans are afoot to open Cool Planet Experience in nine other global locations, including the Middle East and Australia.

Work together for cleaner energy

Branson, who arrived appropriately in a Tesla electric car, was guest of honour at the Cool Planet Experience launch and cut the ribbon on the purpose-built interactive exhibition centre at Powerscourt Estate. In recent years, Branson has been an advocate of cutting carbon emissions and the move away from ‘dirty’ fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of energy.

When asked what prompted his passion for tackling climate change, Branson cited his four “glorious grandchildren” as an inspiration. “They are going to grow up into a world that will be endangered from climate change if we don’t do something about it,” he told the audience.

He emphasised the importance of nations working together, pointing out how the major issue of CFCs damaging the ozone layer had been reversed through international cooperation.

‘All government has to do is just tip the balance towards clean energy over dirty energy. It’s an extremely easy thing to do’

Branson is in favour of taxation policies to encourage the use of clean energy sources rather than fossil fuels. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in 30 years’ time is powered by wind and sun and wave and really good-quality batteries?” he asked. “All government has to do is just tip the balance towards clean energy over dirty energy. It’s an extremely easy thing for government to do, to say: ‘Right, no taxes at all on clean energy and we will tax dirty energy quite heavily.’ All of us in this room and anyone in a position of influence has to try to persuade our politicians of the sense of it.”

Change the conversation

Cool Planet Experience CEO Vicky Brown put the emphasis on changing the everyday conversations based on facts and fun.

“We want to change the conversation on climate change,” she said. “We want to build happy families and happy communities. We want people to feel inspired and uplifted [and] we want to make sustainability so cool that it becomes the norm.”

She stressed the need to move fast, and encourage kids to push us on to change. Brown also noted that, as well as creating the interactive centre, the initiative has trained a ‘Cool Planet Champion’ in each county in Ireland to work with local communities, politicians and media on getting the information out.

“When people get the information [about climate change] they are willing to take hard decisions but they need to be informed, and Cool Planet aims to fill that gap,” she said.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication