Prince Charles, Climate Change & Walter Bagehot

The Prince of Wales has co-written a book about climate change. So, global warming! A member of the Royal Family saying something! The Daily Mail criticizing him! The Guardian defending him! Let’s get into it.

But before we do, I’m going to issue one disclaimer: I am largely unemotional about individual members of the Royal Family, but I have a soft spot for Prince Charles. I understand he’s one its more controversial members, and my affection for him isn’t a blanket endorsement of any and every choice he’s made (if for no other reason than I don’t know them all, which is a pity), but I have a soft spot. To use the great meter trotted out in American politics, I would totally “grab a beer” with him. Except it would be port, obviously. I mean, obviously.

Now, this book. Prince Charles has co-written a book with Ladybird Books alongside Cambridge University Professor Emily Shuckburgh and former Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper on climate change. It is, helpfully, titled, “Climate Change.”

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Prince Charles in Paris in 2015

According to The Telegraph, the idea for it apparently came from conservative MP Nicholas Soames after Princes Charles spoke at the 2015 climate talks in Paris. He suggested that the Prince develop a text in plain English that broke down the nuances of the issue in a way that could be easily comprehended for those without any background in the issue. That aligns with what the publisher has said, which is that Clarence House (the Prince’s official London residence and office base) approached them about the project, which corresponded with their plans to invest in “factual books by experts on science, history and arts subjects.”

Prince Charles is not a johnny-come-lately to environmental issues. In fact, he’s been talking about the environment for way longer than it’s been trendy. Like, decades longer. For some recent examples: In 2007 he launched the Prince’s May Day Effort, encouraging businesses to take action on climate change. That year he also spoke before the European Parliament encouraging the European Union to take leadership on the issue, while in 2011 he criticized skeptics for playing “a dangerous game of roulette” with the planet’s future. He also, as mentioned above, gave a keynote address at COP21 in Paris.

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More recently, news of this book and its forward, written by Prince Charles, came out just as Donald Trump was taking office – naturally this led to a number of news articles comparing and contrasting both men’s stances, and characterizing the Prince’s remarks as a “warning” to both Trump and the international community. Context: Trump has referred to climate change as an “expensive hoax,” while Prince Charles has said efforts to address shifting weather patterns “must be urgently scaled up, and scaled up now.”

According to Prime Minister Theresa May, a state visit from Donald Trump is in the cards for later in 2017, at which point it’s extremely likely both men would meet. To this I say, I. Can’t. Wait. My God, the sheer entertainment value.

I digress. Back to the book. Upon news of its imminent release, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote a column criticizing the move which I think can be summed up with the phrases, “Liberal snowflake” and “Something, shut up, the constitution.” I’m paraphrasing. Now, I was not familiar with Mr. Littlejohn’s writing hitherto, but upon a quick scan of his CV (as told to me by the internet) and some of his other work, I am fine with that. I don’t want to say he’s The Worst, because that’s a bold statement to make in 2017, but this man having a column is like handing a baby an iPhone. They like it, it’s very shiny, it’s potentially dangerous and expensive for the rest of us.

Anywho, let’s quote it(!):

“The Prince of Wales, who has just put his name to a puerile, alarmist Ladybird book on climate change, now wants all TV weather forecasts to include warnings about the effects of global warming.

He said: ‘We might be more inclined to think about the longer term if we were more aware of what is happening around us. ‘Perhaps daily weather forecasts could include a few basic facts about the Earth’s vital signs, or details of where climate change is increasing the likelihood of damaging weather?’

The heart sinks. Weather bulletins are already among the most patronising sermons on television, with presenters talking to us as if we’ve all got the IQ of a three-year-old.”

Sir, if you are feeling this offended and patronized to by the weather channel, then I think it’s time to take a beat and consider your life.

And does anyone think he lobbed on to the weather channel bit because it would have been beyond him to come up with a cohesive argument about the nuances of environmental science or energy policy? (Because I definitely think this.)

Now, without opining on the merit of the subject matter – purely from a comms perspective – having a brief aside on the daily weather report is actually brilliant. To that I say, well done Clarence House.

pow-sustainability

The Guardian, meanwhile, has published a defense by Prince Charles’s co-autor, Tony Juniper, who took issue with criticism – including that from the Daily Mail – of the Prince on the grounds it wasn’t his place to speak out on the issue. He writes:

“[The book] already been greeted in some quarters as another controversial intervention by our future king. But while it’s easy to fall behind that line of thinking, it is an increasingly mistaken one. For despite the impression created in some quarters, the truth is that climate change is not controversial. The basic facts are established and increasingly embedded in policy.

[…]

“While the Mail and some other papers evidently won’t agree with his views on this subject, they might wish to reflect for a moment on the role of our monarchy. In the absence of a written constitution, perhaps the closest we’ve got to an accepted view on what it is for and where its right lie comes from the Victorian essayist and long-serving editor of the Economist, Walter Bagehot.

“He wrote in 1867 in the English constitution that the monarchy has ‘the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn’. I can think of few issues where exercising those rights fits the bill more closely than in relation to the ever less controversial matter of climate change.”

I love a good Bagehot reference.

So, is Prince Charles stepping up against that constitutional line by talking about climate change? Per Bagehot, no he isn’t. If he actively lobbied for a particular bill or specific regulation? Sure. If he attempted to use his position to threaten or bribe one side or another to further a policy agenda. Yeah.

Co-authoring a book on what has become a mainstream scientific area of study that serves as a basic explanatory guide? Not so much.

You may dislike Prince Charles. You may disagree with him that climate change is a looming threat. You may dislike it when members of the Royal Family or other celebrities opine on political issues. But Prince Charles has in no way stepped out of his lane here.

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