Prince Charles has come in for a lot of stick for talking to plants, being ‘mystical’, and interfering with architecture, imposing a pseudo neo-Georgian pastiche, only viable in affluent places like Dorset. Yet his passion for preserving heritage, his work with young people and his championing of organics and habitat conservation over decades have hit the mark. He has proved that he is well ahead of most of the rest of society. Far from being an heir in waiting, he is consolidating a powerful role as a social and environmental commentator.
The holistic view
So it is with interest that I read the introduction to Prince Charles’ book, Harmony. In it he openly admits that he has been challenging the accepted wisdom, the current orthodoxy and conventional way of thinking that has its origins in the 19th Century when industrialisation took full sway and the Newtonian worldview began to fragment our vision. He has been accused of dilettantism – of leaping from one subject to another – from architecture to agriculture ‘as if I spent a morning saving the rainforests, then in the afternoon jumping to help young people start new businesses.’
But the subtext to his interests and work has been an appreciation of holism, of inter-relationship. Organic agriculture, natural medicine, conservation, gainful fulfilling employment, especially for the young, human-scale design and architecture are interrelated. They are threads in the woven tapestry of a creative and more sustainable world.
Harmony examines our global crisis born from the relentless pursuit of economic growth and technological progress. It travels back in time to explore how the ancients saw the world as a whole and in necessary balanced with Nature. It looks at how sustainability springs from seeing the world as an interconnected whole and speaks of ‘this timeless view… rooted in the human condition and in human experience’ and suggests how we might do this.
The sticky question of land
The Prince of Wales no doubt puts his cards on the table with this book. He will be vilified and celebrated all at the same time. Carbon counters will inevitably scorn his private jets and billionaire lifestyle, asking him to walk his talk; republicans will call for democratic reform; and I might point out that the root of our economic problem lies with land ownership. It was when we enclosed the commons and cleared the Highlands that we forced people out of relative self-sufficiency into paying rents and the subsequent necessity of earning a wage. This was the turning point. Now 90% of us live on less than 10% of the land and even the plots we inhabit are shrinking. Just under one-third of Britain’s land is still owned by aristocrats and traditional landed gentry. If we are to harmonize our lives in accord with Nature, we will have to revisit this thorny question and create a more sustainable land-based life for all sectors of society. Inevitably, that necessitates deep social change.
As we steer away from being ‘Masters of Nature’ to the ‘sacred duty of stewardship’ it is inescapable that we will have to share natural resources more equitably. How we do this will require a clear vision of what an ecologically based society actually is. We cannot see-saw between political ideologies – this is not about communism, socialism or capitalism – but about how we are to create a society based on holistic, earth-based values and ethics. Prince Charles, a complex cocktail of spiritual intent and material privilege, brings this debate even more firmly into the public arena. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
Maddy Harland is the editor of Permaculture Magazine – inspiration for sustainable living – available in good shops or at
She writes a regular blog at http://permaculturemagazineeditorial.blogspot.com