Every year, world leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF) to discuss how to cooperate and tackle global challenges. This event is quite a sight for those of us who are not used to being surrounded by the most important and influential leaders of our international society, from political and business leaders, to leaders of international organizations and civil societies, NGOs, and various famous actors and musicians, all gathered together in one place.
Walking down the main street of Davos, Switzerland, it seemed as though every other storefront was converted into a new building representing the 115 different economies for the 3,000 participants in the small town. Some of the main concerns addressed at this year’s WEF included trade and the global economy, the refugee crisis, Europe’s future, and climate change.
Early morning interviews with the creator of Arctic Basecamp, Gail Whiteman outside the Schatzalp hotel
The poster child of climate change according to many scientists is the loss of sea-ice in the Arctic. The Arctic is “the refrigerator of the planet” (Dr. Julienne Stroeve) and it therefore serves as the “canary in the coalmine for global risk” (Gail Whiteman). With climate change being one of the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century, it came as a surprise that the Arctic Basecamp event at Davos was far from the main stage of the WEF. Instead, it resided up the mountain above Davos outside the Schatzalp hotel, keeping it far from most people’s attention.
Nevertheless, there were several events that took place at the basecamp, including a film screening of “A Plastic Ocean” (film-maker Craig Leeson), fire side chats with climate activists “The Future is in Our Hands” (with Greta Thurnberg), and speeches regarding “Bending the Emissions Curve” (with Christiana Figueres and others). It was difficult to get a large turn-out for these events, which may be a reflection of the difficulty of getting people to care about the Arctic but may also reflect the difficulty for participants to get to the basecamp as it involved taking the furnicular to the Schatzalp hotel. Of course when there was a celebrity guest, such as Ellie Goulding at Arctic Basecamp, the turn out was much greater. Not sure if the need of a famous person to make people care about climate change is a despairing fact, or if it should just be regarded simply as a tool for raising awareness.
Climate discussion inside the main tent of Arctic Basecamp with scientists Jeremy Wilkinson and Julienne Stroeve, Gail Whiteman, and climate activist Greta Thunberg
The people, who did speak, engaged in discussions, and simply showed up, should not be over-looked however. Scientists and many others question if these types of events make a difference. Yet, even if only one person leaves the event with new ideas on how to change habits to be more environmentally friendly, such as questioning their plastic use, we should regard it as a win. But is there be a better way to reach the masses? The majority of attendees of the WEF stayed in fancy Swiss hotels, while the scientists of Arctic Base Camp slept in tents. Camping in the snow in January makes quite a statement, especially when there were an estimated 1,500 private jets that landed for the event and private drivers were constantly idling cars to keep warm. The carbon footprint of the WEF cannot be ignored and is the key driver for the loss of Arctic sea ice and global warming. There is something to be learned from Greta Thurnberg, who took a 32-hour train ride to Davos to reduce her carbon footprint.
While it was disappointing that Arctic Basecamp remains detached from the main WEF events, I did walk away from the Arctic Basecamp in Davos 2019 with a feeling of hope. As we heard from some of our fearless leaders, “Optimism is a very powerful tool for change when used as the input to a challenge, so I encourage us all to be stubborn optimists and to quickly get the work that needs to be done, done (Christina Figueres).” The time is now and no truer words were spoken than when the young 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg stated, “Our house is on fire. If we don’t act now then nothing else they have to discuss here will matter.” Given that January 2019 saw 33 new record high temperatures around the globe; we need to help ignite the fire in all of us to fight for our environment, as there really is no other choice. And remember - what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.