A couple of weeks ago, along with the rest of the population, I headed in to London to catch a glimpse of whatever was to be seen at the Jubilee celebrations. Not much, as it happened. After hotfooting it down the river from Hammersmith to Chelsea Wharf and just missing the Queen’s embarkation, we decided to snatch a lead on the muscle-powered pageant and jumped on a tube to Tower Hill. What we hadn’t counted on was the bridge being barricaded and raised, not to mention the small monsoon which had decided to prove to Her Majesty just whose rain had the upper hand. Soaked through, we retreated to a nearby church café and joined the mass of damp patriots who were belting out a shrill anthem and insisting on the utter Britishness of the whole occasion.
Just so. But what in the name of St George does the Jubilee have to do with saving the planet?
For a few months now I have been mulling over the correlation between sustainability and longevity. Ever since the Brundtland Report enunciated the needs of silent future generations whilst reporting on Our Common Future back in 1987, pundits from all corners of the world have been jumping on the bandwagon of legacy – and indeed the 2012 London Olympics pre-Games sustainability report has whole chapters dedicated to the economic, social, sporting and environmental benefits that will be brought to the East London community for many years to come.
Royalist, republican or bemused bystander, we would be hard pressed to deny that the British monarchy has a knack for endurance (Charles I being the exception that proves the rule). The talk from the BBC on Jubliee weekend was all about tradition versus modernisation – the Kate and Wills effect through the ages, as it were – and the tenacious ability of the Royals to weather the storms of office. A perfect example of Darwinian evolution? Perhaps; certainly one could ascribe the same description – ‘descent with modification’ – to the family Firm, and although opportunities for direct competition have been limited in recent years, it has managed to survive the death of the People’s Princess and the 21st century explosion of celebrity culture by realising that if it couldn’t beat ‘em, it could certainly join ‘em. Kate is now the darling of the people with her ‘ordinary girl’ background and high street fashion sense, whilst even the not-so-bonny Prince Charlie has risen in public estimation. The Queen’s extraordinary experience has earned her global respect (she has known 12 British prime ministers and 6 American presidents in her time, and visited over 100 countries worldwide), yet she retains the affections of the vast majority of her people – and the Horse Guards even admit to calling her ‘Granny’! Democracy is of course an enviable state, but all too often the decisions of governments are predicated on victory in the next general election rather than on ensuring long-term prosperity. Endurance, longevity and the ability to survive and adapt are essential features of constitutional monarchy, and those of us interested in looking to the future could do worse than learning from it. To borrow from Patek Philippe, we never actually own the Earth – we merely look after it for the next generation.
Home and dry after the river debacle, that set me thinking of other things that we might associate with longevity: an heirloom? Radio 4 (particularly the shipping forecast) perhaps? The works of Shakespeare? On the whole, the things that survive the test of time are not so much things but ideas, stories, traditions, customs: intangibles that make life worth living, and that can be passed from one generation to the next, remoulded, and passed on regardless of wealth, power or worldly success. Imagination is not subject to the laws of entropy and nor is generosity degraded through thermodynamics. There may one day be an end of shopping for stuff, but for as long as we remain human there will always be a source of information, inspiration and ideas. And it is the longevity of the human race that sustainability seeks to address.