New Republic - January 23, 2020
"The world’s wealthiest people aren’t stupid. If they ever genuinely denied their private jets were fueling a climate crisis, they’ve clearly ditched that line. Now they want the safest possible passage for themselves through a climate-changed twenty-first century and the social upheavals it’ll bring with it. So far, they seem happy to trust authoritarians to deliver that."
For the first time in its history, the top five slots in the World Economic Forum’s annual survey of global risks all come from one category: the environment. As no shortage of marketing materials will tell you, the elites gathering this week in Davos, Switzerland, are worried about climate change—so much so that some are choosing to forgo their foie gras and swapping private jet rides for first-class train tickets.
One thing they don’t seem that worried about is Donald Trump. Despite pledges to fight back against an “era of fortress and walls,” WEF founder Klaus Schwab congratulated Trump earlier this week for all the good he’s done in America. “All of your politics,” he said warmly of a man who’d just threatened to expand the United States’ travel ban, “are certainly aiming to create better inclusiveness for the American people. I want to thank you personally, particularly, for injecting optimism into our discussions.” Neither were VIPs visibly bothered last year by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who dined peacefully between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at Davos 2019.
The specter of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren winning the 2020 election, on the other hand, has reportedly “concerned” this year’s attendees. During a round of interviews in Davos, outgoing BP CEO Bob Dudley lashed out at Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the “completely unrealistic” vision embodied in their calls for a Green New Deal, countering that fossil fuels will be around for the foreseeable future.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking to point out the hypocrisy wafting through the crisp alpine air: One percenters have long opined about how to solve inequality as they pay workers poverty wages and suck down ortolan. The climate crisis, though, forces a deeper reckoning that they’re doing everything in their power to avoid, undermining the core tenets of an economic order that’s brought them massive fortunes. Their allegiance to the authoritarians who, no matter how unseemly, will at least protect rent-seeking interests doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.
Capital and authoritarianism—as historian Quinn Slobodian pointed out during last year’s Swiss confab—are old partners. The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies eagerly collaborated with the regimes of Francisco Franco, Adolf Hitler, and the Shah of Iran, among others. For years, the kind of liberal global governance espoused in places like the WEF was thought to be anathema to the right-wing populism Trump and his ilk had been pushing. Yet their priorities—the free movement of goods and profits, but not people; the curbing of “climate risk,” but not the right to emit—aren’t far off from the right-wingers’ demands. “The assumption was that the so-called populists wanted to burn the global architecture down,” Slobodian wrote. “We can now see the dawning of another possibility—a future in which this cadre of right-wing leaders, who were until recently treated as renegades, become its new tenants.” That future, with right-wing “populists” leading the global elite, would also feature rising seas, hotter summers, and stronger storms. ...
Read full report at New Republic