Prince Harry has been taking a fair bit of heat including from the National Post’s Chris Selley for making sanctimonious proclamations about the environment including “Two, maximum!” to Jane Goodall about his family plans, while generating a carbon footprint that would embarrass Al Gore. And hypocrisy is unattractive, even from Greta Thunberg, whose sail across the Atlantic to the UN Climate Action Summit on a “carbon-neutral” €4 million 60-foot racing yacht owned by the heirs of Prince Ranier III of Monaco is a parody of carbon neutrality, owing to the multiple transatlantic flights needed by the boat crew to make the trip possible. Which the New York Times conspicuously failed to mention in a hagiographic account (the sharp investigative journalists at the CBC missed it too). As for Harry, the many good things the Royal Family genuinely does for charity, and constitutional stability, do require a lot of travel. But if it’s impossible to live the way you say other people should, the real problem isn’t the hypocrisy but the unreality.
Of course it doesn’t help that Harry’s interview with Goodall was in an issue of British Vogue guest-edited by his celebrity wife. Sometimes it feels like a weird exercise in fashionable repentance by proxy when people living so high off the hog insist that we ordinary schlubs tighten our belts. (As when Sir Elton John says it’s fine for the prince to zoom about in the musician’s private jets because Sir Elton is rich enough to buy “offsetting” carbon credits that presumably reduce your low-rent mobility.) Selley notes that actors and musicians legitimately have to travel to do their jobs and will continue to need to do so. But he wonders what Harry is up to.
One plausible answer is that he’s using his odd position, which he was born into rather than choosing, to do good, a major and often underappreciated aspect of the Royal Family. But it’s not plausible if the “good” he’s doing is inherently unworkable. And it is; nobody can live the way Prince Harry conspicuously can’t either.
Neither can the celebrities swanning into Google’s $20-million mid-summer three-day climate summit in Sicily’s posh $2000/night Verdura Resort who felt the sting of Rex Murphy’s wrath including for a $100,000 banquet in the 2500-year-old “Valley of the Temples”. To some extent they were just shoveling down caviar with a self-satisfied smile, including a bewildering A-List including Mark Zuckerberg, Leonardi DiCaprio, Barack Obama and, indeed, Prince Harry. They arrived in style; in addition to some 114 private jets, according to Page Six’s sardonic account, “Stars there also include Harry Styles, Orlando Bloom, Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, who arrived on their enormous $200 million yacht Eos, which has both sails and two 2,300-horsepower diesel engines. Billionaire Dreamworks founder David Geffen, meanwhile, gave [Katy] Perry and Bloom a ride on his $400 million yacht, Rising Sun.” And once there Perry and others roared about on SUVs.
Hypocrisy, according to La Rochefoucauld, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. But that formulation implies that those who are saying one thing and doing another are aware of the contradiction and at least somewhat embarrassed by it. What’s really striking is the extent to which climate crusaders genuinely don’t understand that what they’re recommending is impossible.
The essence of the problem is Prince Harry giving a “barefoot” speech (ridiculed by Murphy) after all this pampering. Because anyone can take off their shoes, if they have shoes. But there’s just no way we can live without transportation even if we could live without nine-figure yachts.
As Steve Goreham recently wrote on Watt’s Up With That? modern transportation is “a miracle under attack”. It’s not just the length, difficulty and danger of an ox-cart versus the speed, comfort and safety of modern car travel. According to Goreham, total international merchandise trade in 1900 was only $10 billion in today’s US dollars; by 2000 it was nearly 2000 times as large at $19.7 trillion. “Petroleum fuels more than 90 percent of this cargo,” he notes, and while trains once belched noxious smoke “over the last 50 years, humanity has all but eliminated dangerous pollutants from vehicle exhaust”; in the U.S. vehicles now emit 99% fewer common pollutants than as recently as 1970 (not including, of course, the famous “pollution” known as carbon dioxide). And Quantas airlines CEO Alan Joyce just warned that, if taken seriously, alarmism and “flight shaming" could take us “back to the 1920s and not have air travel”.
We might do without celebrities arriving in yachts complete with helipad to feast on delicacies in the Valley of the Temples, or carbon-fibre racing yachts owned by royalty. But we can’t do without transportation. In the old truckers’ slogan, “If you have it, a truck brought it.” And to eliminate carbon-based fuels from our lives means emptying your living room and indeed your fridge, which you probably wouldn’t have anyway, and eating stale turnips all winter. If you’re lucky.
Every time a celebrity emits vast clouds of carbon to preach against carbon, the problem isn’t the conspicuous consumption of their conduct. It’s the conspicuous impossibility of their doctrine, which if taken seriously would leave us barefoot from want not as a pose.