Thousands of the world’s elite have gathered at Davos in Switzerland for the annual exclusive get-together of the World Economic Forum.
For many, the meeting comes at a crunch time. On its fiftieth year, is it just a glamorous but vacuous, get-together for the rich and famous that leads nowhere? Or can it be a serious vehicle to tackle the most pressing issues of the day?
This year’s theme is climate change, which could be considered a starting point. As the New York Times noted: “Even before catastrophic fires broke out in Australia in late fall, climate change was at the top of the list of priorities at the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.”
The paper continued: “But those fires — preceded by others in California — along with rising sea levels, flooding and supercharged storms, are putting more pressure on the politicians, business executives, financiers, thought leaders and others who attend to show they are part of the solution to one of the world’s most pressing challenges.”
It is hard for delegates to not get the message. For many arriving by train, they will see a simple sign in the snow as they approach the exclusive resort: It says “act on climate”.
Davos. Monday. This is what you see as the train approaches the village where corporate chiefs and world leaders gather this week: “act on climate” written on the fresh snow.
— Somini Sengupta? (@SominiSengupta) January 20, 2020
And outside the conference centre today, young climate activists blocked the road, demanding climate justice.
++ BREAKING ++
Activists are blocking the road to #Davos2020. This is legitimate, since the WEF members have been blocking the wellbeing and livelihoods of people and planet for 50 years. The #WorldEconomicFailure has to end now. Let's open the roads for Climate Justice!
— strike-wef (@strike_wef) January 21, 2020
Inside the conference hall, in the battle over climate action justice, today was billed as Greta Thunberg versus Trump.
One year after the young climate activist lambasted leaders for their lack of action, she attacked them again for their inaction. She said: “For the record, when we children tell you to panic we’re not telling you to go on like before. We’re not telling you to rely on technologies that don’t even exist today at scale and that science says perhaps never will.”
Thunberg made three clear demands, which reflect the ask that many climate campaigners have been making for years. Thunberg said: “We demand at this year’s World Economic Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments:
- Immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.
- Immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.
- And immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.
She finished by saying that “We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.” She added that: “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.“
Her demands echoed the calls of a new coalition demanding on leaders to “Stop the Money Pipeline.”
In another speech, Thunberg told leaders to listen to the science, which is screaming out for radical action.
Trump responded in the only way he knows. He sounded like a Soviet-style propaganda machine from the fifties, talking about progress, and jobs, whilst all the time ignoring our climate emergency (as usual).
"Today, I'm proud to declare that the United States is in the midst of an economic boom, the likes of which the world has never seen before." ??
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 21, 2020
He talked about unlocking “virtually unlimited reserves of energy!”, which is code for more fossil fuels, just the opposite to what the science demands.
With U.S. companies and researchers leading the charge, we're on the cutting edge of unlocking virtually unlimited reserves of energy! pic.twitter.com/OAxRXdzHZB
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 21, 2020
In a widely reported dig at Thunberg he decried climate “prophets of doom” and called for a rejection of the “predictions of the apocalypse”. He added that “These alarmists always demand the same thing – absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.” They were, he added “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers”.
The President obviously has not watched how Australia is on fire; Indonesia has been flooded and the Arctic is melting. It is hardly surprising that climate scientists were unimpressed with his talk:
At the opening of the @WEF in Davos, we saw a thoughtful speech by a visionary leader and a thoughtless, self-serving rant by a petulant child.
The former was @GretaThunberg. The latter was @realDonaldTrump
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) January 21, 2020
Trump does not understand the climate crisis. He deliberately attacks those trying to fight for solutions and actions. He responds with petulance and ignorance.
Even last week, when those worried about the future of New York City talked about building a sea wall to protect the great city, Trump demeaned the seriousness of the situation.
A massive 200 Billion Dollar Sea Wall, built around New York to protect it from rare storms, is a costly, foolish & environmentally unfriendly idea that, when needed, probably won’t work anyway. It will also look terrible. Sorry, you’ll just have to get your mops & buckets ready!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2020
If Trump had his way, one day soon the White House would be under water. Meanwhile many of the great forests of the country would be on fire, the air too toxic to breathe, and many coastal communities uninhabitable. That is what he wants. That is the path he has chosen. As he mops the Oval office, he will believe that he made America great again.