Prince Harry wants to make tourism more sustainable — is he a hypocrite?

Prince Harry launched a program to promote sustainable tourism, but he's also been branded a hypocrite for taking private jet flights, and there is no sign the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew's friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Espstein is going away.

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Prince Harry flew commercial to Amsterdam on Sept. 3, 2019, to launch an initiative to promote sustainable tourism. (Koen van Weel/AFP/Getty Images)

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When Prince Harry mentioned a few days ago that he spends "99 per cent" of his life flying commercial, the comment quickly drew out the fact-checkers, who found more than a little exaggeration.

Beyond questions of accuracy, the recent headlines over the flying habits of Harry and his wife, Meghan, also drew attention to the role high-profile individuals can play in the debate over climate change.

Harry and Meghan have tried to position themselves as great friends of the environment and a sustainable world. But taking four private jet flights in 11 days over the summer seemed in sharp contradiction to that, even if there were carbon offsets involved in the travel.

Harry has suggested he sometimes needs to fly private for the safety of his family, but many have seen hypocrisy in his actions. 

None of this is to say that high-profile individuals and celebrities such as Harry can't have a role or influence in the fight against climate change. But it gets tricky when it appears they aren't practising what they preach.

"It does matter that high-profile individuals and celebrities such as Harry, Emma Watson and Matt Damon do make these public pronouncements about the importance of dealing with climate change, and that they suggest practical solutions to individuals [for] reducing their personal carbon footprints," Mike Goodman, a geography professor at the University of Reading in the U.K., said via email.

Prince Harry arrives at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia, on Nov. 26, 2018. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/The Associated Press)

Goodman suggested it can start with those celebrities taking action to reduce their own footprints and then inspiring others to do the same. 

"Harry argues he needs to take private jets to protect his family. Perhaps he and the family should take fewer trips abroad, then?"

Harry's "99 per cent" comment came the same day he launched a project that aims to make tourism more sustainable and help travellers learn how they can reduce their environmental footprint. But as much as his leadership might draw attention to the issue, it can only go so far, Goodman suggested.

"That this comes from a high-profile celebrity like Harry and a series of large travel companies is great, but it doesn't do enough with respect to confronting the large-scale problems of climate change and emissions reduction." 

Goodman said focusing on individual actions is just the place to start in efforts to develop fundamental structural changes that lead to carbon-neutral economies, and suggested that people like Harry should take a close look at their own actions, too.

"Rich countries and celebrity individuals need to get their own houses in order, namely because they owe a much greater debt, based on their historical carbon emissions and extravagant lifestyles, compared to others across the globe."

Whatever Harry does, it seems unlikely his private jet travel to the south of France and Ibiza this summer will quickly be forgotten. Author and biographer Penny Junor said it will come back to haunt him.

"However many commercial flights he takes now, there will always be that little paragraph saying that he was heavily criticized for taking four jets in 11 days."

The 'worst' scandal — and it's not going away

Prince Andrew arrives at the Ascot racecourse on June 20, 2019. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

With word spreading that Prince Andrew has been dropped from some public engagements as a result of publicity around his links to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the scandal surrounding the Queen's second son shows no sign of fading.

It's also a scandal that has no apparent precedent for the House of Windsor, particularly within Elizabeth's 67-year reign.

"I don't think anything is completely comparable to this," royal author and biographer Penny Junor said. "I think this is the worst."

There have been other scandals of a sexual nature — affairs, leaks of intimate phone calls and so on — but this one has a "criminal aspect to it," Junor said.

"I'm not suggesting that Prince Andrew has done anything criminal, but clearly the people that he's been associating with have, and I wouldn't say that is true of any other [royal] scandal that there has been in the past."

There was, of course, the scandal that emerged after the death of BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile, as reports surfaced of his widespread sexual abuse of children and women. Prince Charles knew Savile and he went to Buckingham Palace.

Entertainer Jimmy Savile shows off his Order of the British Empire after his investiture at Buckingham Palace on March 21, 1972. (Leslie Lee/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"Nobody knew for sure what [Savile] was until after his death," Junor said. "With Jeffrey Epstein, he went to jail and still Andrew supported him as a friend and ... accepted his hospitality. I think this is the worst [royal scandal] certainly that I can recall, and I think this is actually very damaging."

Buckingham Palace and Andrew himself have denied he had any involvement in the sex scandal, but many observers — including Junor — suggest that what's he's said so far has fallen short.

"Andrew needs to explain what went on and I don't think that he has adequately explained," said Junor. "I think to say that he has been loyal to his friend and had absolutely no idea of what was going on ... it sort of beggars belief, unless he was incredibly stupid."

Earlier this week, Sky News reported that some engagements Andrew was expected to attend in Northern Ireland had been cancelled "as a direct result of recent publicity about his relationship" with Epstein. Other scheduled events were expected to take place, and the palace said Andrew had a "full program" in Northern Ireland.

Prince Andrew rides back from church with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, after the service on Aug. 11, 2019, near Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands. (Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)

The media spotlight refocused on Andrew's friendship with Epstein about a month ago, in the days after his jail cell suicide on Aug. 10. Court papers made public the day before the U.S. financier died alleged Andrew groped a woman while at Epstein's home. Newspapers and websites have been re-running a 2001 photo of Andrew with his arm around Virginia Roberts, an alleged victim of Epstein and 17 years old at the time of the picture. 

Reports suggest Andrew's older brother Prince Charles is concerned, and Junor expects that's the case.

"They're coming up to a dangerous period. The Queen is so loved and Charles has a lot to prove," said Junor. While some people don't think Charles should be King, Junor isn't one of them. "I think the monarchy would be very safe in his hands, but that transition period could be very tricky for him," and having a sort of "seedy" brother in the background wouldn't help.

Looking ahead, other observers see the possibility Andrew might find his position diminished within the House of Windsor.

"He is not the big league," British PR guru Mark Borkowski said in an interview last month. "He could be hung out to dry if necessary."

Off to school 

Princess Charlotte arrives for her first day of school with her brother, Prince George, and her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, at Thomas's Battersea in London on Sept. 5, 2019. (Aaron Chown/Getty Images)

There was another royal ritual photo call on Thursday, as a "very excited" Princess Charlotte started school accompanied by her brother, Prince George, and parents, Prince William and Kate.

Charlotte, 4,  joins George, 6, at Thomas's Battersea, a school with 560 students in southwest London where, according to its website, "the most important rule is to 'Be Kind.'"

Royals routinely greet the cameras on their first day of school. When George started at Thomas's two years ago, only his dad came along. Kate was at home with acute morning sickness while expecting their third child, Prince Louis.

  • When Charlotte's father started nursery school, he made history. Our friends at CBC Archives have taken a closer look at William's first day at Mrs. Mynors' Nursery School in 1985.

Prince George arrives for his first day of school with his father, Prince William, on Sept. 7, 2017. (Richard Pohle/Getty Images)

Royally quotable

Prince Harry poses for a photograph with a group of young ambassadors at the International World AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, on July 21, 2016. (The Associated Press)

"In just a few weeks, our family will be taking its first official tour to Africa, a region of the world that over the past two decades has been a second home to me."

— Prince Harry takes to Instagram in anticipation of his trip with Meghan and their young son, Archie, to South Africa later this month. Harry will also visit Malawi, Angola and Botswana.

Royals in Canada

Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias attend a ceremony in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 13, 2012. (Aaron Watson/The Canadian Press)

While royal visits to Canada inevitably attract attention, some are more high-profile than others, often based on the rank of the guest. (One exception to that would be the under-the-radar visits Prince Harry made to see Meghan Markle in Toronto before they were engaged.)

Some of the lower-profile trips have come from prolific royal visitors. Prince Edward — third son and fourth child of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip — may not attract the attention that his parents or older brothers and sister have often garnered, but he's been to Canada more than 30 times. (The Queen has visited officially 22 times since assuming the throne.)

Edward and his wife, Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, were in Canada from Sept. 11 to 18, 2012, and took part in 50 events in Ontario and Nunavut. Edward and Sophie, who have forged deep ties with the country, last visited — separately — in 2015.

Royal reads

  • As the Brexit madness continues to swirl, some attention has focused on the role of the Queen, including why she didn't say no to Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he wanted to prorogue Parliament. [The Atlantic]

  • Prince Charles is moving into the fashion world, and the inspiration comes from weeds in his garden. [The Guardian] 

  • Royal events may be celebrated with enthusiasm in the U.K. these days, but go back just a couple of decades and there was a very different feeling about the monarchy. [HistoryExtra/BBC History Magazine] 

  • Majesty Magazine editor Ingrid Seward argues that the public wanted to take Meghan into their hearts, but Harry is pushing people away.  [The Sun] 

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.


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