Editorial: A princely warning to be heeded

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A weekend of storms, inundation and flood alerts across much of the country exemplifies just the sort of extremes scientists say we will have to get used to. By coincidence, we also heard a stark warning from the Prince of Wales, who used the occasion of a lifetime achievement award to warn of the risks of forgetting climate change.

It is all too easy to mock the idea of a lifetime achievement award going to someone whose most notable life achievement was to be born first in line to the throne. And recipients of awards are expected to make speeches, something his detractors think he should be very wary of doing. But he used his speech, delivered by video link to the seventh International Green Awards, to speak some sound good sense.

The Prince warned of "the suicide on a grand scale" that the human race will commit if we assume we can extract and consume the earth's resources on our present scale for ever. "We cannot go on thinking that the Earth will somehow just cope and go on being so abundantly generous with her resources," he said. "We are pushing nature beyond her limits; we are breaching one planetary boundary after another."

Nor was it the weather alone than made his warning timely. Seven years ago, the green movement seemed to have the world at its feet, when even the Conservative Party elected a youngish leader, David Cameron, vowing to lead the "greenest government ever". The Government still claims that ambition, but the reality is rather different. Prince Charles now finds himself swimming against the tide.

Chronic economic problems have drawn attention away from the question of what kind of legacy we are leaving future generations. As the Prince rightly warned, however: "The longer we go on ignoring what is already happening and denying what will happen in the future, the more profoundly we condemn our grandchildren and their children to an unbearably toxic and unstable existence." The Prince has a unique position which allows him to be heard without having to answer to an electorate. This time, he used that privilege well.

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