Davos Notes, January 27-30

The pictures: view from hotel window in Klosters (village near Davos); Riz Khan of the Riz Khan Show; The kids in the freezing cold CNN tent; Davos mountain; Climate Change group location hut.


Yes, Dear Readers: the rumours are true.

I journeyed to the Emerald City of DavOz; put on my green-tinted spectacles; met legendary beings; almost froze to death as I wheezed and slithered along the high-altitude perpendicular streets; passed through one security check after another under the kindly gaze of preternaturally-smiley Stepford Security Folk – the place is sealed up tighter than Stephen Harper’s secret agenda; accepted help from strangers – Where am I ? Which train? What shuttlebus? Where’s the staircase? — and made it back alive, clutching a Crystal Award (it actually is a crystal!) and  a very nice box of chocolates.

Possibly you’re expecting me to say that the World Economic Forum consists of a bunch of money-grubbing trolls who do nothing more useful than award themselves fat bonuses. But I’m not going to say that. Possibly there were some such trolls in attendance, but they weren’t the people I met. A few years ago this would not have been such an interesting place. But now, most world leaders know the planet is in trouble. Financial trouble, environmental trouble – both of which will give rise to social trouble and indeed political turmoil if left untreated.

What is the World Economic Forum? It’s a gathering. For forty years it’s been bringing people together, not only from the political and financial realms, but from NGOs and the arts. From the beginning, the WEF grasped the principle that although everything may have an economic dimension – poets have to eat – everything also has an emotional dimension, even — and especially — money. (Think about who gets what under Granny’s will, and what family havoc then ensues.)

The youngest person I met was a charming fellow who teaches break-dancing to street kinds in Portugal. (Joao Brites, www.globalchangemakers@britishcouncil.org), followed by Josh Spear of Undercurrent.com and some geeks in the bus who were deconstructing the IPad. (“My mother will like it,” they said crushingly, which should not bother Apple: there are a lot of mothers.) All these kids doubtless had something to do with the Young Global Leaders Forum (www.younggloballeaders.org), 650 enterprising youngies from over 90 countries.

I had various serendipitous encounters – Louise Arbour of the International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org) at the coat check, Julia Lalla-Maharajh of www.endfgmnow.org at a lunch – difficult to eat while considering this problem — and a lovely young woman who consulted me about lipstick shades (as if I knew), and who turned out to be the founder of International Bridges to Justice  www.ibj.org, a courageous outfit that  works with police in developing countries to try to prevent torture. These social-benefit orgs were doubtless connected with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship ( www.schwabfound.org), another important plank of the WEF.

There were a lot of women present — many in business itself, others in the arts and in orgs. (They had better outfits than mine. I lack little suits.) According to the WEF, the biggest emerging market is not China, but women – a trend it welcomes, as the prosperity of a country rises dramatically as women increase their earning and spending power. Better education for girls and women was strongly on the agenda, and there were several working groups devoted to women from a socio-economic viewpoint. (Closer to home, see: Economic Club of Canada info@economicclub.ca “Unleashing the Economic Power of Girls,” Feb. 25 in Toronto.) In the developing world especially, growing $ power will be facilitated by truly mobile wireless banking, and by mobile-phone Point of Sale enterprises like Square that allow the individual to become a merchant without need of land-lines.

The biggest story however was the Climate Change Initiative and Low-Carbon Prosperity group. Their working session was packed with a large number of powerful individuals representing ultra-powerful institutions. The Canadian government wasn’t there, but strangely enough I was, and as we gnawed away on our virtuous sandwiches, we heard from South Korea – coming on strong! – Mexico ditto, China ditto, the U.S. government, the legendary George Soros, the reforestation folks, the big US energy companies and the Smart Grid folks, and …  well, gosh, Dear Readers! I’m a hard case, being so old and jaded and all, but I was RVI. (Really Very Impressed.) These people are serious – a little late, maybe, but better late than never. They’ve rolled up their sleeves. They are cause for cautious optimism.

Sadly, however, Canada did not shine like a star, at this or any other WEF event. Despite its up-to-snuff performance in Haiti and its usefully stodgy banking regulations, it rated a big D on its report card from its murky performance at Copenhagen. Off-the-record conversations indicated that the current government is viewed as sorely retrograde by those in other countries, especially but not exclusively in relation to climate change and green energy initiatives. By its own choice, it’s not really an active part of the conversation. But if Canada stays on the sidelines during upcoming initiatives, the cost to its citizens in future years will be jobs and investment, and lots of both.

Happily, some of the Canadian provinces are viewed as more aware. Let’s hope the light bulb goes on in the collective Canadian governmental mind, or quite a few actual light bulbs will be going off. Maybe we’ll fulfill the wishes of some of our very own fellow-citizens and freeze in the dark. (Fewer carbon emissions that way, though. Never say I’m not upbeat.)


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

13 responses to “Davos Notes, January 27-30

  1. A beautiful writeup that captures the atmosphere of this year’s meeting perfectly. I think those shuttle bus trips between Klosters and Davos were one of my highlights – 20 minutes to talk to a small group of interesting people without too many distractions.

  2. Pingback: Alaska» Blog Archive » parlano le scrittrici

  3. Hello Margaret – Thanks for lobbying so effectively for more environmentally-sound practices by the book industry and other sectors. I hope you will consider raising awareness about a dark secret within the book business: the overprinting of more than ONE BILLION books worldwide every year. It might be an improvement to use some recycled content, rather than pure virgin fibre, but surely there will be bigger impact economically and environmentally to change the broken business model that enables this horrific waste of money and resources. For the Canadian book publishing industry, over $330 million is wasted annually. Surely that money could be better spent on supporting the arts. It is my sense that just a few emails and meetings by yourself and a few other high-profile authors might create the ‘tipping point’ to reform the industry quickly. Background info on this scandal can be found at http://www.BookIndustryBailout.ca. There is also a Facebook campaign accessed at http://www.donatenotdumpster.org.
    Thanks again for all that you do, Margaret!
    cheers, Bruce

  4. Thanks for the uplift. As I am about two-thirds into The Year of the Flood, it is badly needed. Great book, now I have to re-read Oryx and Crake.
    Thanks for all you do.

  5. Dear Margaret
    You may remember me, we met in Edinburgh when you and Graeme were kind enough to attend a fundraiser for RSPB Scotland. We went to see sea eagles the next day.
    I have moved on from RSPB and now work at Friends of the Earth Scotland. One of our main aims for 2010 is to reach out and encourage people to join the Friends of the Earth International movement for climate justice.
    Reading this blog entry, I was reminded of an idea I had as I read Payback over Christmas. I was wondering if you would allow us to produce a play based on the version of A Christmas Carol you imagine in that book.
    I can provide more details of what we would hope to accomplish should you be interested.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Kind Regards
    Juliet Swann

    • marg09

      Hi Juliet: Yes, help yourself! The passage has already bee interpreted by other Earth Dayers … it goes very well that way — Let me know if/when you’ll be doing it, send pictures — All best, Margaret

  6. Juliet

    Wonderful. Thank you! I will keep you posted…

  7. This is not a reply to your Davos notes, although I did enjoy that perspective.

    I wanted to write to thank you so much for your editorial in the Globe and Mail today (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/article714142.ece).

    It was brave, it was vindicating, and it made me feel we protesters are fighting the good fight. Nobody in this country is bulletproof at the moment where the Harpercons are concerned, and it was heartening to see you use your position as an untouchable (hopefully) cultural icon to support the struggle we are facing. To get this support during this Orwellian nightmare — at a time when our dissent and the issues we are protesting are completely ignored or buried by the Conservatives — was unexpected and most encouraging.

    Thank you, a million times.
    Liz Jefferson

    • marg09

      Thanks Liz — that was the 2008 election. We are however still in a space in which the present government is refusing to acknowledge the importance of whole areas of society for which they do not care. Culture is only one of these areas.

  8. Louise Paulsen

    So this is the great Margaret Atwood, fellow Canadian, writer of fiction. Don’t contact my office she says, I do not write blurbs, for legal reasons I do not read unpublished manuscripts, blah, blah, blah. I don’t need any blurbs, my manuscript is unpublished and it’s not fiction. It’s a lightbulb moment by a fellow Canadian who wants neither the crap nor the glory of having my work published. I made the mistake of contacting your agent before I knew all the “rules”…I thought someone of Margaret Atwood’s stature might actually be interested in something that could actually affect the outcome of humanity…not some fictional concept after fictional concept. I intended it as a gift, it’s an idea, a rather practical, more scientific but deceptively simple theory that bears out the fact that there is no free ride in this world and there never was, for any individual or any nation. We got ourselves into this mess and we can get ourselves out…we are all accountable and being held accountable but because we continue to believe in fiction, we will likely not. I could sell it as trash since that is exactly how the mainstream media would treat it. No sale.
    I had hoped for better from Margaret Atwood.

  9. anediblewoman

    What about William McDonough’s ‘paper’ from his book Cradle to Cradle? It’s a little heavier than regular paper but their philosophy makes sense with their material.

    I guess a visit to Davidson College is not as important as a visit to economic forum. But I’d like to hear what you hear, think about visiting colleges and meeting students.

  10. Cassandra51

    Just finished Year of the FLood–Finally discovered what I am–Eve51 –glad to finally be a member of something–it’s been lonely out here–disappointed that the NYTimes could get some things so wrong–still haven’t learned–Adam Shriver or as I call him Dr. Guillotine–check out his editorial in the NYTimes re genetically engineered animals that cannot “feel “pain”–science following art like a puppy–.

    I don’t know what to say re Ms. Margaret. Worlds/words fail me. cop-uf.

    love and respect, la

    ps–good for you raising your proud and beautiful head and staring them down at Davos.

  11. Cassandra51

    Here are the quotes I didn’t understand from the NYTImes review re The Year of the Flood:

    Its members live simply and organically, sing terrible hymns, have no dress sense and peddle a bolted-together theology, difficult to think about if you think at all.

    The sensitive CorpSEcorps elite boy Glenn, who becomes Crake, starts out as a teenage sympathizer for the Gardeners but is too seduced by his own brainpower to trust nature.

    Like his friend Jimmy, Glenn doesn’t know how to love, and the awkward devotion he feels for the girl he calls Oryx is not returned.

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