Prince Philip was a passionate environmentalist – and passed that legacy on

By Zach Harper

Happy Earth Day! Since 1970, April 22 has been marked as a day to focus on how to better protect the environment, care for our planet and work towards a sustainable future. It's acquired even more focus in recent years due to climate change, and many royals and celebrities have been heavily involved in speaking out on our planet's behalf.

To mark Earth Day, Prince Harry paid tribute to his late grandfather Prince Philip by narrating a video for African Parks, which manages the continent's protected areas and animals. Harry has been involved in conservation issues with the organization for years.

Harry paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh in a press release calling attention to the African continent's protected areas and how they are important for biodiversity.

"On this Earth Day, I reflect on generations of conservation champions, including my late grandfather, and feel proud and energized to continue doing my part in this legacy."

Like Harry, members of the Royal Family such as Prince Charles and Prince William have long been advocates for our planet, with Harry having launched Travalyst in 2019 and William kicking off the Earthshot Prize the same year.

They all inherited their eco-consciousness from Prince Philip. The late Duke of Edinburgh was a passionate environmentalist from the time of his early adulthood. Philip did a lot to help advance conservation and protecting nature, beginning in the 1960s.

But his interest in our planet and its delicate balance could be traced back to the 1940s and early 1950s, Dr. Claude Martin, former director of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, said in a piece for Sky News soon after the Duke of Edinburgh's death.

"Since he was in the Navy, he started getting interested in birds," Claude wrote. "There must have been something from childhood, that was not only the trigger for him, but that made him interested in the world."

Celebrated natural historian Sir David Attenborough praised the late duke's conservation work ahead of Philip's April 17 funeral.

"He was right there at the beginning at a time when conservation didn't mean much to many people," David said. "Even in the 1960 and '70s, he saw it universally."

Preserving wildlife and nature

In 1961, the Duke was instrumental in founding two major conservation bodies; the World Wide Fund for Nature (now the World Wildlife Fund for Nature) and the Australian Conservation Foundation. He was the president of both bodies. He was appointed president of the WWF in 1981 and was president emeritus until his death.

"We depend on being part of the web of life, we depend on every other living thing on this planet, just as much as they depend on us," he once said. "If we as humans have got this power of life and death, not just life and death but extinction and survival, we ought to exercise it with some sort of moral sense. Why make something extinct if we don't have to?"

More than 50 of the dukes trips abroad were done through his role as WWF president, and he was instrumental in urging other countries to form their own conservation bodies.

He also advocated on behalf of at-risk species such as panda bears, elephants, rhinos and orangutans. Philip also co-hosted a 1970 documentary for ITV called It's Now or Never about conservation, which was filmed throughout the African continent with Peter Scott.

And there's a good chance that if you're in your thirties or forties, you may have learned about the struggles monarch butterflies have been having in the last few decades while you were in school. The duke also helped draw attention to their plight.

In 1988, Philip helped a Mexico conservation group work to protect the insects, which had been seriously threatened by deforestation and commercial logging.

Unfortunately, monarch butterflies continue to be at risk today, with their population hitting historic lows in 2017.

In 2002, Philip wrote a letter drawing attention to the deforestation of the world's rainforests, and was particularly concerned with what was happening with environmental biodiversity in Southeast Asia. He called for the forest to be protected and for international partnerships to be established with agencies for it to happen.

"There is only one place on the planet where sufficiently large areas of the Indo-Malay forests of Southeast Asia could be conserved on such a sale. It straddles the trans-boundary highlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, and reaches through the foothills into adjacent lowlands and to parts of Brunei."

Philip's work on conservation and wildlife wasn't limited to issues abroad. He also had an active interest in helping farmers near Balmoral.

"The Duke worked with Estate workers, farmers and conservationists to maintain the Estates for future generations, through wildlife conservation and biodiversity initiatives," the Royal Family wrote in an Instagram post after Philip's death.

Charles, William and Harry have since all become passionate advocates for endangered species such as elephants and rhinos, working with organizations such as African Parks and other conservation bodies.

Stopping pollution

In 1970, at a time when Earth Day was just getting started, Philip gave an address at the Conference on World Pollution in France, urging that action be taken to make our waters, lands, skies and air cleaner.

"It's totally useless for a lot of well-meaning people to wring their hands in conference and point out the dangers of pollution or the destruction of the countryside if no one is willing or capable of taking any action," he said at the time.

He also pointed to Lake Erie's terrible environmental state at the time in his remarks.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the lake had very serious pollution issues due to heavy industry runoff, and parts of it had even been declared dead. Since then, its biodiversity has improved, as has its water quality – partly thanks to government action and prosecution against dumping.

Also in 1970, the WWF created the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award to recognize achievements in environmentalism.

Like his father, Charles has long been a passionate advocate for protecting the environment.

He also spoke out about pollution in 1970, addressing its effect on our lands, waters and air. It was his first major speech on the environment, and he was concerned about plastic very early.

"When you think that each person produces roughly two pounds of rubbish per day and there are 55 million of us on this island using non-returnable bottles and indestructible plastic containers, it is not difficult to imagine the mountains of refuse that we shall have to deal with somehow," he said at the Countryside Steering Committee then.

The future King has continued to make sustainability a major part of his life, with his organic brand, Duchy Originals, producing more than 200 different sustainable products. He has also won awards for his environmental advocacy and work on the threat of climate change. And just this past January, he launched a Terra Carta (Latin for "Earth Charter"), urging anyone or any business that signs it to agree to become more sustainable.

Thank you to Prince Philip for his work to help preserve our Earth – the only home we have, and which, like us, is living and breathing – and passing his care for the planet on to his family. It has and will continue to make a world of difference for all of us.

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