Mark Lynas: It's never very comfortable to be ahead of your time

Although many of us are too inversely snooty to admit it, Prince Charles is a thinker far ahead of his time.

His approach has been criticised as old fashioned but it is actually much more about looking forwards than backwards – moving away from approaches that deplete "natural capital" like rainforests and towards a more sustainable economy in harmony with the natural world.

The problem for Charles is that being ahead of one's time is not a comfortable place. He has been mercilessly lampooned over the years for his commitment to organic agriculture – but has surely been comprehensively vindicated.

His royal lifestyle leads to accusations of hypocrisy, yet his latest carbon statement shows a 30 per cent emissions reduction since 2007. How many of us have made similar progress?

The Prince's Rainforests Project is helping to rally the international community to slow and eventually reverse tropical deforestation.

In scientific terms, the Prince's vision of nature as "an interconnected, interdependent function of creation with harmony existing between all things" is increasingly mainstream. Last week, I attended a meeting of marine biologists and climatologists at the Royal Society in London. There was some disagreement among them about the fate of coral reefs – some thought that tropical reefs would be functionally extinct by 2030; some thought it might take a decade or two longer. It was a profoundly depressing day – no one seriously thinks that reefs can be saved.

However, the Prince remains optimistic that we can still "transform our relationship with the Earth that sustains us". Yet every day that passes, the light of that optimism grows dimmer.

Mark Lynas is author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books