Prince Charles: Nature could go “bust” unless we protect it

Unlimited economic growth will inhibit efforts to address climate change, warns heir to British throne in US speech

(Pic: Dan Marsh/Flickr)

(Pic: Dan Marsh/Flickr)

By Ed King

The Prince of Wales has concluded his US tour with a call for governments, businesses and consumers to place a greater value on nature.

In a speech in Louisville, the heir to the British throne said the world was at the brink of an “environmental crisis” with symptoms such as climate change threatening to “engulf us all”.

“For all its achievements, our consumerist society comes at an enormous cost to the Earth and we must face up to the fact that the Earth cannot afford to support it,” the Prince said.

Nature’s “life-support systems” were failing to cope with rapacious demand for raw materials as well as increased consumption of water and atmospheric pollution.

“If we don’t face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust. And no amount of quantitative easing will revive it,” he said.

According to the Global Footprint Network campaign group, the resources of 1.5 Earths are needed to sustain current consumption levels, which could rise to three by mid-century.

The Prince – a long-term champion of conservation measures and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – said he wanted an “international collaboration” to value the services nature provides, such as clean air and water.

“The world must recognize the absolutely vital utility that the rainforests provide by generating a real income for rainforest countries – where, incidentally, some 1.4 billion of the poorest people on Earth rely in some way on the rainforests for their livelihoods – an income which can be used to finance an integrated, low-carbon development model,” he said.

Comment: It’s time to measure the ‘true value’ of business

Increased destruction of marine and forest ecosystems risked ultimately wiping out the “resilience” of humans to survive and thrive, he said.

“Our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change, and then perhaps even to reduce those effects, depends upon us adapting our pursuit of “unlimited” economic growth to that of “sustainable” economic growth.”

The Prince urged more businesses to adopt the concept of “true cost accounting“, where they could work out what the cost of their products to the Earth was and also what benefits they were providing to nature.

Citing an exchange he had with a US cardiologist during his visit – he urged lawmakers to treat air pollution in cities as an economic as well as an environmental issue.

“Perhaps, at the end of the day, it might be cheaper to join up the dots and put paid to the pollution, rather than pursue the more expensive option of encouraging people to take yet more pills to help their hearts?”

The speech was his third focused on the environment during a short visit to the US. The previous addresses dealt with conservation and increased levels of plastic in the world’s oceans.

During the trip the Prince met US president Barack Obama, where the pair discussed global efforts to address environmental problems like climate change.

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