Why 'environmentalists' Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should be a little more like Greta Thunberg

Are the royal pair being targeted by a 'racist' press, as friends suggest? Or did they make an out-of-touch decision to take a private jet to stay with Elton John?

epa07351189 Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (L) and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex arrive at Drapers Hall to attend the Endeavour Fund Awards in Central London, Britain, 7th February 2019.  EPA/WILL OLIVER
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It really is starting to feel as though, at least as far as the British press is concerned, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle can do no right.

In May this year, following the birth of their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, we asked if motherhood would end the British media attack on Markle. Well, almost four months later, the answer appears to be a resounding no.

If anything, it feels like it has gotten worse. Most recently, the couple has faced backlash for choosing to travel to the French home of singer Elton John by private jet. They aren't the first royal couple to take the famously expensive, environmentally irresponsible mode of transport – Prince Andrew reportedly took private jet journeys with Jeffrey Epstein, according to the BBC, but that is a different matter entirely – and they certainly won't be the last. But the journey has provoked headlines like, "Heir heads: 'Green' Harry and Meg's private jet hol" and "'Eco-warriors' Meghan Markle and Prince Harry take four private jets in 11 days", by the Daily Mail and The Sun, respectively.

SUVA, FIJI - OCTOBER 23:  Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex disembark from their plane on their arrival in Suva on October 23, 2018 in Suva, Fiji. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on their official 16-day Autumn tour visiting cities in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth - Pool/Getty Images)

Herein lies the problem. On Monday, July 1, the Sussex Royal Instagram account posted a collage of social media accounts that they have identified as environmentalists, people and organisations that are trying to save the world, from National Geographic to Greta Thunberg, Mike Bloomberg and Jane Goodall.

Along with the collage was a quote from Prince Harry, which read: “Environmental damage has been treated as a necessary by-product of economic growth. So deeply ingrained is this thinking that it has been considered part of the natural order that humankind’s development comes at the expense of our planet.

“Only now are we starting to notice and understand the damage that we’ve been causing,” he continued. “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference.”

In the edition of British Vogue that the Duchess of Sussex guest edited, Prince Harry said in a printed conversation with Goodall that the couple would have "two, maximum", when asked how many children they plan to have.

“What we need to remind everybody is: these are things that are happening now,” the royal said of the world’s depleting resources. “We are already living in it. We are the frog in the water and it's already been brought to the boil. Which is terrifying.”

They are admirable quotes and impressive efforts from the royal couple. But it seems as though fractions of the public have started to feel lectured to by the royal who doesn’t appear to practise what he preaches.

It didn’t take people long to wonder why the duke and duchess had flown by private jet to Nice, a location that has a number of daily commercial flight options. We haven’t been given an answer to that and it is unlikely to ever be publicly addressed; the main clue is in the world “private” that precedes jet.

This is where Rocketman singer John jumped in and defended the couple.

“I am deeply distressed by today’s distorted and malicious account in the press surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s private stay at my home in Nice last week,” the singer wrote on Twitter earlier this week. “After a hectic year continuing their hard work and dedication to charity, David and I wanted the young family to have a private holiday inside the safety and tranquility of our home. To maintain a high level of much-needed protection, we provided them with a private jet flight.

“To support Prince Harry’s commitment to the environment, we ensured their flight was carbon neutral, by making the appropriate contribution to Carbon Footprint,” John continued. “I highly respect and applaud both Harry and Meghan’s commitment to charity and I’m calling on the press to cease these relentless and untrue assassinations on their character that are spuriously crafted on an almost daily basis.”

The problem is, however, that we can’t all just pay to offset our carbon emissions. And wasn’t Prince Harry just talking about urgency and “every action making a difference?”

“Carbon offsetting is not a meaningful response to aviation emissions,” Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, Doug Parr, said of John’s move on Twitter. “Good works can be done with cash out into offset schemes, but it is no solution.”

This is the exact thing that frustrates me about Leonardo DiCaprio, at times. Arguably, he is the most famous environmentalist in Hollywood, and has donated millions to green causes in the last 20 years. But in 2016 he generated a collective  eye roll when he flew across the world, 12,875 kilometres to be precise, from Cannes to New York and back again, to receive an environmental award.

At the time, environmental analyst Robert Rapier told Fox News that the action "diminishes his moral authority to lecture others on reducing their own carbon emissions". But DiCaprio's trip provoked a mere ripple of online stories, giving him a gentle slap on the wrist. Harry and Meghan have had widespread retribution.

It is not just John who has jumped to the couple's defence. Chat show host Ellen DeGeneres tweete, "Portia and I met Prince Harry and Meghan in England to talk about their work on wildlife conservation. They were the most down-to-earth, compassionate people. Imagine being attacked for everything you do, when all you're trying to do is make the world better."

Other celebrities suggested that it wasn’t the hypocrisy that prompted the backlash, saying it also comes down to race. Actress and body positivity activist Jameela Jamil wrote on Twitter: “Ugh. Dear England and English press, just say you hate her because she’s black, and him for marrying a black woman and be done with it. Your bullying is so embarrassing and obvious. You’ve all lost your marbles. It’s 2019. Grow up.”

She went on to say: “Also, it’s not safe for us to be on the same planes as royals or presidents you absolute muppets. They are prime targets for kidnap and sometimes assassination. It’s in the interest of us civilians to not be endangered by proximity to people in such powerful positions.”

Jessica Mulroney, a close friend of the duchess, echoed Jamil’s point indirectly, posting on Instagram: “When someone faces unfair criticism, you call it out. When that person is your friend and family, you call those critics what they truly are. Shame on you, you racist bullies.” She also added: “Three years of undeserved hate and abuse. It’s enough.”

In the comments of the post, a follower of Mulroney’s commented that “this particular incident does not constitute racism", to which the stylist replied, “It’s not just about this particular incident.”

While I do think that the criticism levelled at the pair does seem to be disproportionate to that directed at other royals, on this occasion I personally think much of the disapproval is warranted. Aggressive rhetoric is not – and rarely is – but they should have implemented a little more self-awareness on this occasion, to know that this would attract flak, if not grow into the onslaught of criticism it has become.

You can’t expect to stand up (barefoot) and speak at a climate “camp”, throw shade (inadvertently or otherwise) at people with more than two children for abusing the planet’s dwindling resources with their oversized families and stress the urgency of tackling environmental issues now, only to fly by private jet without being dubbed "out of touch" by critics.

On this occasion, it would have been nice to see the couple take a leaf out of Greta Thunberg’s book. I am not saying they needed to sail to Nice in a carbon-neutral voyage with a four-month-old in tow – although we’d be amiss to think there was no time spent yachting on the French Riviera organised by Sir Elton. A low-key commercial flight would have been a much more sensible option on this occasion; heck, book out the whole of first class for the privacy.

Save the private jets for journeys to climate conferences, and revert back to provoking a DiCaprio-style eye roll, in lieu of global backlash.