In one of the most unexpected conversions since Saul of Tarsus hit the road to Damascus, Rupert Murdoch is turning into a green campaigner. He is making the whole of his worldwide operations carbon neutral and setting out to "educate and engage" his readers and viewers about global warming.
He believes his companies' "global reach" presents "an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness and to stimulate action around the world". A former sceptic who confesses to having been "somewhat wary of the warming debate", he laid on his first global webcast for all his employees on Wednesday to tell them that he was "changing the DNA of our business". He added that he had started with himself, buying a hybrid car.
Mr Murdoch's conversion, which may surprise employees like Jeremy Clarkson, was heavily influenced by his son James - who took BSkyB carbon neutral a year ago this week - as well as by Tony Blair and former US vice-president Al Gore. All three attended his annual meeting for senior executives in Pebble Beach, California, last year where he was convinced to take the lead on the issue.
Mr Murdoch has bought a Toyota-made Lexus GS450H "green" car, and other practical measures include solar-powered golf carts to carry people round the Fox film lot in Hollywood, building environmentally friendly studios, replacing company fleets with hybrids, using renewable energy, and offsetting remaining emissions by financing windpower in India.
The world's most prominent media tycoon is being hailed by environmentalists as the most important of a chain of high-profile new recruits to the battle to control climate change, including Sir Richard Branson and Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco.
His planned campaign "to change the way the public thinks about these issues" could be particularly effective because of the strength of his operations in the United States, China and India, the three most critical countries for tackling global warming. Mr Murdoch told his employees: "We must first get out own house in order."
News Corporation has a carbon footprint of at 641,150 tons a year and will now aim to be carbon neutral by 2010. News International, which publishes his British newspapers, and the publishers HarperCollins will achieve this goal by the end of the year and all books published by the imprint Fourth Estate are to be printed on recycled paper from 1 July.
But the main thrust of the campaign will be "to inspire people to change their behaviour" through films, television productions and news operations. It will aim "to weave this issue into our content, make it dramatic, make it vivid, even sometimes make it fun". As a start, MySpace is launching a channel devoted to climate change, and Fox television is developing "a solutions-based campaign". Today's Sunday Times and News of the World both major on plans by Gordon Brown for new eco-towns.
Mr Murdoch says: "Imagine if we succeed in inspiring our audiences to reduce their own impacts on climate change by just 1 per cent. That would be like turning the state of California off for almost two months."
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