THE World Economic Forum in Davos doesn’t appear to have achieved very much in its 50 years of existence – but at least it is always good for a laugh.
It is the highlight of the social calendar when politicians and rich celebrities fly into Switzerland on private jets in order to deliver finger wagging lectures to ordinary people on the evils of flying.
The theme of this year’s gabfest is – and I am not making this up – creating a sustainable world, and it aims to address a key question: “How to save the planet”.
Well you could start by not using so much aviation fuel couldn’t you? The complete absence of any hint of self-awareness is what makes Davos comedy gold.
Stung by accusations of hypocrisy after 1,500 jets flew into the conference last year, Davos has come up with same lame excuse used by Dame Emma Thompson when she flew first class across the Atlantic to join an Extinction Rebellion protest against climate change.
Davos announced that this year it was, like Thompson, offsetting all air travel by purchasing carbon credits to fund emissions reducing projects.
Does this remove the emissions created by the jets? Er… no, the planes still burn vast amounts of fuel and pump tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. It just enables rich people to feel a little less guilty about trashing the planet
Carbon offsetting is the modern equivalent of the sale of indulgences in 16th century Europe that so angered Martin Luther and helped spark the Reformation.
Then rich people paid vast sums to the Roman Catholic Church so they could carry on sinning. Today rich people pay vast sums to the Holy Church of Global Warming so they can carry on flying.
One of the highlights of this year’s conference was a speech by the 17-year-old queen of climate activism, Greta Thunberg, who incidentally graciously granted an audience to Prince Charles, who was also a speaker.
She scolded the delegates saying: “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour.”
She dismissed the idea of a “low carbon economy” and demanded an immediate end to all oil and gas extraction and a move to zero emissions, not in 2030 or 2050, but right now
If we followed her advice we would be back in the Stone Age. The world economy would collapse with devastating consequences, particularly for the world’s poor. But hey ho, perhaps that’s worth it if it allows rich westerners feel a bit better about themselves?
In contrast to Thunberg, US President Donald Trump’s speech was optimistic, if typically boastful, highlighting his own achievements on the economy, energy, trade deals and much else.
Although he didn’t mention Thunberg by name, he rejected the “prophets of doom” and their “predictions of the apocalypse”.
And he had this to say about climate activists: “These alarmists always demand the same thing – absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives.”
The suggestion here is that climate activism is not so much about the saving the planet, but more about exercising political power and controlling people.
So we have presented at Davos two very different and seemingly irreconcilable views of the world. One believes we are on the brink of climate catastrophe and we have to dismantle the economy to avoid it. The other sees human ingenuity and free markets as the key to a more sustainable future.
We should be extremely cautious of suggestions – by people like Thunberg – that we have to destroy capitalism in order to save the planet.
The simple fact, backed by hard statistics, is that free markets and capitalism have resulted in dramatic reductions in poverty not just in the West but in the developing world too.
A billion people in the world’s poorest countries have been lifted out of extreme poverty and there have been big gains in longevity and literacy and a reduction in infant mortality and deaths from preventable diseases.
In addition we have seen big improvements in our environment. For example, in the UK our air, rivers and seas are vastly cleaner and greener than they were 100 years ago.
Of course we need better energy efficiency and careful stewardship of the Earth’s resources. But we shouldn’t do anything that would imperil the human progress that capitalism has wrought.