I understand why they go out, “but it isn’t helpful to do it in a way that alienates people,” explained Prince Charles of Insulate Britain, in an interview this week in which he also revealed, somewhat alienatingly, that he’d had his Aston Martin converted to run on “surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process”.
At long last, a line to eclipse Ed Begley Jr’s from an old episode of The Simpsons, in which the actor explains that his preferred vehicle is “a go-kart, powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction”. A deeply committed environmental activist, Begley has always been able to take the piss out of himself – a pastime you sense has never been top or even bottom of Prince Charles’s to-do list. Or, in fact, of the to-do list of the many, many servants who do for him in his many, many residences.
Still, 16 days out from Cop26, it seems to be House of Windsor week for making helpful interventions on climate. In terms of truly selfless good deeds, I’m holding out for Prince Andrew pledging never again to fly to America, or indeed to any US jurisdictions. When you consider the Duke of York once gas-guzzled his way to New York simply to see a paedo and tell him he couldn’t be buddies any more – hey, we’ve all done it – you get a sense of the meaningful lifestyle compromises this family is prepared to make in the course of causing ordinary subjects to explode at the Marie Antoinettishness of it all. Admittedly, these explosions are not at all good for the cause, but you can’t have everything.
Anyway, we’ve had Prince Charles’s interview on Monday, then a withering assessment from Prince William on the various billionaire space programmes on Thursday – and more on both of those shortly. Friday’s big news, however, is that the Queen has been overheard at the opening of the Welsh parliament yesterday expressing frustration with the pace of concrete action on climate change. According to Her Maj, who is still in the dark about which world leaders are going to show up to next month’s big conference in Glasgow, “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t DO.”
Totally. The trouble is, even when politicians do manage to get climate action on the statute book, there will always be some people who think these sorts of rules don’t apply to them. Or to put it another way: is this the same Queen whose lawyers very recently lobbied the Scottish government in secret to change a draft law to exempt her private estates from a major carbon-cutting initiative ? Yes. Yes, it is the same Queen. As a result of this, the sovereign is the only landowner in the whole of Scotland who doesn’t have to facilitate renewable energy pipelines on her various estates in the country. Which feels, hand on heart, “really irritating”.
But back to Prince Charles, who never lets an interviewer forget that he has been banging the environmental drum for a long time now. As he put it in one self-effacing segment in his interview: “Extinction Rebellion came and did a sit-in on my driveway in Highgrove when I was on a tour … they left a letter saying … ‘Back in such a time you said such and such, you were right. Then you said something else, you were right. You were right, you were right.’ That was marvellous, that was the right kind of demonstration as far as I’m concerned.” Well, quite. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pass on his approval to XR in person because he was in the Caribbean, in a year in which the royal family’s travel-related carbon footprint doubled.
Alas, self-righteousness is not a recessive gene in HRH’s somewhat limited pool, with both of his sons feeling uniquely placed to offer prescriptions for how we, meaning others, might live better. Thus Prince William could be found this week chiding the billionaire space race currently occupying the likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. According to William, “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live … [It] really is quite crucial to be focusing on this [planet] rather than giving up and heading out into space to try and think of solutions for the future.”
If indeed that is solely what the different individuals are up to. We can’t speak for the ludicrous Branson, of course, though given he was one of William and Kate’s wedding guests he could presumably be reached more directly for berating by William. But various space experts have been on hand since the latter’s interview to explain that Musk’s ventures in particular offer hope for climate-saving advances, and suggesting that the prince is perhaps under-read on the subject. As indicated in this column before, I have a lot of sympathy for critiques of billionaire dick-waving via the space race, but maybe both I and William have to concede that as an intellectual point, questioning the fact that any of it is happening at all ranks alongside inquiries such as, “Why is there homelessness yet some people have multiple palaces?”
Spared such philosophical puzzles, Prince William had time to push the “fundamental question” of the carbon cost of space flights. An interesting point, and not limited to space flights. As it happens, I live very near the London spot from which many royal helicopters take off for the various visits/weekend-trips to other estates, and on those days often wonder whether it would sound slightly less like a Vietnam movie if fewer choppers were regarded as essential. As one of the boarders of, and alighters from, these flights, perhaps William could shed greater light?
Then again, maybe none of it matters if your papa has offset by planting Prince George’s Wood, as Charles has at one or other of the Scotland estates. Much nicer than a horrid renewable energy pipeline, of course, and presumably a scalable solution for all Scottish citizens.
As for things Charles and other family members might contemplate while walking through this private arboretum, are suggestions permitted? If so – and I appreciate this is a far-out theory – I do wonder whether, in all the years of bemusement that people weren’t listening to him, Charles ever considered the possibility that the problem might not be so much with the message, as with the messenger.
Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist