Prince William and Kate Middleton are now man and wife. As an American, perhaps I shouldn’t care, but as a curious person, I can’t help but gawk at the spectacle. Although the sun set on the British Empire some decades ago, all of its trappings of pomp and officialdom are still alive and well. Most Americans haven’t seen so many red coats in one place since visiting a commemorative Revolutionary War mural. But at a time when the red military tunic is very much in fashion, plenty could be seen in London this morning, from Prince William’s smart Irish Guards uniform to the jackets of scores of Welsh Guards in the procession to Buckingham Palace after the royal couple said, “I do.”
Long after the echoing words of the Archbishop of Canterbury faded away from Westminster Abbey’s vaulted chambers, cheering crowds still throng the streets of London, waving flags, eating food, drinking water and wearing outfits specially chosen for the occasion. The magnitude of resource consumption connected with the event is beyond comprehension. Horses were fed and watered, royal automobiles (and RAF planes used for the flyover) fueled, and the fashion industry must have produced enough new garments to cover the city’s parks with cloth many times over (I don’t know the actual number of garments produced, but fashion was a key point of event coverage, and having the freshest new getup, complete with ostentatious hat was, apparently, it). No matter how you look at it, it was a lot of stuff.
Based upon estimates unearthed by the Telegraph, the wedding produced nearly 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) — in a year, Buckinham Palace typically has a carbon output of 670 tons of CO2, and the average UK household approximately 5.5 tons. Landcare research reported that the 400,000 people traveling on the London Underground produced almost 4,000 tons of CO2 today. But as water conservation news site Water Rhapsody pointed out, those figures don’t include CO2 production from street parties all over the world, nor energy and water consumption numbers from production of Union Jack flags and bunting hanging from every corner of London Town.
Still, the Prince and his new bride apparently made every effort to lower the environmental footprint of an event that was bound to put a dent in the island nation’s rate of power and water consumption for a few days. Some of the wedding’s eco-friendly highlights include: Wedding invitations for the couple’s 1,500 guests printed on recycled paper; scaffolding and media stands constructed of FSC-certified wood; seasonal and sustainably-grown food and flowers (also supposedly local, from around the British Isles); and some of the power consumed was from renewable sources. Officials noted that although the royal Rolls Royce produced some CO2, the open-topped carriage in which William and Kate rode to Buckingham Palace after the ceremony was carbon-neutral (although the methane produced by the horses, as well as the water used to raise them, could be considered impacts).
The Royal Family has taken a number of steps to reduce the environmental impact of regal living over the past several decades. It began in the 1980s when they had a computerized HVAC system installed in Buckingham Palace to maximize the efficiency of an inherently inefficient 18th Century building. A borehole drilled 450 feet into the chalk aquifer below the building’s garden cools the wine cellar and some of its other rooms. Boreholes have also been used at Winsdor Castle and Balmoral Castle (the royal family’s Scottish dwelling), apparently in an attempt to take advantage of sea level rise and to reduce cooling costs. Windsor Castle receives some of its power from a hydroelectric archimedes screw at Romney Wier on the River Thames, and both the royal family’s London residences make use of biofuels and lubricants for grounds maintenance equipment.
It’s true, a lot of resources are consumed in the name of British Royalty — particularly in support of their nuptial bliss. They operate at a level of opulence that makes the President of the United States look like a pauper. But at the end of the day, at least they’re trying to be responsible global citizens.