Prince Charles on the wheel and other useless inventions

Catherine Bennett: Readers who have enjoyed the Prince of Wales' contributions in the fields of health and nano-technology may be interested in these extracts from his recent speeches and articles.

Readers who have enjoyed the Prince of Wales' contributions in the fields of health and nano-technology may be interested in these extracts from his recent speeches and articles:

The internet

It seems extraordinary to me that, despite recent polls showing ever-increasing use of the "world wide web", only a handful of academics is researching the dangers which may one day confront those who cruise the "information superhighway", little suspecting that it could be leading them - to quote Shakespeare - towards "that undiscover'd country from whose bourne no traveller returns".

One need hardly point out that this particular triumph of technology can only exacerbate the ailments the Enlightenment left in its wake - the epidemics of asthma and allergies, stress and overeating, not forgetting the well-documented risks of long-term exposure to western rationalism. This is not to devalue the convenience of instant access to information and communication. Yet, I happen to believe, for what it is worth, that if God had wanted us to be able to engage in auctions without paying 15% commission, he would never have created Sotheby's and Christies. Our stewardship of these threatened places has been truly appalling.

In the hope of stimulating a debate, I recently convened a panel of leading contributors to Thought for the Day: they concluded that even if the internet poses no immediate threat, it could ultimately prove fatal to marine life. Unless science - in all its wisdom - can come up with something to replace the billions of superhighways which now criss-cross the sea beds, we are doomed first to woe, then to suffering and finally, if nothing is done, to an agonisingly protracted death. Elaine Storkey warns that our addiction to emails will not only ensnare the playful dolphin and handsome tuna but, in an Orwellian nightmare, warm the world's oceans to the point that they will reach what she calls "a rolling boil" in around 2018, leading, in short order, to the extinction of most living things. Only insects - and those of us in the specially insulated Thought for the Day boat - will be saved.

Is the convenience of the "email" worth the annihilation of our species? Without wishing to be alarmist, I personally think not.

Speech to the Royal College of Surgeons

I recently had the privilege of meeting members of the Wiccan community at Highgrove. As we toured the leech farm, one of these marvellously wise ladies asked if I could not help stimulate public debate about the incalculable risks posed by Mr Harvey's theory on the circulation of the blood. Although, at this early stage, his ideas might seem to promise great things, another, more ancient school of thought, asks if it is desirable, or helpful to reduce human beings in this classic, Cartesian way, to mere bundles of "veins" and "capillaries". What of the ebb and flow of black and yellow bile - and their all-important relationship with the position of the sun, in its gentle orbit around the earth? I think it was Jimmy Savile who said "the heart has its reasons, that reason knows not of".

We all want to understand what works and what doesn't. And it is true that we need blood to live. But, as in all things, we also need balance and harmony. One leading complementary practitioner, Professor Hakuna Matata, tells me of a patient who turned to daily cupping seven years ago, having been told that she was suffering from a terminal excess of blood. Confounding all expectations, the young woman was able to enjoy a further six years of active life. So it is therefore vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should look beyond narrow, evidence-based medicine to investigate the very real contribution made by therapists such as Mr Matata, the inspiration behind our new Highgrove range of biodegradable coffins (from £995, excl. VAT).

Alternative transport

We are constantly told that the wheel transformed human life for the better.Well, perhaps. But how much evidence do we have for this oft-repeated claim? There is a growing feeling among many alternative transport practitioners, that, far from liberating mankind, this much-vaunted triumph of human ingenuity actually condemned us to live the very busy, machine-driven existence which is now responsible for an explosion of allergies and other stress-related disorders.

It occurs to me, to quote Shakespeare, that perhaps "the wheel is come full circle," and we should now be reviving the traditional, more holistic methods of getting about. But so far, research into non-conventional alternatives to the car, train and bicycle has been pitiful.

Do we actually need the wheel at all? In the hope of, at least, stimulating public debate, I recently organised an experiment at Highgrove. After Porritt had confiscated all the wheels on the estate - to the accompaniment of not a few protests! - we discovered that not only can life be lived perfectly well without this so-called innovation, but given a positive attitude, it is possible for four men and a donkey to drag a Bentley from Gloucester to London within six days - providing some of the passengers agree to travel by helicopter. In the garden, heavy wheelbarrows can be readily replaced by a traditional line of men and willow trugs.

For me, the most heartening finding of all was the tremendous morale boost our temporary experiment gave to the equestrian community. In short, if we can rise to the challenge, the permanent abolition of the wheel would have the marvellously synergistic effect of creating thousands of new jobs - as blacksmiths, farriers, grooms and so on - at the same time as it conserved energy and saved the planet from otherwise inevitable devastation.

Technology article for the Independent on Sunday

I am well aware that promoting public debate about the spinning jenny is a difficult business. My first, gentle attempt to draw the subject to wider attention resulted in "Prince Joins Luddites" headlines. So, for the record, I am not a Luddite: my concerns about automation in fact began long before, with the introduction of the flying shuttle, and the very real possibility that such advances in technology would one day lead to self-replicating textile machinery taking over the world. Which, I think most people will agree, is more or less what has happened under the guise of "progress".

I happen to believe that modern manufacture is not, and should not be, simply about people going to offices and factories and operating machines. We in the west need to learn, as I did from my beloved grandmother, to practise complete stillness. She would often say that this country suffers from an epidemic of hard work. Her own, typically practical remedy - to do no work at all - cost nothing, and ensured that she lived to be 101 years old.

Her ideas are supported by the findings of the neo-Platonist scholar Professor G Halliwell. She warns that if we do not give up our frantic, technology-driven western way of life, with its steam looms and motor omnibuses, not to mention the new telegrams and patent mangles, with their collective toll on the environment, it could soon, quite literally, start "raining men". We simply have no idea what will happen.

But at Highgrove, I have taken the precaution of strengthening our flood defences against the ghastly range of catastrophes which urgently confront each and every one of us. As Shakespeare said, "What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth."


Catherine Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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