Prince Charles speaking at the 2015 United Nation Climate Change Conference - COP21 (Paris, Le Bourget)
Credit: flickr - Arnaud Bouissou

Peter Dykstra: Does climate action need a king?

Tradition could silence Charles III’s passionate voice on climate change. But should it?

So let’s figure this out: The Prince of Wales, historically passionate and outspoken about climate change, biodiversity and ocean issues, is supposed to clam up just as he rises to maximum visibility and influence?


The King Charles III has been right about climate change for decades. And organic farming. And biodiversity.

Here’s what he wrote for Newsweek in April:

“The world is on the brink, and we need the mobilizing urgency of a war-like footing if we are to win.”

Maybe we should listen a little.

But the backlash might be both strong and varied should the new king break with tradition and remain an active voice on climate.

British journalist Ella Creamer wrote in Politico: “If Charles continues his activist work, he may stand to forfeit not only approval among the American public — already dented by memory of his 90s affair — but also American interest in the British monarchy as a whole.”

Another, less pearl-clutching school of thought is that the king lacks moral authority to judge on climate because he’s a king – a filthy rich, manor-owning, jet-setting king.

Emily Atkin’s superb Heated newsletter contains a litany of complaints that, as front man for a historically brutal empire, Charles shouldn’t be looked to as a climate “king.”

The jet-setter argument has been thrown in Al Gore’s face every day for the past thirty-plus years. Leading a movement that wishes to drastically reduce carbon footprints in a climate emergency should not require one to travel only by covered wagon or Roman-style trireme. Every once in a while, world leaders gotta lead.

A terrible precedent

One Renaissance-era monarch set an unforgettable precedent for future rulers.

Henry VIII ruled Britain for much the early 16th century, and brought thunderous change to the nation and the throne. He was a bit of a royal boat rocker, ditching the Roman Catholic Church for crimping his style as a royal party animal.

Stay informed: sign up for Above the Fold
Consequential news on your health and the planet, FREE to your inbox every morning.


After years of alleged debauchery, divorce and worse, Pope Clement VII threatened to excommunicate Henry in 1532, but died before he could follow through. His successor, Pope Paul III, ran Henry out in 1534.

In response, Henry VIII began what became the 50-year process of quitting Catholicism and founding the Church of England. It was a strong but imperfect example of a British monarch laying it down. My half-serious point here: If Henry VIII could turn the monarchy upside down for his own libido, Charles can vent a bit on an existential issue.

Even the Vatican…

…and its infallible pontiffs have come around to acknowledging basic science: In 1992 Pope John Paul II conceded the church has been wrong about heliocentrism – the earth really does revolve around the sun.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI praised Galileo for his contributions to science.

Then in 2015 Pope Francis issued the papal encyclical Laudato Si’, which directs catholics to devote words and deeds to protecting the Earth.

It’s hard to match the papal timeline to the British monarchy’s since the same monarch has been on the job through seven popes.

But maybe heredity’s at play. Charles’s dad, the late Prince Phillip, co-founded and served as president of the World Wildlife Fund International. His son, the new Prince of Wales, is backing The Earthshot Prize, an effort to highlight and support large-scale innovation.

Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II will be laid to rest this week, respected and beloved. I doubt Her Majesty will spin in her royal graveif her son continued to pitch in to save the planet. (And if she did, might she be a symbolic, energy-creating turbine? Sorry, too soon?)

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.

Global Plastic Treaty
The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution negotiations were held in Nairobi, Kenya last November. (Credit: UNEP/Ahmed Nayim Yussuf)

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

The controversial practice looms large in state environmental laws, federal regulation and global plastic treaty negotiations.

With a presidential election looming, a wave of state-level legislation circulating, an international plastics treaty taking form and fights brewing over proposed facilities, 2024 is set to shape the regulatory future of chemical recycling in the U.S.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
plastic chemical recycling
Credit: Unsplash+

What is chemical recycling?

When you think about plastic recycling, you probably picture plastic being converted into shiny new bottles, boxes and bags.
Keep reading...Show less

Texas faces increased wildfire threats due to climate change

As the Smokehouse Creek fire rages on, Texas grapples with the escalating wildfire risks fueled by climate change, posing significant challenges to property insurance and homeowner costs.

Delger Erdenesanaa and Christopher Flavelle report for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

Harnessing urban stormwater could revolutionize city water management

Cities in the United States have the untapped potential to capture a significant amount of stormwater, which could lead to more sustainable water resource management.

Matt Simon reports for WIRED.

Keep reading...Show less

Pension funds in Canada are behind on addressing climate-induced financial risks, according to a report

A new report criticizes Canadian pension funds for inadequate responses to the financial risks posed by climate change, demanding more proactive measures.

Taylor Noakes reports for DeSmog.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
algoma steel sault pollution

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

petrochemical houston gulf coast

Lives “devastated’ by petrochemical industry pollution in Texas: Report

New analysis illustrates the climate, environmental, and human rights tolls linked to petrochemical production surrounding the Houston Ship Channel region.

LNG gulf coast

LNG production comes with a price, Gulf Coast communities warn

US takes the global lead on liquid natural gas production and export, as economic promises and environmental worries collide.

LNG gulf coast

La producción de gas natural licuado tiene un precio, advierten las comunidades la Costa del Golfo

Entre promesas económicas y preocupaciones ambientales, Estados Unidos lidera la producción y exportación de gas natural licuado.

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

“La gente no sabe qué haríamos sin el petróleo y el gas. Esto nos sale muy caro”.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.