Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne who is most famous for talking to plants, has signed a deal to make a movie and write a book about climate change. The project will be called “Harmony,” because, in Charles’s words, humankind must “rediscover that sense of harmony, that sense of being a part of, rather apart from, nature.” His film will educate the unruly masses — with their fast cars, fridges, and other planet-destroying luxuries — that human beings “have a sacred duty of stewardship of the natural order of things.”
The thought of being lectured about living more meekly by a taxpayer-subsidized prince who has never done a proper day’s work in his life — and who is currently flying around Europe on a private jet with a master suite and plush bathroom that will spew a whopping 53 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over the course of his five-day, $116,000 charter — is of course eye-swivellingly irritating. But this is something we’re getting used to in Britain — because here, environmentalism looks very much like the Revenge of the Aristocrats. The British green lobby is stuffed with the sons and daughters of privilege, for whom environmentalism provides a perfect, scientifically tinged gloss for expressing in a new way their old foul prejudices against mass, modern society.
Many of the major players in British environmentalism are posh, rich, and hectoring. One of Charles’s top advisers is Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth and a patron of the creepy Malthusian outfit, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). Porritt is a graduate of Eton, Britain’s school of choice for the rich and well-connected, and is the son of Lord Porritt, the 11th Governor General of New Zealand. The increasingly influential OPT also counts Sir Crispin Tickell (who is as posh as his name suggests) and Lady Kulukundis, the wife of a Greek shipping magnate, among its patrons.
The head of the organic-promoting Soil Association, Peter Melchett, is also known as the Fourth Baron Melchett: that’s because he is the Eton-educated son of the Baron and Sir, Julian Mond — former chairman of the British Steel Corporation — and is heir to Sir Alfred Mond’s extraordinary ICI fortune. Melchett is the man who spearheaded the Soil Association’s recent attempts to prevent poverty-stricken African farmers from flying their organic produce to Britain on the basis that the “air miles” would further pollute the planet. This is what we call eco-colonialism.
Zac Goldsmith, editor of the greens’ monthly bible The Ecologist, is the son of a billionaire (Sir James Goldsmith) and an aristocrat (Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the daughter of the eighth Marquess of Londonderry.) And if you thought it was grating to be lectured to by the mansion-owning, electricity-zapping Al Gore during his Live Earth bonanza two years ago, then spare a thought for us Brits: during Live Earth, we were given the Gore-approved “Global Warming Survival Handbook,” written by one David de Rothschild. Yes, David is a member of the mind-blowingly wealthy Rothschild banking family and is an heir to its enormous fortune. His book advised us — the little people — to wear a jumper instead of turning on the heat, to grow our own tomatoes, to ride bicycles instead of buying cars, etczzzz. In other words: live like paupers.
Even many of the younger, supposedly radical green protesters are the grandsons and granddaughters of privilege. The members of Plane Stupid, for example, the shrill anti-flying campaign, have better elocution and table manners than many of the attendees of dinner parties at Windsor Castle. Plane Stupid contains the spoiled children of baronets, lords, inventors, and aristocrats, and thus upholds a long and inglorious tradition of posh people sneering at crass mass tourism, which they see as drunken, destructive, and dangerous.
The aristocracy’s embrace of environmentalism, their unflinching commitment to “protecting the planet” from slovenly tourists, African farmers, or the overly fecund classes, is striking indeed. What it reveals is how innately reactionary environmentalism is, to the extent that it can become the political refuge of the landed classes, the moneyed set, and even royals who, by rights, should be stripped of their state subsidies.
British aristocrats’ historic disdain for teeming cities — with their distasteful record of providing upward mobility to the lower orders — can now be respectably recast as a desire to protect the green countryside from polluting urban life. Their long-standing suspicion of working-class communities, who apparently have too many children and are too obsessed with material things, is rehabilitated in the language of “population reduction” to protect “Gaia.” And their preference for the quiet local life, as lived in well-off villages where they are lord of the manor, is given a new lease on life in the discussion of the dangers of “cheap tourism” and of flying foreign food — planted and grown by Africans: yuck! — into the UK.
Most strikingly, environmentalism allows them to once again indulge their backward ideas about natural hierarchies and the rule of the intelligent, eco-minded few over the brash, greedy masses. As Charles says, his new film will remind us of the “natural order of things” — how convenient for the Prince to have discovered a new religion that endorses his long-lost divine right to rule.
– Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked and the author of Can I Recycle My Granny? And 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas.