The Financial Times recently highlighted the continued collapse of the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a forum for serious debate and repurposing of efforts between the private sector and governments to sort out global challenges.
Not only is Davos Man dead but so too, according to many pundits, is the globalism and greenwashing that made it possible.
Since attending the first bunch of these gatherings starting back in the early 1970s, I also witnessed the start of the world environmental movement with Maurice Strong in Stockholm, which was transported to Davos shortly after, as a linkage of responsibility between leaders of the free world.
As part of its ongoing efforts to stay relevant today, the WEF has finally caught up with the public-relations euphoria of “climate change” and the mindless use of the term “sustainability” by adding insult to injury in the process. Compliments to coverage that has turned the institution into the bogus media circus it is, rather than a global meeting place for much good.
The Making of a Movement
In 1970, after I had returned from a solo journey around the world in a Land Rover which started on the Marylebone High Street in London, I was asked by my first boss, Pierre Trudeau, then prime minister of Canada, what I saw firsthand in a wide variety of countries. I replied soberly that garbage was strewn recklessly from one end of the globe to another, along with a wide disparity in incomes, lifestyle, and culture interspersed with occasional panoramas of outstanding natural beauty rarely seen by another human being.
I was barely 20 when I started a career voyage that was about to change my life forever. Having the front seat on a journey that took me over 170,000 miles around five continents overland and to all the seas, I had no idea I was setting an unofficial record for traveling off-piste throughout the world. Rather than gloss over the comment, my boss suggested I work on a plan to “help clean up the mess starting in Canada and then taking the movement worldwide.”
Immediately, I combined my efforts with other Canadians on the same track which led to hundreds of efforts across the country to recycle waste, cut back on toxic waste emissions, and find realistic solutions for dealing with pollution. When we took the mission to 35 nations in Stockholm in 1972, and later to many CEOs and world leaders at the WEF, we were greeted with a collective stare of indifference as we appeared to challenge the vested interests of the global economy still based largely on fossil fuels for its energy production.
Later in life (the 1990s), both Maurice and I moved to Calgary where we headed up multinational corporations that ran several fossil fuel production facilities worldwide. Petro Canada led the movement against lead-based gasoline by introducing ethanol fuels, while I helped to introduce natural gas and methanol as leading fuels for large fleets of urban buses, fleets of trucks, taxis, and cars. We cleaned up the blackened atmosphere over many of the largest cities in Canada, California, and Japan as test cases. Here were carbon-based companies leading the move away from certain fossil fuels. Did we get any credit?
Pollution as a challenge to clean air, water, soil, and the natural landscape in order to maintain healthy lives for billions of humans was the initial focus in those early years. Sadly, it transformed into other causes without the scientific proof of what stood behind loud clamoring by academic, environmental, and media lobbies seeking simplistic changes in global energy sources. Nothing the size of the world’s most significant inputs in the global economy (petroleum and minerals) can be shifted from fifth gear to reverse in a decade or two.
Useless Public Relations Events
The fight against solvable pollution challenges morphed into amorphous questions around the ozone layers, sustainable and alternative energy, rising water levels, and finally climate change. The people who actually bring industrial and technological change to the marketplace were working overtime to provide other forms of energy, but no matter. These other lobby voices grew thinner as the temperatures of their arguments contributed little to the actual causes, shifting blame away from the overpopulation of big cities to political fodder without solutions. Cleaning up air quality and the oceans were lost in useless public relations events that seeped into the political and media world without effective progress. The WEF and political gestures without teeth are examples of efforts that have all gone off the rails. PR events magnified by vacuous media attention change little.
The movement of the Canadian head of the Little Old Lady of Threadneedle Street to this saga of publicity and loud claims without solutions or scientific evidence adds one more victim to the nonsense that climate change is a quick and easy fix.
The Financial Times article I noted above features other willing slaves who play into this fiasco as a publicity stunt rather than a breakthrough in better understanding the evolution of human survival with important science and technologies leading the way. According to the story:
The hills are alive with the sound of environmental spin. As half the City of London decamps to the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum, City Insider was amused to note how ‘woke’ Davos organisers have become. The programme has Greta Thunberg (ahead of Donald Trump) leading a roster of six “world-class speakers”, five of them women. Until a few years ago, Davos delegates were mostly male and unreconstructed. But if Greta thinks she’s going to steal the stage, Davos Man has other plans, via something of a climate change supergroup. Less Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, more Carney, Fink & van Steenis. Outgoing Bank of England rock star Mark Carney will be joined on stage by his former backing vocalist Huw van Steenis, now gone to UBS, and Larry Fink, full-time climate activist and part-time BlackRock frontman. Other than a part-time green gig at the UN, Carney has been coy about future plans. But his Davos outing with Fink will spur rumours BlackRock is disbanding, with the duo planning a new outfit: GreenRock.
As the recent election of Boris Johnson in Great Britain contributes to the correction of political direction and sorely needed leadership, much as Margaret Thatcher did in the late 1970s, so, too, the likely reelection of Donald Trump will further steady the U.S. economy.
America floundered for decades as the loss of production backbone and resource advantage combined with the growth of offshore outsourcing in Eastern Europe, Mexico, the Emerging Markets of Asia, China, and Russia expanded exponentially. It has shown signs daily of recovering beyond the froth of open-market bourses with increased domestic output, the return of supply chains, better protection of domestic industries, lower unemployment, and finding a plethora of real energy alternatives rather than speculating about what challenges have already been overcome.
When this global juggernaut realigns trade arrangements with Canada, Mexico, the UK, parts of Europe outside the EU, and the rest of the Third World, a major lift-off will again occur. Open markets will again achieve what was given up to closed socialist economies that benefited few, usually only their own leadership. While poverty still engulfs more than half the world’s population, open economies have succeeded far better. This is also the lesson for China, India, and Russia and will begin to correct the excesses of the world’s worst polluters.
Greater use of natural gas fuels with near-zero carbon emission, more renewable hydroelectric power production, a vast array of alternative sources competing to provide the lowest cost/lowest impact sources (solar, wind, wave, hydrogen, recycling) play out daily, competing with the mineral-fuelled battery alternatives.
De-Carbonization Is a Fantasy Near-Term
All energy comes at a cost to the “environment,” a word invented back in 1972. It has since been superseded by the worn-out phrase “sustainability,” the meaning of which rarely matches the definition of “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” This is academic gobbledegook at its worst. To be able to mouth such a statement without decades of direct experience in the form of daily physical labor in the world of energy or mineral supply makes those who promote it talking above their career experience or pay level.
As I saw on my solo journey around the world long ago and as is often seen from satellites and spacecraft that have circled the Earth thousands of times since I first circumnavigated it overland, 90 percent of the planet is uninhabited by humankind. Three-quarters alone consist of the world’s salt and freshwater supplies. The atmosphere changes weather patterns hourly in almost every location. Shifts in weather patterns and climate have been occurring naturally for millennia. The Sahara was once a tropical rain forest with no humans living on it. The Arctic spawned dinosaurs long before humans, and then they went extinct.
Large cities contain most of the global population and pollution comes from the need to feed and supply them with food, building materials, transport, and energy. By returning to the challenges of reducing pollution and in setting voluntary limits to the growth of large cities or even human populations, one could put a severe dent on the negative impact of climate change while noticing a less stressful buildup on the rest of the rural landscape or uninhabited world. Minerals and hydrocarbons exist in unlimited volumes yet undiscovered until demand opens up more need to uncover and process them.
Scientists forget that as Earth is losing and naturally renewing its surface-atmosphere into the universe every minute of every day, otherwise we would all be covered in carbon dust as if a volcano was spouting constantly its ash on every square mile with that effect.
Carbon neutrality is a platform for proving different forms of energy can clean up the cities now polluted by human habitation. But wiping out the source of much of what created the industrial and postindustrial modern world is not an immediate prospect for another century or more.
As the English-speaking world has shown in the past, along with significant input from European scientists and Asian technologies, bleating publicity stunts at fora that have lost the proof of innovation and contribution to verifiable improvements for the good of mankind, do little more than increase the hot air of Swiss meeting rooms.
Finding an alternative to Davos that brings the true drivers of innovation and leadership in both government and industry together is sorely needed, more than ever before.