U.S. President Donald Trump must have found comfort in his surroundings at the opening session of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland yesterday.
Rabat – The natural grandeur of the Alps, the charm of Old Europe, hundreds of business and political leaders gathered to brainstorm over the promises and perils facing the globe in 2020. In his second trip to the Davos gathering as president, Trump offered praise for the grandeur that used to be. “Centuries ago at the time of the Renaissance, skilled craftsmen and laborers looked upwards and built the structures that still touch the human heart.”
Davos may be heavy on big ideas, but a quote attributed to 15th-century scientist and artist Leonardo da Vinci perhaps captures the current “winning again like never before…” optimism of the annual gathering: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
In presentation, Trump excels at selling America on business-oriented macro stages like Davos. He can boast of a Dow Jones index edging toward 30,000 and U.S. unemployment at a 50-year low (3.6%). Even the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, noted the president’s can-do tone: “I want to thank you personally, particularly, for injecting optimism into our discussions…” More somber economic news—the U.S. budget deficit hit a staggering $1 trillion for the 2019 calendar year—can wait for the south lawn at the White House.
As the Renaissance continued into the 16th century, an embrace of humanism and classical antiquity expanded further into an embrace of science. Profound discoveries about the natural world began in earnest, from Copernicus (planets orbit around the sun) to Galileo (a scientific method icon). Phenomenon could be observed, studied and identified.
An uncomfortable modern observational juxtaposition can be seen today: on one hand, an eagerness by Trump to promote “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before” and on the other hand a refusal to accept alarming climate change and global warming data in order to develop new policy initiatives to protect the planet. Davos planners, though, are making climate change a priority at this year’s gathering including a meat-free day that is planned for Wednesday. Swedish teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg was in the audience for Trump’s speech.
In Davos and elsewhere, the president touts the newfound power of American shale oil production and natural gas production, components of a decades-long effort to promote American energy independence. Increasingly, though, global business leaders are coming to the realization that climate change—fossil fuel use being a major contributor of greenhouse gases—and resource degradation represent real obstacles to sustained global economic growth.
A fall 2019 survey by Deloitte of global business and public sector leaders indicated that their two biggest societal issue concerns are resource scarcity and climate change. Almost half (48%) of executive officers of the surveyed firms “completely agree” that the effects of climate change will have a negative effect on their organizations or businesses.
“We must not be timid or meek or fearful … we will draw strength from the glories of the past,” Trump said as he closed his Davos speech. Embracing the glories of the past would make Michelangelo proud; ignoring the observable perils of the present would make Galileo shudder.