The accession of Charles III to the throne of Great Britain, Canada and 13 other places brought the usual ill-tempered sniping about the constitutional monarchy that has been the origin of the only functioning systems of self-government humanity has ever seen. For instance “The Industrial Revolution was born in England in the 18th century and so, in a sense, was climate change… Britain led that transformation as an imperial power. Key to its dominance was its ability to extract natural resources from its network of colonies around the world…. Also important to remember: Before the Industrial Revolution, Britain prospered as one of the world’s most prominent slave-trading countries.” Boo! Still, others have noted that “As Prince of Wales, Charles spoke out against air pollution, industrial agriculture and deforestation and increasingly called for the world to act on climate change” and even addressed COP26 in Glasgow. (No, wait. That was the same item.) But no more. The Times explained that “The King, a passionate environmental campaigner, has abandoned plans to attend next month’s Cop27 climate change summit after Liz Truss told him to stay away. He had intended to deliver a speech at the meeting of world leaders in Egypt.” And an AP story reprinted from America to India said “King Charles III has decided not to attend the international climate change summit in Egypt next month, fuelling speculation that the new monarch will have to rein in his environmental activism now that he has ascended the throne.” Speculation that a constitutional monarch must remain above politics. These sources would throw a fit if he weighed in on tax policy. But when it’s climate alarmism they’re suddenly wishing he’d wave his sceptre.
It turns out that the new Prince of Wales, William, did attend Climate Week in New York. Though we can only imagine the furor if he attended, say, a pro-life rally. Or a Heartland Institute conference. But when it’s the right opinions, something strange happens even to people’s constitutional views.
Thus the Telegraph informs us that at a state reception prior to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, “Even avowed republican Anthony Albanese, the recently elected Prime Minister of Australia, insisted now is not the time for constitutional questions… in the country. Mr Albanese even went so far as to suggest he would be ‘very comfortable’ with the monarch, 73, expressing views on the ‘importance of climate change’.” Whereas, again, if he blabbed about the minimum wage or a nuclear deterrent we’d start hammering together a scaffold.
Some outlets even tried to make the king a martyr on the altar of grubby climate denialism. Thus CTV says:
“The Sunday Times reported that the decision came after Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss objected to Charles attending the conference, known as COP27, when she met with the King last month at Buckingham Palace. But a member of Truss' Cabinet said the government and palace were in agreement about the decision…. Simon Clarke… also rejected suggestions that Truss didn't want Charles to attend the summit because she intends to water down Britain's climate goals. The government remains committed to the achieving its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, he said.”
What if it didn’t? Would the King resurrect the ambitions of his more autocratic forebears to dictate policy and defy Parliament? And what would the press say?
Possibly not much that is kind. As Charlie Chan once observed, making a bedfellow of a serpent is no protection against snakebite. In the same “Climate Forward” item we opened with, author Somini Sengupta also complained that:
“Climate campaigners have noted his [King Charles’s] use of private jets, which use huge amounts of dirty aviation fuel. His comments on ‘overpopulation’ in countries of the global south rankled many people, given that the people of those countries have tiny climate footprints to begin with. His heir, Prince William, heads a conservation group that invests in a fund linked to food companies whose activities contribute to deforestation, The Associated Press reported.”
Gotcha. Showing its masterful grasp of constitutional theory, the piece continued “Arguably, for the rest of the world, the most consequential climate action that Britain takes now will not be decided by the new king but the new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss.” Yeah. Arguably. Britain not being 17th-century France, “The British monarch does not engage in politics. So I don’t expect to hear King Charles publicly comment on his country’s day-to-day politics.”
In which, she noted, “Truss has said she will ramp up investments in North Sea oil and gas, she has overturned a ban on fracking, and she has chosen Jacob Rees Mogg, one of the few fierce opponents of climate action in British politics, as her new energy minister. He has said he wants the country to extract ‘every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea.’ It’s unclear how this quest will square with a goal enshrined in British law: to cut emissions by 68 percent by 2030, compared to a 1990 baseline. It’s the most ambitious climate target of any industrialized nation.” And utter nonsense they never knew how to meet and now aren’t trying, especially given the reaction of the public to the energy crisis the supposed energy transition has already inflicted on Britain.
In an earlier edition of “Climate Forward”, Manuela Andreoni had noted that Chileans inexplicably rejected such policies. “For the past year, Chile was closely watched as an assembly of elected officials wrote what was shaping up to be the world’s first constitution to confront the climate crisis“ only to have 62% say no. Andreoni’s profound explanation: “But change is hard.” (Oh, and in case you forgot that all ills are one and a cosmic solution to the human condition is just one “Yes” vote away, in addition to having “granted nature its own rights to be protected… the proposal also enshrined more than 100 new constitutional rights, from abortion to housing.”) Still, try, try again: “in a country where 91 percent of people believe climate change should be a priority for the government, environmental issues will likely have a meaningful place in whatever Chileans ultimately approve.”
Say, perhaps we need the divine right of kings after all, so we can force green policies on a dim and sullen populace. After all, Canada’s own philosopher-king Justin Trudeau famously opined while still the heir apparent that “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime and say, ‘We need to go green, we want to start investing in solar’.” And boring constitutional monarchies can’t do that keen stuff.
The most recent precedent, for Monarchs who defy Parliament, was also called Charles, I seem to recall. Whatever his faults, and unsubstantiated beliefs, perhaps our new King is at least well enough educated in History to recognize its lessons - in particular regard to his own continued well being at least.