Prince Charles Goes Viral to Save the Rain Forests


Prince Charles Goes Viral to Save the Rain Forests

He doesn’t write e-mails or — perish the thought — use a BlackBerry or iPhone. Indeed, the Prince of Wales still deploys a fountain pen to scratch out letters and instructions of such calligraphic idiosyncrasy that they are collectively known in the royal household as “black spider memos.” Yet despite appearances, the heir to Britain’s throne is not insensible to the power of technology. A campaign to save the rain forests launched by the Prince on Tuesday is based on a 90-sec. film that he hopes will go “viral” and relies on state-of-the-art software and Internet strategy honed during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

That the Prince of Wales is looking to borrow a little Obama magic may seem odd. By convention, Britain’s royals steer clear of politics. But the Queen’s eldest son has long stretched definitions with his passionate advocacy for environmental causes. He has recently helped garner international support around the idea of a rain-forest bond, a method of interim funding designed to ensure that trees are worth more alive than dead until carbon-trading schemes really take off. He has privately lobbied leaders from Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to the Pope on the issue. That sounds, well, quite political. “His great strength is to be a convener,” says an aide. “He can’t get directly involved in politics.”

His latest initiative to preserve the rain forest aims to create pressure for action ahead of July’s G-8 summit in Italy and December’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, much as antipoverty campaigners like Bono harnessed the power of public opinion to push an Africa agenda at the 2005 G-8 summit. Blue State Digital, the Internet consultancy behind the hugely successful Web component of Obama’s election campaign, is providing know-how and software to maximize the impact of the rain-forest campaign and mobilize supporters. The key, says Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of Blue State Digital, is to make everything so user-friendly that the message, not the medium, gets attention. “If you make the message accessible to people, whether you’re Barack Obama, the Prince of Wales or an organizer on the street, you can get people to take collective action,” he says.

“Nothing we did for President Obama was magic,” Gensemer adds. “It was about making the barrier low for individuals to be part of the effort.” By that measure, the Prince’s campaign scores highly even ahead of the launch. The central message of the film — which can be seen here — is contained in one pithy sentence: “Every year destruction of the rain forests releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, planes and ships put together.” But all that is initially required of viewers is that they watch the film, pass it on through social-networking sites, and maybe edit themselves and their friends into it.

If they do so, they will find themselves keeping company with a computer-generated horned frog, an eclectic cast of celebrities and a smattering of unknown but photogenic kids. Prince Charles’ deadpan double act with the frog betrays the relish for thespian activities that enticed him to star in amateur dramatics as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. His sons William and Harry drafted a couple of mates — James Bond star Daniel Craig and soul diva Joss Stone — into the lineup, and also put in an appearance themselves. With such a proliferation of princes, the frog — present in every frame — remains unkissed, though it does get to nestle on Harrison Ford’s shoulder, inspire Robin Williams to mimicry and share the screen with Pelé, the Dalai Lama and that most celebrated of amphibians, Kermit. It’s odd but charming, a phrase that might also describe the British monarchy for all but convinced republicans. And if the Prince succeeds in his mission to rescue the rain forest, he could even win round a few of them.

See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

Read “Waiting to Be King.”
Read “How Diana Transformed Britain.”

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