President Donald Trump denounced environmental “prophets of doom” at the Davos forum Tuesday, rejecting the near-unanimous scientific consensus that climate change poses a major threat to the environment and human civilization.
Teenage climate activists Greta Thunberg was in the audience in the Swiss Alps to hear the speech delivered shortly before the U.S. Senate was to open the impeachment trial against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction.
The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum aimed for a strong focus on climate change. But Trump made clear he does not take the issue seriously.
“We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse,” said Trump, complaining that “they want to see us do badly.”
He claimed that “alarmists” had been wrong over the decades when predicting population crisis, mass starvation, or the end of oil.
Trump did not specifically mention global warming or climate change – the phenomenon that nearly all climate scientists say is dangerously accelerating, with possibly devastating results for humanity.
Such consequences, scientists say, include accelerating sea-level rise and ocean acidification, increasingly extreme weather events, massive infrastructure loss or damage, and unprecedented refugee crises as parts of the Earth become increasingly uninhabitable.
Trump branded those warning of out-of-control global warming and other environmental disasters “the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.”
The speech came just after Switzerland’s president, Simonetta Sommaruga, made an emotional appeal for saving the health of an ailing planet on the same stage.
Focused on Bussiness
Trump said he was focused on American investment, meeting with “the most important people in the world and we’re bringing back tremendous business.”
Large parts of Trump’s address sounded like a campaign speech aimed at a domestic audience as much as the Davos gathering of global political and business elites.
“Two years ago I told you we had launched the great American comeback,” Trump said, referring to his last appearance at the yearly Davos bash. “Today I’m glad to declare the United States is in the midst of a great economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
Over and over, Trump brought up statistics he claimed proved his “unprecedented” success, based on slashing environmental protections and renegotiating trade relationships with China and the United States’ two huge neighbors Canada and Mexico.
‘Just the Very Beginning’
Earlier, Thunberg underlined the message that has inspired millions around the world, saying “basically nothing has been done” to fight climate change.
“It will require much more than this. This is just the very beginning,” the 17-year-old said.
Thunberg said that her campaign, which began with school strikes, had attracted huge attention without yet achieving concrete change.
"Pretty much nothing has been done, since the global emissions of CO2 has not reduced."
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 21, 2020
“There is a difference between being heard to actually leading to something,” she said.
And despite the focus given by the Davos forum, Greenpeace said in a new report that some of the world’s biggest banks, insurers, and pension funds have collectively invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2016.
Trump touted the United States as the “number one producer of oil and natural gas” and said he would not let “radical socialists” attack the lucrative industry.
‘Governments Continue to Fail’
Sustainability is the buzzword at the Davos forum, which began in 1971, with heel crampons handed out to participants to encourage them to walk on the icy streets rather than use cars, and the signage paint made out of seaweed.
“People are paying a lot more attention” to climate, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer told AFP at Davos, claiming there was “genuine action by some big players,” after investment titan BlackRock said it was partially divesting out of coal.
“But let’s be clear – a big part of this is because we failed for a very long time and governments continue to fail,” he added.
Business leaders are likely also to be concerned by the state of the global economy whose prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund, have improved but remain brittle.
Activists meanwhile will be pressing for much more concrete action to fight inequality, after Oxfam issued a report outlining how the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade and the world’s 22 richest men now have more wealth than all the women in Africa.