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Will Charles be a Green King?

Will Charles be a Green King?

Charles championed the environment as Prince of Wales. How will he use his influence as King?

“The eyes and hopes of the world are upon you to act with all dispatch and decisively, because time has quite literally run out.”

King Charles III, COP, Glasgow

That’s Prince Charles, now King Charles III, addressing world leaders at the UN climate talks in Glasgow last year.

“We are faced at this moment with the horrifying effects of pollution in all its cancerous forms. There is the growing menace of oil pollution at sea which almost destroys beaches and certainly destroys tens of thousands of seabirds.”

King Charles III, The Royal Family, YouTube

And that’s Prince Charles in 1970, giving his first big speech on the environment. There’s no doubt about his sincerity.

He’s cared about nature for a long time, and kept speaking up even when he was dismissed as an eccentric. But can he still be a champion for green causes now he is King?

“We will get spades in the ground to make sure people are not facing unaffordable energy bills.”

Liz Truss

His Majesty’s government has lifted the ban on fracking in England and will issue more licences for drilling in the North Sea to cut the UK’s reliance on imported gas.

While Liz Truss also says she will speed up deployment of renewables such as solar and wind, the commitment to extract more fossil fuels looks like it puts her at odds with the King.

Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth, was an adviser to Charles when he was Prince of Wales. He says that Charles knows a king must be more diplomatic than a prince.

“I would imagine that some of his conversations with Liz Truss as our new Prime Minister will be robust but I don’t expect them to go outside of the privacy of those meetings.

He is quite clear that he is not going to be taking on a campaigning role as our constitutional monarch and couldn’t have made it clearer to everybody that once he moved from Prince of Wales to what he is doing now, our constitutional King, that he would obviously be taking a very different perspective.

My sense is that will draw on a lot of the experience and wisdom that he has built up, he will question the degree to which our current model of progress is accelerating the rate of destruction here on planet Earth and he will focus on those places where he can make a difference.

I would think in particular that the Commonwealth will be an area of particular attention for him – we’re all looking on in horror at what is happening in Pakistan for instance – and he will be seeing that as an example of exactly the fate that awaits more and more people on this planet if we don’t grip this climate crisis in a very different way.”

Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth

You could say that Charles’s passion for the environment is a rich man’s hobby. Not everyone can afford to drive an Aston Martin which is converted to run on surplus English wine.

Yes, you heard that correctly. The King’s vintage sports car, a gift from the late Queen on his 21st birthday, is powered by a blended fuel which includes bioethanol made from surplus wine and cheese.

He’s also an exponent of organic farming, converting the farm at his country home in Gloucestershire in 1985.

And he’s not just a wealthy individual of course. As Prince of Wales he used his position to lobby the government, campaigning against GM foods and in favour of alternative herbal remedies. His letters to ministers were known as the ‘black spider memos’ because of his scrawling handwriting.

Charles’ environmental interests can seem very diverse, from treasuring rare species of plants to campaigning on behalf of small family-owned farms. And he does have a tendency to pick and choose on science, agreeing with the consensus on climate and swimming against the tide on homeopathy, for example.

It can seem a bit of a soup of ideas, but people who know him suggest his prime concern is  the impact of a capitalist system that’s driven entirely by making profit rather than any wider consideration.

“I think what people never really understood was that although he was talking about individual issues, whether it was climate change or deforestation or organic farming, these individual issues, causes if you like, were underpinned by some much deeper considerations.

The most important was that he could never understand why we had settled on a system of economic progress which entailed making war on the Earth basically; that caused, inevitably, the destruction of most of the natural capital on which the whole future of humankind depends. That was, to him, totally mystifying.”

Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth

There’s a spiritual dimension to his philosophy too. And that’s where he parts ways with many of his subjects.

“The second thing was there was always a very penetrating spiritual perspective on this… that we shouldn’t just be more respectful about the earth and the natural environment… but we should have a more reverential approach to understand some of those deeper connections between humankind and the created world.”

Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth

As Prince of Wales, Charles set up forums for businesses, with the aim of cutting emissions and working on environmental sustainability, as well as writing books and giving speeches.

Two concerns came across loudly in Charles’s speeches. First, that climate change is an urgent threat to human civilization, and second, that the domination of our food supply by a handful of big businesses has significant drawbacks. Nowadays, those views are mainstream.

Tony Juniper, head of Natural England, was an adviser to Charles and co-authored two books with him.

“If you wanted to point to one thing that is the crowning glory, if I can use that phrase, I would say it is the mainstreaming of all of these subjects, environmental and sustainability and climate change questions coming in to the mainstream because before he was developing momentum on all of this it was seen as rather fringe.”

Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth

The consensus among scientists is that the next few years are critical. Humanity needs to cut emissions sharply by the end of this decade if we are to secure a liveable planet for much of the world’s population.

It may be no bad thing  to have a king willing to champion this urgent cause, even if he does so more discreetly than he used to.


Today’s episode was written by Jeevan Vasagar and mixed by Sean Collins.