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As Planet Heats Further, Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe'

"Sleepwalking? Nah," remarked Naomi Klein, decrying the "Davos Class" policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship. "Pretty sure your eyes were wide open."

Fawley Oil refinery

The Fawley Oil refinery is seen on the Hampshire coast on August 4, 2010 in Fawley, England. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Ahead of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world's wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that's been called both the "money Oscars" and a "threat to democracy"—the group published a report declaring, "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe."

The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here."
—Naomi Klein, author and activist

While WEF has made a habit of recognizing the threat posed by the human-made climate crisis in its Global Risks reports—for which it has garnered some praise—author and activist Naomi Klein was quick to challenge the narrative presented in the latest edition (pdf), pointing out that many of the polices pushed by the very people invited to the exclusive event have driven the global crisis.

"Sleepwalking? Nah. The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here," she tweeted. "Pretty sure your eyes were wide open."

While Klein—who argued in her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate that "our economic system and our planetary system are now at war"—brought a critical eye to the report's warnings about the dangers of failing to limit global warming, others welcomed the attention given to the crucial issue.

WEF's Global Risks Perception Survey solicits input from nearly 1,000 "decision-makers" across government, big business, academia, and civil society, and aims to identify both short- and long-term threats to the international community.

"Extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, but our survey respondents are increasingly worried about environmental policy failure."
—WEF report

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Environmental threats—including extreme weather, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, natural disasters, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and man-made environmental disasters—dominate the top 10 lists for both likelihood and impact.

"Extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, but our survey respondents are increasingly worried about environmental policy failure," the report notes, acknowledging that "biodiversity loss is affecting health and socioeconomic development, with implications for well-being, productivity, and even regional security."

Responding in a statement, Marco Lambertini, director general of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International, said: "Recognition of the dangers posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is not enough. The science is clear: we need to see urgent and unprecedented action now."

"The consequences of not changing course are enormous not just for nature, but for humans. We depend on nature much more than nature depends on us," Lambertini added. "Global political and business leaders know that they have a major role to play in safeguarding the future of economies, businesses, and the natural resources we depend on."

"Recognition of the dangers posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is not enough. The science is clear: we need to see urgent and unprecedented action now."
—Marco Lambertini, WWF International

Concerns about governmental failure to adequately address the climate crisis declined among "the Davos Class" after world leaders came together to sign the Paris agreement, according to Reuters. But that changed after President Donald Trump took office and announced plans to ditch the accord, which aims to limit warming within this century to 1.5°C—a goal that experts say would require immediately phasing out fossil fuels.

Additionally, as Aengus Collins, the WEF report's author, told Reuters, "People... are beginning to understand increasingly the gravity of the situation and that the Paris agreement, even if fully implemented, cannot be seen as a panacea."

In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out a report detailing what the world could look like with that level of warming, and demanding "rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented" systemic reforms. That report has been followed by various studies outlining how the United States is "drilling toward disaster" with fossil fuel expansion while the oceans are warming and ice is melting at alarming rates.

Along with rising sea levels, the crisis has also featured devastating hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires. One analysis of last year's costliest climate-driven extreme weather events estimated that the top 10 storms, droughts, fires, and floods of 2018 caused at least $84.8 billion in damage, almost certainly an underestimate. Experts warn that as the planet warms, such events will become more common and powerful.

Despite warnings from the global scientific community and mounting public demands for a Green New Deal, Trump and his backers continue to downplay the threat and attack climate and environmental regulations. Although the president no longer plans to attend the Davos meeting due to the government shutdown he has forced over border wall funding, five members of his administration are supposedly still set to attend.

Regardless of whether the government reopens by next week, CNBC reports that "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the five-strong delegation which also includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination, Chris Liddell."

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