Chris Selley: Note to Prince Harry — celebrity slacktivism is a bad look for the Royal Family

Despite what some scandalized British headlines have suggested, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, has not claimed to be helping to save the world from climate change by only planning to get his 37-year-old wife pregnant one more time. “Two, maximum!” he tells primatologist Jane Goodall in an interview-cum-rambling discussion in the current edition of British Vogue, which was guest-edited by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. It was in the context of some store-bought Harry musings about the perils facing planet Earth and its future inhabitants — “this place is borrowed,” etc. — but it was presented more as a half-joke than as an earnest plan to help out the biosphere.

Good thing, too, because not long after those headlines landed we learned Harry was off to Sicily for a massive Google-sponsored climate change celebrity gabfest. Needless to say, he didn’t row there. Italian media reported more than 100 private jets and several superyachts had delivered the actors, singers, supermodels and tech magnates. All reportedly had to sign non-disclosure agreements about what went on, which is a brilliant new innovation in climate-change slacktivism: “Our climate change discussions were not only important enough to justify heroic eruptions of carbon dioxide, but so important that we can’t tell you anything about them.”

The last thing the monarchy needs is Harry or other headline-gobbling Royals swanning around like celebrity flibbertigibbets

Some think it’s petty to criticize climate activists for their own emissions. I was recently taken to task by myriad correspondents, many of whom were not Liberal partisans, for suggesting that a family long weekend surfing on Vancouver Island was a strange look for a prime minister trying to sell Canadians on a carbon tax with the very future of the planet, he argues, hanging in the balance. Honestly it baffles me. Is the idea that celebrity advocacy for decarbonized lifestyles will inspire so many other people to adopt them that we should forgive the celebrities’ own excesses? If people actually take their environmental cues from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Harry Styles, Naomi Campbell and Orlando Bloom — all were reportedly in Sicily — then surely they would be far more inspired if the celebrities actually made half a personal effort.

But there will always be films, and they will always need actors, and there will always be pop music, and it will always need singers, and fame being what it is, a lot of the actors and singers will always end up being insufferable flakes. The monarchy Harry’s dad and brother are front of the line to lead isn’t nearly so immutable. No other Western royal family has managed to maintain such a conspicuously opulent lifestyle while maintaining head-of-state status and widespread affection not just on its home soil — where class remains a dominant social divider — but in many very different realms all over the world.

Whatever you think of the Royals, it’s quite an accomplishment. And a significant part of the recipe has been eschewing intellectualism and the unfortunate flights of fancy that can come with it. Prince Charles will be Britain’s (and Canada’s) first university-graduate monarch. In contrast, by some accounts, 10-year-old Elizabeth Windsor was home-schooled to the tune of just seven-and-a-half hours a week. As Ben Pimlott explains in his landmark biography of her, the goal was first and foremost to prevent her emerging as a “blue stocking” — i.e., as a female intellectual.

The Queen is and always has been damn good at her job. Her perceived missteps — notably, failing to melt into a puddle of tears and urine after Princess Diana’s death — are mostly evidence of precisely what makes her so supremely suited to the position: Unflappability, decorum, discretion, a genetic predisposition not to blunder into the world of politics. When she passes away — perhaps 20 years from now, by the looks of it — the monarchy will be at a critical juncture. The absolute last thing it needs is Harry or other headline-gobbling Royals swanning around like celebrity flibbertigibbets poking their noses into politically divisive battles. Truly embracing and living the fight against climate change would be another thing entirely, but there’s no evidence the Duke and Duchess have any interest in that whatsoever.

Harry is far less likely even than his grandmother ever was to take the throne, of course. But at the risk of overblowing an offhand comment in Vogue magazine, it does invite uncomfortable premonitions of his father’s reign. In a BBC interview last year on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Charles vowed he’ll keep his nose out of politics when he becomes king. But that’s not a high bar to clear: In 2015 he failed in an attempt to prevent the release of more than two dozen letters he sent to government ministers on matters ranging from British troops’ materiel in Iraq to the culling of badgers. The fact remains he has publicly expressed opinions on things in a way his mother never did, and a lot of them are quite divisive (organic farming), and some of them are irredeemably stupid (homeopathy). This episode with Harry and his family planning is a useful reminder of the many pitfalls facing the House of Windsor when it’s finally time to replace the Queen, long may she reign.

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: