Following in Grandpa Phil’s footsteps

Prince William, a young white man with a head bald in the middle, wearing a light blue open shirt and light green pair of chinos with a brown leather belt, with his wife Kate, a young white woman with brown hair parted in the middle wearing a knee-length two-tone pink smock with black patterning on, walking through grassland with a baby elephant in the foregroundIt’s long been a cliché that Prince William represents a “new generation” of British royalty who are unencumbered by the prejudices and stifling customs of their grandparents in particular — the ones who got Prince Charles to marry a woman he did not love because Camilla Parker-Bowles, whom he did love, was unacceptable, for example. Prince Phillip has always been notorious for bluntly expressing racist and otherwise offensive attitudes in public and this sort of behaviour has always been indulged as him being the delightfully oddball character that he is (or as him being really not up to all this royal business, despite having chosen to marry a royal) rather than being an unpleasant, bigoted old man. Recently I heard of similar behaviour by Princess Margaret, the queen’s sister, which was similarly indulged. Prince Phillip’s pet cause was wildlife; he is a co-founder and “president emeritus” of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and has in the past held forth about the dangers of human overpopulation; in a foreword to a 1987 book he wrote that, were he to be reincarnated, “I must confess that I am tempted to ask for reincarnation as a particularly deadly virus”.

So it’s sad, but perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising, that Prince William has inherited some of his grandad’s attitudes, as demonstrated in a speech yesterday and reported in the Telegraph and Daily Mail (just so nobody can accuse me of citing news sources that are biased against the monarchy). At the Tusk gala dinner in London (the Tusk Trust being a charity whose patron is Prince William and which helps protect African wildlife, including elephants) on Thursday evening, he said the following:

In my lifetime, we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half.

We are going to have to work much harder and think much deeper, if we are to ensure that human beings and the other species of animal with which we share this planet can continue to co-exist.

Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050, a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month.

There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanisation, infrastructure development, cultivation—all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now.

A certain type of western ‘environmentalist’ has long regarded the wildlife of places like Africa as being more important than its people; they are fixated on cute or magnificent large animals such as antelopes, wildebeest, elephants and the mega-predators like lions and tigers. Some of these animals used to be found in Europe — leopards, for example — but they were exterminated in antiquity, for the very good reason that they are a threat to humans and livestock. We hunted wolves to extinction in much of Europe and any plans for reintroduction face stiff opposition; it still has not happened in the UK, for example. The royal family themselves participate in fox hunts, routinely justified as a means of keeping old foxes (more likely to prey on livestock rather than wildlife) under control, despite the fact that they occur only a few times a year and have been known to kill other animals which are not vermin, such as cats. By and large, the taming of the natural environment is seen as a mark of civilisation - the draining of the English fens to plant wheat, the reclamation of the former South Sea by the Dutch, the Zionist boast of making the desert bloom - yet when Africans do the same, we condemn them for destroying the habitat of animals we like watching.

There is a term for these large animals: “charismatic megafauna”. They are not regarded as quite so charismatic by those who have to live near them, and raise livestock or crops in areas they live in or pass through. We like to watch wildlife programmes on TV featuring the migration of wildebeest or gazelles and there are videos of these animals crossing huge rivers and some of them getting snapped up by crocodiles. We don’t ask “where are the people?”, the simple answer to which is that they have been cleared off to make way for the wildlife: in some African countries, governments have cleared native people off whole tracts of land they have occupied for millennia to make way for ‘game’ reserves for tourists. We have westerners go down to Africa to ‘educate’ the locals on how to live with the elephants or hyaenas when we ourselves would not even think of letting these animals loose in our backyard, or our farmland. We complain when they build roads across their own countries, when we have covered acres and acres of our best land in asphalt, wildlife be damned.

And Prince William has the effrontery to claim that a growing African human population is a threat to wildlife! For the most part, Africans have less impact on the environment than we Europeans, and others who enjoy the same lifestyle we do: they do not use electricity all day, every day for heating or air conditioning, and rarely if ever travel by car. It is not as simple as to say that “white people” or “westerners” are more damaging to the environment than others; it is mass heavy industry, much of it outsourced to China and increasingly India, and the modern lifestyle which ceaselessly consume energy and produce huge amounts of waste, and people all over the world enjoy that lifestyle, but African subsistence farmers are the last people who can be blamed for the destruction of the environment and the threat to biodiversity and cutting their birth rate will make not cut the human race’s carbon footprint by much (though as already seen in China, aggressive population size control does not prevent environmental damage if the nation industrialises).

Finally, we shouldn’t be casting human beings as the enemy of the environment. We need the environment and we need to preserve it for our sake, not that of lions and elephants. There are benefits to people, women especially, of having access to safe birth control methods. In the UK it has been suggested that our country faces being a “lifeboat region” relatively unscathed by the ravages of climate change, although the sea threatens to engulf a lot of our low-lying farmland and cities and storms and floods get more severe year after year, but it gives yet more scope for racism as we imagine ourselves besieged by the world’s “teeming millions” who are only people like us looking for shelter from environmental destruction largely of our making, as Britain and northern Europe have been churning out smoke and carbon dioxide for much longer than India or China. Blaming third-world overpopulation is a way of getting ourselves off the hook for refusing to change our lifestyle, despite having had decades’ warning of the consequences. We do not need this racist, colonial, animal-centred conservationism peddled by the aristocracy; we need an environmentalism that puts human survival and dignity first.

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  • M Risbrook

    The tide might turn when sub-Saharan Africans overwhelmingly support Israel.

  • Well, that’s not a when but a very big ‘if’. Governments might support Israel (particularly if offered enough inducements) but ordinary people have no reason to support it — it’s thousands of miles from them — and if they know what happened, they will oppose it, for the same reason they opposed Apartheid. And that’s not counting the millions of Muslims in Africa.

  • George Carty

    Sub-Saharan Africans overwhelmingly support Israel? Source for that please…