Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Sea Change for Davos?

The World Economic Forum spent its first four decades focused on economics, trade, and globalization.  Welcome World Economic Forum, Mk. 2.  From New Scientist.

"The risks of the last 10 years were all about economy. Those in the next 10 will be about societal and environmental issues," said Axel P. Lehmann of Zurich Insurance, at the launch last week of a WEF report that polled the opinions of 900 experts, including researchers, politicians and business leaders.
The demand for fresh water is so large and unsustainable that wide-scale shortages are expected. The report ranked this impending water crisis as the most dangerous risk facing our civilisation, followed by fast-spreading pandemics.

Failure to adapt to climate change came fifth on the WEF report's list of risks ranked by their potential impact on humankind.

As well as assessing impact, the report also estimates the likelihood of these risks becoming a reality. It ranks extreme weather events as second only to international conflicts, with natural catastrophes, not acting on climate change and water crises all featuring in the top 10.

Environmental risks to civilisation have risen in the forum's assessment this year, said Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz of the WEF at the launch. And thanks to a rise in conflicts and distrust among states, the international community will be less able to deal with global health and environment issues, as it expends more energy on squabbling, said Espen Barth Eide, also of the WEF.

The World Economic Forum also seems to be adopting the "precautionary principle" in its approach to emerging technologies and the unknown risks they may hold.

New technologies, such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, carry largely unknown – but potentially huge – risks, according to the report. Synthetic biology commands tremendous and rising interest from both academia and industry, said John Drzik of Marsh, a risk advice company, but could be risky due to "error and terror". The field is likely to grow dramatically but lacks oversight, he said.

According to Drzik, we face similar hazards from nanotech too. "Risks are not fully understood, yet already we have 180 products on the shelves," Drzik said. Emerging technologies carry a higher risk because the pace of innovation is faster, and governments have not caught up with that, he added. "Bodies that exist haven't done sufficient amount to regulate these risks."

For those interested in learning more about the inherent risks in these emerging technologies and from the manner in which scientific research is being undertaken in this new neo-liberal era, you should get your hands on a copy of "Our Final Hour, A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century" by Royal Society professor and Britain's Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees.  It's a well-reasoned, impeccably researched and compellingly argued warning to us all.


Toby said...

What does risk inspire at a Davos forum? Will the participants aspire to solve problems for all of humanity or will they make plans to protect the 1% from the 99%?

Richard said...

The world's billionaires at Davos "working to solve climate change": https://twitter.com/zerohedge/status/557732827534745601/photo/1

Don't get your hopes up.

The Mound of Sound said...

I read the UN summary of the Davos agenda and it sounds progressive - inequality, climate change, yada, yada. From what I've read over the past year and a bit I get the sense that the Davos crowd is coming to realize that climate change and inequality now threaten the rich and their holdings also.

Besides, Richard, what have I got left but hope?

Richard said...

Awareness of the threat to their holdings doesn't ensure their response will be in favour of those they feel threatened by. Quite the opposite.

Agendas are great, we have new agendas every year and new studies upon study upon study upon study telling us exactly where the problems exist within society, and culture. Kyoto was an agenda. It's easy to fly your personal jet to a fancy resort, eat caviar and talk a good game about how everyone but you is suffering from the problems, but when their holdings are directly tied to an infinite growth economy and exponential consumption any change to properly correct that situation is also a threat to their holdings.

All ideas to "address" the problem can be summed up as: print currency, and throw it at the problem. but this problem is going to take real investment of real wealth which won't see real returns for perhaps decades as all the asset bubbles need to correct and deflate and price discovery needs to happen again. Value needs to be reevaluated to account for supply over time rather than supply just in time.

Simply due to the nature of the problem those invested heavily in the status quo as those in Davos are can not ever be expected to be honest enough with the world, and themselves, to offer any kind of legitimate solution which doesn't put protecting their wealth first and foremost nor can they ever be expected to sacrifice their royal lifestyles for the benefit of others.

The hope you should have isn't that the authors of the illusion finally one day lift the veil but rather the people figure out for themselves the emperors have no cloths. that their "wealth" is just a bunch of electronic signals that mean nothing. Only when the people stop looking to the "rich" for solutions and look within themselves will they appear. There isn't going to be a knight in shining armor riding down from the mountain of riches that is Davos and any hope for that will just lead to disappointment.