Climate and The Queen
On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom, died peacefully at her estate at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. I toured Windsor Castle when I was a child. We took a trip in 2016 to London and the surrounding areas to learn about my heritage and to see the birthplace of my father. Born in St. Albans, England, and my father grew up in Swindon, a small industrial town outside of London. My grandparents moved the family to the United States for employment.
During our visit, I learned some interesting things about the Queen, namely that she prided herself on being a champion of the environment. In an effort to cultivate the persona of steward of the natural world, the Queen installed beehives in Buckingham Palace, rejected fur, endorsed a tree planting project, and used her public platform to issue a call to action during the climate conference in Glasgow last fall; but as the largest landowner in the world, environmental organizations viewed her efforts insufficient (Matthew Ponsford, National Geographic, June 7, 2022).
The royal family owns almost all the seabed 12 miles from the shore around the entire country. The poor management of this land has resulted in a catastrophic loss of seagrass meadows and kelp forests due to coastal development, which corresponds to a catastrophic loss in biodiversity. According to scientists, the kelp forest around the UK will be extinct by 2100 (Ponsford). Rather than solve the problem, the crown is seen as hampering restoration efforts, and in fact, insists on being compensated to replant the seagrass on their holdings. A policy not quite in keeping with the image of a green monarch. The queen however does not have full authority over the seabed which is managed on behalf of the royal family by a portfolio manager, the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate was established in 1760 during the reign of King George III, who had financial difficulties due to conflict in America, and control over the monarch’s lands were delegated to the Crown Estate in exchange for annual income. Given the climate crisis, environmental and public interest organizations are calling for reform to this archaic institution and greater oversight of ecologically significant land. The Queen’s notorious sense of duty and tradition coupled with the desire to be uncontroversial, prevented her from taking a stand.
Only time will tell whether the King Charles III will make a genuine effort to rectify the situation. He has publicly championed environmental protections and has advocated for biodiversity conservation and climate action. Liz Truss, the new prime minister, recently surprised her conservative followers by embracing climate concerns (Climatewire, July 8, 2022). Perhaps there is hope that the crown and parliament will unite to reverse the damage. In the words of the new King, “inaction is far greater than the cost of prevention” advocating that politicians work together “to rescue this precious planet and save the threatened future of our young people” (COP26). This sentiment, unfortunately, might be too little too late, given that scientists recently reported that tipping points, which some of which have been reached, will result in irreversible loss of polar ice (Henry Fountain, “Failure to Slow Warming Will Set Off Climate ‘Tipping Points’, New York Times, September 8, 2022).
Everyone knows that one nation acting alone cannot thwart the climate crisis. This is a global issue that requires global action toward a global solution. After 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II passed the torch of leadership to her child, and he will eventually pass the torch to his own son, and so on. This crisis was inherited, the result of actions and inactions of previous generations. As I contemplate my own heritage, I can’t help but wonder what my legacy will be, and how my individual actions will impact generations to come. I think the psychology of this perspective is promising and should be explored further. For real change to occur, this conservative sense of duty must be amended, the idea that tradition demands constancy and permanence and the need to protect the status quo needs to give way to a sense of duty defined by current concerns, progress, and a legacy of accomplishment.