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A radical environmentalist or mainstream ecologist?

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King Charles III was mocked back in the 1970s as an eccentric for championing organic farming, but will demonstrate his continuing commitment at his coronation which will be steeped in symbols of nature and the environment. But will he be able to hold on to his beliefs as king, given that the role requires frequent trave and runs counter to the British monarchy’s many traditions?

As an environmentalist long before Greta Thunberg was even born, green issues ranging from climate change to biodiversity have been at the heart of Charles’s Royal work.

His coronation itself will be marked by his long-held environmentalism from his wearing clothes that belonged to previous monarchs and serving a vegetarian main course at the main meal. This fervent ecologist is thus making his “green” mark felt at the ceremony.

Charles has always been forward-thinking on the issue of the planet, warning about the dangers in a speech in 1970 at just 21. He said that the planet was in danger and denounced chemical, air and oil pollution, “which almost destroys beaches and certainly destroys tens of thousands of seabirds”.


Organic farming and endangered pigs  

The British Crown’s property and Charles III’s own land introduced organic farming practices on some of it in far ahead of the curve as 1985. On his 440-hectare farm at Highgrove in south-west England, he has experimented with natural instead of chemical pesticides on his fields. The site is also home to over 73 species of rare animals, including Tamworth pigs, which are one of the oldest breeds in the country and currently endangered.

On his Dorset estate in the southern part of the country, he has also built a very popular village using only eco-friendly materials, waste separation and other principles of sustainable urban living and planning.

Later, he installed wood chip boilers in his homes and converted his Jaguar and Land Rover to run on biodiesel, made from used cooking oil, along with a host of other green measures. Over the years, his experiments have sometimes been met with further mockery, such as when he said at COP26 in 2021 that his Aston Martin runs on “surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process”. This idea has obviously been dismissed for mass usage.

From 2007 onwards, Charles III began tracking and publishing his carbon footprint, which he has done every year since. He has committed to offsetting his emissions by investing in sustainable energy projects where it is not possible to reduce them. 

Big statements at the World Economic Forum 

Unlike his mother, who was thrust onto the throne as a child, the former Prince of Wales has had 70 years to observe how the world has changed. During all these years, he has taken advantage of his official travels and international speeches to put environmental conservation in the spotlight, even if it means shocking his audience. 

In 2020 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, he supported the young climate activist Greta Thunberg and criticised the business world’s lack of ecological commitment. “What good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from ‘business as usual’, if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?” asked Charles III during his speech

In partnership with the WEF, the sovereign created the Sustainable Markets Council a year ago, a body charged with encouraging best practice, identifying innovative technologies and linking investors to projects. 


In partnership with the WEF, the sovereign created the Sustainable Markets Council a year before this famous speech, a body charged with encouraging best practice, identifying innovative technologies and linking investors to projects. 

Political neutrality and mainstream ecology 

However, “Charles III’s positions are not radical,” says Thibaud Harrois, lecturer in contemporary British civilisation at Paris’ Sorbonne-Nouvelle University. “He has not called for the end of capitalism. He is doing what could be described as ‘mainstream’ ecology, accepted by all at a time when there is scientific consensus on the issue of global warming,” adds Harrois.    

In his role as monarch, the British sovereign is subject to political neutrality, says the lecturer, adding that he doubts Thunberg will ever be invited to Buckingham Palace. “It would be daring because she symbolises a type of activism – a climate strike – that is politically contested. It’s hard to imagine that the king would do something that could have a political impact and damage the British government,” says Harrois. He received a huge backlash in the UK for getting involved in the environmental movement so publically, for as a “working Royal” he is not supposed to interfere with UK government policy. Their role is as ambassadors to the UK — symbolic — and to work on social and charitable causes in the UK.

In 2004, however, Charles secretly sent a series of handwritten letters to several British ministers and politicians. In these very personal letters, the former prince shared his views on organic farming, global warming and urban planning, for which he was later severely criticised.

King Charles III’s private jet trips 

He is largely seen as a “’green monarch’ but he is criticised for his lifestyle; including his love of fox hunting and frequent air travel, which many feel run contradictory to his environmental stance. 

Even though Charles III is monitoring his carbon footprint, he continues to travel regularly by private plane and go on ski holidays every winter, an activity that is being increasingly criticised for its environmental impact. In 2020 alone, his carbon footprint was estimated at 3,133 tonnes of CO2 compared to the 8.3 tonnes emitted by the average British citizen.     

Britain’s King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, exit their plane after landing at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Schoenefeld, Germany, on March 29, 2023. © Odd Andersen, AFP


That same year, the Daily Mail criticised the former prince for flying 25,000 kilometres in a private jet 11 days before he attended the WEF in Davos, Switzerland, where he posed alongside Thunberg. During this short period, Charles III travelled by private jet three times, not counting the five empty trips to pick him up. He has been involved in other controversies, including when he travelled to New York in 2007 with a team of 20 people to receive an ecology award. 

At a time when global warming is more topical than ever, one thing is certain: the next British monarch will continue to be criticised even after he is crowned whatever he or she does and their overseas travel closely monitored.

This article has been translated from the original in French

This story originally appeared on France24

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