It has taken us a little over a month to get around to writing this, perhaps because we have only just finished digesting the inaugural Earthshot Prize ceremony, which aired in the UK on the BBC on Sunday, 17 October 2021.
According to its website: “Launched by Prince William and The Royal Foundation in October 2020, The Earthshot Prize is the most prestigious global environment prize in history.”
But the much-anticipated event left us feeling… well, bemused. Here is why…
The awards themselves had been preceded by a week of documentaries, featuring Prince William, titled ‘The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet’. “Were they..?” we hear you thinking. Perhaps tellingly, the first episode aired on BBC One immediately before Strictly Come Dancing, while the rest of the series was moved to a midweek 10.35pm slot. Newspaper reviews hint further at the series’ failure to capture the audience’s attention.
As far back as 1996 (yes, 25 years ago…) Costa Rica banned deforestation and set out to reverse the devastating effects caused by decades of destruction. As one BBC article reminds us: “Costa Rica has long been celebrated for its leadership in environmental policy.” Why then, in 2021, did the powers that be decide to rather belatedly award a country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of £46 billion a £1 million prize? Is the entire point of the Earthshot Prize not to look forward, rather then back, and to help fund new innovations that can help to set us on a different future path?
Similarly surprising was the decision to award Italy’s wealthiest city, which in its own right has a GDP around eight times larger than Costa Rica’s at £336 billion, with a prize. Milan’s achievement in becoming the first city to implement a city-wide food waste policy on this scale is not in question but what impact will this recognition or the nominal £1 million sum have on helping to further reduce our impact on the planet?
A show stopping performance
As is often the case, Sir David Attenborough stole the show before it had really got going. If the sentence: “The natural world on which we entirely depend is declining at a rate faster than at any time since the global catastrophe that exterminated the dinosaurs” doesn’t make you sit up and take note, nothing will. Sir David captured and explained the moment like no one else can.
This isn’t Live Aid
Bob Geldof and his friends were busy but the likes of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, KSI and Yemi Alade, and Shawn Mendes took up what felt like half of the ceremony with their shoehorned in performances. It’s perhaps worth asking Chris Martin and Shawn Mendes, who respectively live in the USA and Canada how they got there.
Celebritising climate change
The famous faces didn’t stop there. The awards were dished out by the likes of Liverpool star Mo Salah and actress (does she still..?) Emma Watson, who clearly uses a different ticketing website to us, having also popped up at An Audience with Adele last week. We would rather have seen names working in and around the field featuring more heavily.
Mention the Duke of Cambridge’s name and ask someone what he is well known for and you’d no doubt get answers including flying helicopters, marrying Kate Middleton and not being Prince Harry. Very few people would probably say environmental matters. But, Prince William is endeavouring to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by making climate change his thing.
Do as we don’t?
Personally speaking, we are on the fence about the Royal Family, aside from Her Majesty the Queen, who we think is beyond reproach. We can see both the ups and downs. But, we have read many comments asking whether a family that lives as lavishly as the Cambridges/Windsors/Wales (or whatever else they wish to be called…) can stand up and ask all of us to live more sustainably while hopping on their private plane home to one of their many sizeable residences.
What’s the rush?
Despite professing to be the “most prestigious global environment prize in history,” the whole thing felt very rushed and hastily put together. If this is to be a ten-year project, hopefully things can be ironed out and improved for next year and thereafter.
Nonetheless, well done to all of this year’s winners and good luck to all those working on projects and innovations as part of next year’s Earthshot Prize. Don’t get us wrong, we will support anything that raises awareness of the challenges we all face and explores and explains how we might hope to address these, but this just felt strangely put together and like a missed opportunity.
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