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Culture

How Green Is the ‘Green King,’ Really?

King Charles III has been called “the real deal” — and also a climate fraud.

King Charles hugging a tree.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

At the very least, you’ve got to admit — the “Green King” has a nice ring to it.

This Saturday, for the first time in 70 years, Britain will formally crown a new sovereign, setting off a three-day weekend of celebrations that will cost taxpayers a rumored $125 million. But while King Charles III is tied with his wife, Camilla, as Americans’ second-least-favorite royal — behind only the notorious Prince Andrew — his ascension has also drawn praise from climate activists and historians worldwide, who’ve dubbed him Britain’s “environmentalist king-in-waiting.”

Charles’ more than a half-century of environmental activism will undoubtedly be tempered by what The New Yorker calls the monarchical “convention to not publicly register his own views on matters of political policy, and, indeed, to accept the policies of the government.” But his credentials as the once and future Green King of the United Kingdom are also mixed; for every illegally fished Patagonian toothfish he’d defended in the name of “the poor old albatross,” there’s also a wind turbine he’s blasted as a “blot.”

Here’s an overview of Charles’ mixed green bona fides, in passages from 10 helpful articles from around the web.

He’s been an environmental activist since before Greta Thunberg’s mother was born.

It may be tempting to think of the new King, with his bespoke Savile Row suits, Edwardian manners, and royal retinue, as an icon of a previous age. But his speeches, books, and projects do suggest a man ahead of his time. He was advocating concepts such as the circular economy and natural capital years before they captured the public’s imagination, and he’s clearly followed his own principles, converting his farm to organic practices more than 30 years ago.

“Some of these ideas were radical and literally decades ahead of their time. Some you could reprint today and they would be very much of the moment. It’s hard to overstate the role he played in putting these subjects on the agenda,” says Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, a fellow with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and former executive director of Friends of the Earth and president of the Wildlife Trusts.

From “Prince Charles Was an Environment Radical. What Happens Now He’s King?” by Jonathan Manning for National Geographic, Sept. 23, 2022

Many environmentalists think he’s the “real deal.”

[...The] 73-year-old monarch has dedicated a large part of his life to doing something about the environmental issues that, as a youth, so occupied his mind. He has been an outspoken supporter of sustainability, organic farming, renewable energy, and biodiversity. He’s encouraged others to rethink urban design and corporate production. He skips meat a few days a week. His vintage Aston Martin runs on surplus wine and excess cheese whey. Clarence House, where he lived in London as the Prince of Wales, has solar panels. Balmoral, the summer home of the Royal Family in Aberdeenshire in Scotland, features hydroelectric turbines and biomass boilers. And at last year’s COP26, the king warned world leaders that “after billions of years of evolution, nature is our best teacher” when it comes to reducing emissions and capturing carbon, noting that “restoring natural capital, accelerating nature-based solutions, and leveraging the circular bioeconomy will be vital to our efforts.”

[...Unlike] other world figureheads touting climate issues, when it comes to actually believing in the need to tackle climate change, King Charles is the real deal, argues Piers Forster, professor of climate physics at the University of Leeds and a trustee of the United Bank of Carbon.

From “What Charles the ‘Activist King’ Means for the Climate” by Tom Ward for Wired, Sept. 14, 2022

He’s problematically warned about the growth of the developing world.

Charles — like his father, Prince Philip, before him — has at times waded into the sticky morass of population growth. In a speech given at the Sheldonian Theater at Oxford University in 2010, then-Prince Charles noted: “When I was born in 1948, a city like Lagos in Nigeria had a population of just 300,000; today, just over 60 years later, it is home to 20 million.”

With population increasing rapidly in Mumbai, Cairo, Mexico City, and cities in other developing countries around the world, Charles said Earth cannot “sustain us all, when the pressures on her bounty are so great.”

[…] There may seem to be a simple logic in laying the blame for climate change on global population, which is now inching toward 8 billion. But there is a long and fraught history of thinkers in developed countries critiquing population growth in developing ones. Betsy Hartman, a professor emerita of development studies at Hampshire College, has said, “In this ideology of ‘too many people,’ it’s always certain people who are ‘too many.’”

From “The Many Paradoxes of Charles III as ‘Climate King’” by Shannon Osaka for The Washington Post, Sept. 13, 2022

He’s admired by Canada’s First Nations community.

[...There] has long been respect for Charles among Indigenous people stretching back more than two decades to April 2001, when the prince traveled to Saskatchewan for a Cree ceremony that bestowed upon him the name Kīsikāwipīsimwa miyo ōhcikanawāpamik, or, “The Sun Watches Over Him in a Good Way.”

Our new monarch has made efforts to visit with Canadian Indigenous leaders in subsequent trips. In 2019, he invited [Perry Bellegarde, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations] to London and [asked] him to be a part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which attempts to push the private sector to make the transition to low-carbon operations.

Charles even consulted with First Nations elders over Zoom during the pandemic to talk about elders’ traditional knowledge.

“He’s got it in terms of sustainable development — that we’re all connected to the land and to the water, and that what affects the animals affects us, and what affects the plants affects us, and what affects the water affects us as human beings,” Bellegarde said.

“I teased him one time in a meeting: ‘I swear to goodness, your Majesty, that you were First Nations in another life.’”

From “Call Him the Green King. Charles Will Have an Environmental Agenda. How Far Can He Push It?” by Allan Woods for The Toronto Star, April 30, 2023

He’s failed to take responsibility for his family’s role in the climate crisis.

Charles has never acknowledged the monarchy’s full responsibility for the climate crisis. Asked by the BBC last year if the U.K. was doing enough to combat climate change, he replied: ”I couldn’t possibly comment.” And while Charles has acknowledged the general injustice of the monarchy’s colonial legacy, he has not connected that legacy to growing climate injustice around the world.

Climate justice activists from colonized nations say this connection is important, because the very institution that gives Charles a powerful platform to speak on climate change is responsible for creating global crisis conditions in the first place. To truly be considered a “climate king,” they say, Charles would have to not only acknowledge the climate harm done by the monarchy, but take steps to repair it.

From “Stop Calling Charles the ‘Climate King’” by Emily Atkin for Heated, Sept. 14, 2022

He’s been accused of helping BP “greenwash” its image.

The Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), which Charles launched in 2020 when he was Prince of Wales, granted BP a “Terra Carta Seal” even though the oil and gas giant had failed to achieve a top score from the sustainability ranking company assessing applicants for the awards.

[…] Clive Russell, a spokesperson for Ocean Rebellion, an activist group that spun out of Extinction Rebellion, said giving BP a seal undermined SMI’s credibility: “How can an initiative co-founded by a world-renowned polluter like BP – a company currently investing £300m in renewables and £3.8bn in new oil and gas – be taken seriously? The SMI should be disbanded. Those involved should hang their heads in shame. This is blatant greenwashing.”

From “King Charles Accused of Helping BP ‘Greenwash’ Its Image With Royal Seal” by Dimitris Dimitraidis and Ben Webster for OpenDemocracy, Nov. 4, 2022

He’s defended fox hunting ...

On the eve of today’s Countryside Alliance march in London, it was revealed that the heir to the throne wrote to Tony Blair expressing anger at the government for pursuing plans to outlaw the bloodsport in England.

It is understood the Prince, a passionate hunt supporter, told Blair that he “would not dare attack an ethnic minority in the way that supporters of fox hunting were being persecuted.”

From “Prince: I’ll Leave Britain Over Fox Hunt Ban,” by The Scotsman, Sept. 22, 2002

… and also called for a war on poaching.

Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarised crisis.

“We face one of the most serious threats to wildlife ever, and we must treat it as a battle — because it is precisely that,” said Charles. “Organised bands of criminals are stealing and slaughtering elephants, rhinoceros, and tigers, as well as large numbers of other species, in a way that has never been seen before. They are taking these animals, sometimes in unimaginably high numbers, using the weapons of war — assault rifles, silencers, night-vision equipment, and helicopters.”

From “Prince Charles Calls for a War on Animal Poachers” by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian, May 21, 2013

He supports wind turbines (so long as they aren’t in his backyard).

“[Charles] is understood to be strongly opposed to onshore wind turbines that rise higher than 100 metres because of their visual impact, and none have been erected on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the £700m estate that provides him with a private income. He has lobbied government officials to subsidize other renewable energy sources and is reported to believe that if windfarms should be built at all, they should be far out at sea.

[...] In the past few years, the crown estate has signed a 25-year lease with the renewable energy company RWE for turbines at Little Cheyne Court windfarm in Kent and has agreed lease options with Renewable Energy Systems, which wants to erect 15 turbines in Carmarthenshire, with RWE npower for four turbines in Powys, and with E.ON for 17 turbines on the Billingborough estate in Lincolnshire

[...] “It is hypocrisy,” said Leanne Wood, a candidate for the Plaid Cymru leadership who is campaigning for Welsh energy independence. “[The prince] stands to benefit from wind projects on land in Wales, but opposes them himself. If that is his position there shouldn’t be windfarms on crown estate land.”

From “Prince Charles To Get Funding From ‘Blot on the Landscape’ Windfarms” by Robert Booth for The Guardian, Feb. 28, 2012

His green legacy will ultimately be defined by what happens next.

From now on, what the King says is less important than what he is seen to do. He now runs a multibillion-pound private corporation and has one of the world’s greatest personal fortunes. How our billionaire king spends his money and what he does with his vast properties and land holdings may fundamentally change the way Britain sees itself – and how the world regards us.

[... He] could start his green reforms of the monarchy by publicly divesting the institution of all fossil fuel interests [...] He could [offer] to the state or the National Trust most of his cold, largely empty, useless castles, palaces and mansions, such as Balmoral and Sandringham. He could then slash the estimated £90,000-a-month heating bills of any that are left – Windsor or Sandringham, for example – by investing heavily in heat pumps, solar power and insulation and then switching his bills to renewable energy providers such as Ecotricity or Good Energy.

[...He could] clear out the old rollers and Bentleys, go entirely electric, and take to bicycles and rail like other modern monarchies [...] If he was brave and fair-minded he could offer the 16 private hectares (39 acres) of Buckingham Palace to London as a new public park [...]

[...] Charles could happily dispose of most of the many thousands of great diamonds, rubies, and other jewels that have been handed personally to royalty over 200 years without anyone caring. The billions of pounds raised from such a sale could be used to establish academies of sustainable farming or permaculture in the Commonwealth countries from which most jewels were looted in colonial times and many of which are still struggling to feed themselves.

Aside from shedding most of his relations, abandoning archaic British empire medals, and generally living less lavishly, he could start hosting vegetarian banquets and end hunting on all royal lands.

At which point, he could do the decent thing and abolish himself.

From “Here’s a Plan for Green King Charles: Sell the Family Silver and Use the Cash to Save the Planet” by John Vidal for The Guardian, Oct. 6, 2022

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Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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