Opinion | Save the Planet, Win a Prize

At a time when elected officials appear stymied by the challenge of climate change, or even in denial about it, it is heartening to see a royal prince pitch in with a good initiative.

The Earthshot Prize announced Thursday by Prince William, second in line to the British throne, along with the venerable English broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, proposes to award five £1 million prizes every year for the next 10 years toward five environmental goals (“earthshots”) — fixing the climate, cleaning the air, protecting and restoring nature, reviving oceans and tackling waste.

Any person, group or corporation around the world is eligible, and any suggestion — even those that “may sound crackpot,” said Mr. Attenborough — is welcome, so long as it is applicable on a global scale. It could be a new technology, a new approach, a new governmental policy or any other “insights, flashes of genius and ideas.” The goal is no less than “to repair our planet by 2030.”

That might be a tad overly ambitious. But the purpose of the prize, and what distinguishes it from several others with the same broad goals, is to generate excitement and what Prince William called “a bit of a catalyst, a bit of hope, a bit of positivity” into an endeavor more often pushed by doomsday scenarios. “Earthshot” was chosen to echo “Moonshot,” President John F. Kennedy’s giant 10-year project announced in 1961 to get a person on the moon within a decade.

According to the BBC, Prince William has been developing the prize for some time through the charitable foundation that he and his wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, support. The money will come from donors around the world, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Jack Ma Foundation and the Aga Khan Development Network. The prize council includes celebrities ranging from the actress Cate Blanchett to the Colombian singer Shakira.

The announcement comes at a time when a dose of positivity is sorely needed, with the coronavirus raging through the world and symptoms of global warming, like the wildfires in California and the melting Arctic ice, becoming ever more acute and dangerous.

Prince William has environmental activism in his blue blood. His grandfather, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, was an active environmentalist, as is Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. Last month, speaking on the opening day of New York’s Climate Week, Prince Charles spoke of “a planet that has been pushed beyond its planetary boundaries.”

Prince William acknowledged his heritage with a sideswipe at those who continue to question the human responsibility for the warming. Reminded in an interview that his father, Prince Charles, once acknowledged that his ideas on the environment were sometimes seen as a bit “dotty,” Prince William quipped, “I regularly wonder what my father’s banging on about,” but then said he had always listened, learned and believed what he was saying about the environment. “I think the dotty person now would be the person who doesn’t believe in climate change,” said the prince.

These are wise words out of the mouth of princes, and the prize is a good one. A million pounds — roughly $1.3 million — is significantly more than a Nobel Prize and should inspire some serious and creative thinking about the plight of Planet Earth. Unlike the Nobel Prize money, moreover, the Earthshot money is supposed to be spent on the winning project.

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