Jetting to Switzerland to save the world
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"Davos is cloaked in white, but its agenda is green," said Peter Coy at Bloomberg Businessweek. Don't snicker. Yes, there was the typical swarm of private jets to whisk "some of the world's wealthiest and most powerful people" into Switzerland, where they paid $70,000 a ticket, plus $140,000 if they wanted to rent a chalet for the week. But climate change and the environment topped the agenda at the World Economic Forum, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Many sessions were devoted to climate change, with a particular emphasis placed on ending "free-riding," or the tendency for businesses to shirk their own climate efforts "while benefiting from the efforts others make." Seeing the hypocrisy in having billionaires jet in for lectures about their carbon footprints, the conference tried to be as green as possible. Attendees got "shoe grips" to help them "walk the snowy promenade between meetings rather than take cars," said Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson at the Financial Times. The conference rooms were "decorated with seaweed-based paint and carpets made from end-of-life fishing nets." Also discouraged: paper maps of the Alpine town.
Along with the new eco-conscious sensibility, Davos has invited speakers to match, said Lionel Laurent at Bloomberg. Among the 2020 attendees were Greta Thunberg and Micah White, the co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement. How's that? "Davos has shrewdly realized that offering a stage to an anti-Davos crowd can work in its favor." Davos "was supposed to be 'canceled' by now." Instead, it's going strong as imitators have failed. Even the do-gooders have realized that "everyone who matters is here — even if they disagree."
Ah yes, "100 billionaires descending, often by private jet, on an exclusive Swiss ski resort" to wring their hands over climate change will surely solve the world's problems, said Walter Russell Mead at The Wall Street Journal. The new era of Davos feels like "Marie Antoinette and her friends dressing up as shepherdesses to celebrate the simple life." As always, the "Davoisie" are confident that goodwill and "technocratic competence" will win the day. Have they failed to notice that outside this rarified gathering no one is listening?
One person at Davos was not buying all the climate talk, said Anne Gearan and Toluse Olorunnipa at The Washington Post: President Trump. Flying in for two days, he mocked environmental activists as "perennial prophets of doom" while trumpeting "America's extraordinary prosperity." Running through economic statistics "with a salesman's delivery," he demanded credit for rescuing "an economy in shambles before he took office." Attendees might not all like Trump, but the plutocrats have warmed to his policies, said Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times. "With the stock market at record highs, two trade deals announced, and the possibility that Trump may be in office for another four years," the skepticism that greeted him at Davos in 2018 has dissipated. Trump's "economic results have yet to prove as disastrous" as many expected. He may just be "the new Davos Man."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, try the magazine for a month here.