Nature can't take unrestrained economic growth: Prince Charles

LONDON (Reuters) - The quest for unlimited economic growth is unsustainable and could bankrupt the environment through climate change and depleted natural resources, Britain’s Prince Charles said Wednesday.

Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend the dedication of the London Bombing Memorial which commemorates the victims of London's July 7, 2005 bombings, in Hyde Park, London July 7, 2009. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Charles, next-in-line to succeed Queen Elizabeth, said a new economic model must be found because the Earth can no longer support the demands of a growing “consumerist society” where growth is an end in itself.

People must realize they are not “the masters of creation,” rather just one part of a fragile natural world, he added.

“Just as our banking sector is struggling with its debts... so Nature’s life-support systems are failing to cope with the debts we have built up there too,” Charles said at a BBC lecture at St James’s Palace in central London.

“If we don’t face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust.

“That is the challenge we face, it seems to me -- to see Nature’s capital and her processes as the very basis of a new form of economics.”

Charles, the former husband of the late Princess Diana, has long campaigned on the environment.

His own farm went organic in the 1980s, he publishes details of his estate’s annual carbon emissions and has developed a sustainable village in western England called Poundbury.

“Our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change...depends on us adapting our pursuit of unlimited economic growth to that of sustainable growth,” he said.

While conceding that industrialization had brought benefits such as better education, prosperity and higher life expectancy, the future king said that progress had come at a price.

Consumption has grown so much in the last 30 years that demands on natural resources now exceed the planet’s capacity for renewal by a quarter each year, he added.

By 2050, the world’s population will swell to about 9 billion people, from more than 6 billion currently, and a higher proportion will expect Western levels of consumption.

Modern farming methods that use fertilizers and pesticides that have helped feed a growing population have taken a “huge and unsustainable” toll on ecosystems, he added.

“Our current model of progress was not designed of course to create all this destruction,” Charles said. “However, given the overwhelming evidence from so many quarters, we have to ask ourselves if it any longer makes sense or whether it is actually fit for purpose.”

Economic growth has failed to end poverty, stress, ill health and social tensions, he added. A reformed economy must give more weight to the environment and local communities.

Editing by Matthew Jones