Marie Antoinette, the period drama produced by France’s Canal+ and the BBC and filmed at the Palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau, follows the iconic queen, played in the series by Russian-born German actress Emilia Schüle, as she battles against the dark arts of the French court.
And now one of the direct descendants of the last Queen of France, is engaged in another fight, this time against the ever-present and growing threat of global warming.
The man on a mission is environmental campaigner His Imperial Royal Highness Archduke Sandor Habsburg-Lothringen, who is related to Marie Antoinette’s mother Austria’s Empress Maria Theresaa.
But Archduke Sandor, 58, who also has familial links with Russian Empress Catherine the Great and Britain’s Queen Victoria, is not harking back to the past and his illustrious royal relatives. He is more concerned with the future and his modern-day quest to counter climate change and make the world a safer and healthier place in the future.
The Archduke has been instrumental in founding and gaining funding and investment for numerous tree planting and greenhouse food production sites worldwide.
He explains: “I think it is so important to meet and bring together like-minded people in addition to sourcing the funding for vital environmental projects.
“One of the best examples here is the influential CCF (Climate Change Forum), founded by Max Studennikoff, which is an investment conference dedicated to investment in sustainability.
“I spoke at the London event in October 2022, and I hope to do the same at the next forum in the US in June.
“We are not talking about huge numbers of people attending these forums, but the delegates are all able to effect change through either their ideas and proposals or their networks, investment power and positivity.”
The Archduke admits that his royal lineage – he would, for instance, have a strong claim to the throne of Romania should that nation decide to restore the monarchy – does open doors in the fight against climate change.
And he adds: “There is no doubt that my title and family heritage is an advantage. It provides a high level of credibility in advance and that means more people are prepared to listen to my key messages like ‘Nature doesn't need us to survive but we need Nature to survive. If we don’t take care of it, our future generations will not be able live in happiness and comfort as we have’.
“But you must promote the right campaigns and projects – the value of my name would quickly disappear if I became known for backing frivolous causes.”
Interestingly, Archduke Sandor was quite unaware of his special status until he was about five years old.
“My parents were down to earth, and 1960s Austria hadn’t really recovered from World War Two – occupying troops didn’t leave until 1955 – telephones were rare and not everyone had running water.
“So, I was just a local boy in a small farming village and we got into all kinds of scrapes, but my father’s work as a UN expert took us away to Central America and the West Indies when I was ten and then to the US, where I followed one of the family traditions and graduated in engineering.
“It was during my time in and around the Caribbean that I first became interested in the environment and alternative energy. The region suffered from power and water outages, and insensitive development, and I could see the future consequences.
“At 18, as part of my studies I was asked to write ‘something meaningful’ and was inspired by a front-page article about global warming, though the topic had been raised in the 19th century and gained credence in 1965 when a US presidential report predicted how the phenomenon would impact the world by 2000.
“Unfortunately, there has been much talk about global warming back then and even today we are still only talking about slowing down CO2 production and not on how to effectively remove CO2 from the atmosphere to return to a levels pre industrial revolution. A great deal of political short termism while tragic events such as the pandemic and Ukraine War obstruct real action, but we have always had a relatively simple solution within our grasp – plant more trees and prioritise sustainable farming to absorb CO2 and increase oxygen output.
“This can be linked to carbon offsetting, even at a personal level made possible by a phone app so that people can mitigate their carbon footprint from driving or flying, for instance.”
However, the Archduke also points out that focusing on CO2 emissions can be misleading: “CO2 is not a pollutant but we are polluting our land, rivers oceans and atmosphere and we are slowly killing ourselves. Pollution is usually directly linked to wasting natural resources.
“In vegetable production for instance, around 30 per cent of production is wasted due to the stringent requirements of buyers – bulk suppliers, supermarkets and so on – while a further 20 per cent or so is wasted during delivery or dumped as unsold, while a further 40 is wasted in the home – which needs better education of consumers. Just buy what you are sure you will eat.
“I have been involved in ‘closed logistics’ greenhouse village food production in various parts of the world, including Europe, Mexico and Africa, where waste and CO2 emissions are minimised and the whole process can dramatically increase profits, which contradicts assumptions that being greener means higher costs.”
His professional life has taken him from his work as a research engineer – registering several patents – through consultancy, entrepreneurship and founding several companies. But most of his time is now spent promoting environmental work globally, though he has founded a Liechtenstein-based investment fund – Krown Opportunity Fund– specialised in the whole foods and alternate energy sector.
Other philanthropic work includes working with his wife, Herta Margarete, to promote their Flame of Peace Initiative, Association for the Furtherance of Peace, promoting international peace, freedom and uniting friendship across religious and cultural borders through aid programs, congresses and by giving awards to persons who set an example for others.
The first series of Marie Antoinette premiered in France on October 31 last year and in the UK in December 29. The series will premier in the United States on March 19.