The one interesting thing in Prince Charles’s article on climate change in the Financial Times last week was his admission that he favoured lower living standards: “Many of us fortunate enough to have lived in the developed world since the second world war have grown up assuming that standards of living will continue to rise generation by generation. But climate change will not only halt this process it will reverse it – and most probably for ever” (November 30, 2007).
The prince is not only fortunate enough to reside in the developed world, he also lives in a palace and has inherited substantial wealth. But it is to his credit that he expresses his preference for mass austerity – usually environmentalists are more guarded. The promotion of lower living standards makes it easier to understand the nature of the discussion.
His article was timed to precede the United Nations summit on climate change in Bali. The prince has led an initiative by 150 world business leaders to “advocate bold action to tackle climate change” (www.balicommunique.com) to present to the politicians attending. As with most such discussion the summiteers will no doubt be reluctant to draw out the implications of their arguments.
Such reticence is unsurprising given that austerity rarely proves popular with most people. Even those in the West who are sympathetic to environmental initiatives are likely to baulk at the prospect of lower living standards. Let alone the billions who live mired in third world poverty. In the prince’s brave new world only a tiny minority can even dream of the like of trips to luxury resorts in Bali.
No doubt the environmentalist mainstream would claim that sacrifices are necessary to deal with global warming. But the idea there is a trade-off between tackling climate change and living standards is the fundamental mistake in the orthodox discussion of the subject. To tackle climate change, and to control the environment, it is necessary to have more development rather than less.
Such development frees resources to enable humans to reshape the environment for their own benefit. It is also closely associated with the creation of more advanced technology.
The best way to tackle climate change should be resolved through democratic debate between competing views. It is the kind of discussion that an unelected head-of-state-to-be should have no special role in.