Why the prince *hearts* environmentalists

In eco-activism, Charles has found a cause every bit as reactionary and anti-modern as the monarchy itself.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Science & Tech

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There he was, Prince Charles, the long-time heir to the throne, sat in his London home and media HQ, Clarence House, giving an intimate, soft-focus interview to This Morning‘s anodyne duo, Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. But there was something different about the old wing-nut, something had moved him. And that something was the thought of his imminent grandchild living in a world ruined, drowned and scorched by climate change. He had thought about The End before, of course, but the thought of Willsunkate’s future offspring had really brought it home. ‘I don’t want to be confronted by my future grandchild and [have] them say: “Why didn’t you do something?”‘, he told the grinning-then-sombre Schofield and Willoughby. ‘So clearly, now that we will have a grandchild, it makes it even more obvious to try and make sure we leave them something that isn’t a total poisoned chalice.’

This at least was how Charles outpouring of support for the environmentalist cause has been reported: the thought of his prospective grandchildren has reinforced his commitment to saving the planet; his support for environmentalism is grounded more than ever upon something real, something familial. It must be a relief to Charles. When he talked to plants, everyone mocked him; now his unborn grandchildren are having a word, everyone admires him.

It is strange then to find that Charles has in fact come out with the ‘won’t someone think of the children?’ guff for quite a few years. In last year’s The Prince’s Speech: On the Future of Food, for instance, Charles wrote: ‘I have no intention of being confronted by my grandchildren, demanding to know why on Earth we didn’t do something about the many problems that existed when we knew what was going wrong.’ Sound familiar? Well, here he is again speaking at the 2009 climate-change conference in Copenhagen: ‘As our planet’s life-support system begins to fail and our very survival as a species is brought into question, remember that our children and grandchildren will ask not what our generation said, but what it did. Let us give an answer, then, of which we can be proud.’

The imminent reality of grandchildren, then, has not suddenly inspired Charles to take up the environmentalist crusade with renewed zeal. Rather, he has been peddling one of the guilt-tripping clichés of the climate-change brigade long before Willsunkate made productive use of the conjugal bed.

Pointing out Charles’ frequent recourse to the same piece of tiresome ‘change your ways’ rhetoric is not mere pedantry. It shows that it is not heightened concerns for the line of hereditary succession, sorry, his grandchildren, that is now driving his environmentalism. It comes instead from the same place it always has done; the monarchy’s ideological affinity with the modern green movement.

It may be difficult to understand for those who consider reducing consumption and worrying about population growth to be really radical, but the prince’s environmentalist commitment is wholly unsurprising. If anyone was to be a fully-signed up environmentalist, it would be a member of the royal family. That it’s Charles, who has long loved lecturing ministers and the public alike, rather than the more formally obsequious Elizabeth, also makes sense.

You see, the monarchy as an institution has never been much keen on change. It didn’t like the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century, which limited its power; it didn’t like the English Civil War in the seventeenth century which, for a time, threatened its abolition; and it was very perturbed by the revolutions in America and then France in the eighteenth century, each of which led to the foundation of republics. And now, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t like a very contemporary sort of change, namely climate change.

Instead, the monarchy always much prefers to either keep things the way they are, or if possible, wind back the clock to a time when it wasn’t quite the historical anachronism it now is, when the idea of ‘king and country’ still carried some popular purchase. In the fibre of its institutional being, the monarchy is a force for reaction, for status quo. Little wonder, then, that the prince – the most outspoken member of the current crop of royals – is so keen to identify himself with environmentalism: it echoes the anxieties of the monarchy, it chimes with its reactionary impulse. To put it in stronger terms, in the anti-modernity sentiments of the climate-change crusaders, in their distaste for rising levels of consumption among the little people and those over there, in developing countries: the monarchy, that most anti-modern of institutions, recognises its own interests and finds common cause. For Charles, environmentalism even starts to look like a reprimand to the past 200 years: ‘The climate crisis is the mirror in which we see reflected the combined ecological impact of our industrialised age.’

That an institution as anti-democratic, as averse to the gains of modernity, both political and material, as the monarchy, should ally itself so closely with environmentalism tells us much about the latter’s political heart.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

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Topics Science & Tech


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