I was considered rather dotty, says Charles of 1970 environment warning

The Prince of Wales, marking the 50th anniversary of his landmark speech, said we must put ‘nature back at the centre’.

Charles in the garden at Highgrove
Charles in the garden at Highgrove

The Prince of Wales has marked the 50th anniversary of his landmark speech on the environment by calling for nature to be put back at the centre of life.

Charles said he was viewed as “dotty” five decades ago for his warnings about the problems of plastic waste, chemicals discharged into rivers, and air pollution caused by factories, cars and planes.

And his practical solutions to the issue, like pushing for a bottle bank at Buckingham Palace or installing a reed-bed sewage treatment system at his Highgrove home in Gloucestershire, were derided.

In an interview recorded for the Sustainable Markets website, the prince said: “Everything we are doing has been to destroy our own means of survival, let alone the survival of everything else we depend on.

“But at the same time, we seem to be unable to understand that there is an alternative way of doing it, which is to put nature back at the centre, value everything she does and build from there, and now there is an amazing amount that can be done through the circular bio-economy”.

Since his speech to the Countryside Steering Committee for Wales, on February 19 1970, Charles has worked to help develop solutions to climate change and highlighted issues like overfishing or the threat to the world’s rainforests.

He recently launched his latest project, the Sustainable Markets Initiative and Council, supported by the World Economic Forum, to help financial markets become more sustainable.

He hopes the project will bring together leading individuals from the public and private sectors, charitable organisations and investors to identify ways to rapidly decarbonise the global economy and make the transition to sustainable markets.

In the interview, the prince added: “We really do have to pull our fingers out now because the theory is we have got this decade left.”

He added that scientists and evidence indicates that people are causing a “much more rapid rise in temperature and a much more rapid destruction of the Arctic and now the Antarctic” and “it is a question of trying to put the fire out very quickly and the real issue is how do we rapidly decarbonise?”

In his 1970 address, Charles highlighted one problem that has today become an illustration of humanity’s threat to nature: “When you think that each person produces roughly 2lb of rubbish per day and there are 55 million of us on this island using non-returnable bottles and indestructible plastic containers, it is not difficult to imagine the mountains of refuse that we shall have to deal with somehow.”

Speaking to the Sustainable Markets website, the prince said that, as a teenager in the 1960s, he was concerned about “… the destruction of everything – the uprooting of trees and hedgerows, the draining of wet places, the destruction of all the interesting habitats, the destruction of so much of the centre of our towns and cities – this sort of white heat of progress and technology to the exclusion of nature and our surroundings.”

Of the warnings made in his speech 50 years ago, he said: “I was considered rather dotty, to say the least, for even suggesting these things, rather like when I set up a reed-bed sewage treatment system at Highgrove all those years ago – that was considered completely mad.”

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