What is the point of being king if you can’t edit your own speech? You have to imagine the thought crossed Charles III’s mind on Tuesday as he delivered the ceremonial address opening the new session of Parliament.
Charles has for decades presented himself as an environmentalist; while his precise views are a bit complicated, he certainly talks a lot about climate action. But the speech announcing the new legislative agenda, though delivered by the king (or queen), is written by the prime minister’s office. And Rishi Sunak’s precise views on climate action aren’t complicated; they’re nonsensical. He thinks pumping out as much oil and gas as possible from the U.K.’s reserves is actually “good for the climate because the alternative is shipping energy here from halfway around the world with three or four times the carbon emissions.”
This is how Charles found himself in the ridiculous position on Tuesday of presenting a bill to “support the future licensing of new oil and gas fields, helping the country to transition to net-zero by 2050 without adding undue burdens on households”—an explanation he surely knows is malarkey. This isn’t the first time Sunak has touted more fossil fuel extraction as part of a “pragmatic, proportionate and realistic” plan to reach net-zero. (The “pragmatic” and “realistic” part of that plan, presumably, is where the magician appears in a few years and makes all the emissions just go away.) In fact, according to Bloomberg, Sunak actually scaled back the legislative agenda ahead of the king’s speech because when his office asked officials in the U.K.’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to figure out ways to cut back on the environmental regulations and assessments for these drilling projects, they responded that the proposals would violate international law.
Of course, Sunak isn’t alone in insisting—contrary to all available evidence—that further fossil fuel exploration is compatible with climate goals. The Biden administration’s “all of the above” approach to energy generation also assumes, in the words of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, “that oil and gas will remain part of our energy mix for years to come.”
Still, there’s something about watching an environmentalist in a velvet cape solemnly announce new oil and gas fields as a way to meet climate goals that really underlines rich nations’ suicidal dysfunction on this issue. While Peter Morgan’s hit show The Crown has helped popularize the image of the British monarchy as incapable of political statement—hog-tied by a potent blend of constitutional requirement, generational trauma, and fear of being abolished—the fact remains that Charles is physically capable of saying whatever he likes. In the past, he has called global warming “our most existential challenge of all.” If that’s the case, then perhaps now’s the time to speak up and suggest that the prime minister’s policies are, well, malarkey.
Stat of the Week
That’s the amount of money manufacturers of the toxic and extremely long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS spent during the last two election cycles alone to delay or block regulation, according to a new study recently reported by The Guardian.
Elsewhere in the Ecosystem
If you’ve ever woken at 2 a.m. to the loud clanking and unbearable heat of a steam radiator, opened the window to let in 20-degree air just to cool the place down, and wondered about the futility of existence, this piece is for you. Wilfred Chan looks at the fascinating history of these devices, why they’ve persisted, and what it’s finally going to take to phase them out:
Steam still heats as many as 80% of New York City’s residential multifamily buildings, according to the non-profit Urban Green Council, as well as millions of homes across the north-east and midwestern United States—what the nonprofit calls the “Steam belt.” That means, in a climate emergency as energy prices spiral, tens of millions of Americans are probably opening their windows all winter to let cold air in because their homes are too well heated.…Once considered a luxury, and infamous for constantly exploding boilers, steam heating enjoyed a massive surge in popularity around the 1918 flu pandemic. In response to a “fresh air movement” to fight the virus’s spread, crowded tenement buildings installed steam systems that generated enough heat that residents could leave their windows open, even in the dead of winter. “This is why the radiators are as big as they are,” [heating expert Dan] Holohan explains. “And they’re pumping out all this heat to this day.”
This article first appeared in Life in a Warming World, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here