Why Davos loves Greta

The super-rich and powerful politicians love being told off by supposedly radical greens.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos


This week the so-called ‘1%’ , some of the world’s most influential people, will gather in Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. Politicians, big corporations, opinion-formers and activists will discuss how government, civil society and private actors can cooperate to tackle issues like income inequality and climate change. For the second year running, Greta Thunberg will be there. And this year, so will Micah White, social activist and co-founder of Occupy Wall Street.

White’s attendance has raised some eyebrows. Radical activists sitting at the same table as powerful governments and people from big business? Surely that makes them sellouts? Surely it shows that they are engaging in the 1%’s whitewashing of serious social and economic problems? That is what many, especially on the left, are saying. But this criticism is misleading. It overlooks the true character of both Davos and modern-day movements like Occupy and radical environmentalism.

Many people think Davos is a case of greedy capitalists and corrupt politicians meeting in dark rooms filled with cigar smoke – or, more realistically, with the scent of organic chai – and talking among themselves about how to become richer. Of course, big business and powerful politicians may well be plotting in Davos, and some crony deals will probably be on the agenda. But the real challenge they are engaged in is rather different – they are searching for a sense of purpose, of moral legitimacy.

Most capitalists have been convinced that making money and producing stuff is not purposeful enough. Apparently, it is too selfish and materialistic. Thus, they are constantly searching for a deeper meaning in their work, such as going greener, eliminating poverty or saving us from ‘fake news’ and online ‘hate speech’.

Politicians, meanwhile, feel more and more alienated from the ordinary people they are supposed to represent. They know that the average Joe does not share their cultural values or social-engineering goals. This is why they end up feeling more comfortable with activists like Greta Thunberg: she shares many of their views and celebrating her gives them a sense of legitimacy they cannot get from the likes of us. Her constant berating of them, on a stage they happily provide for her, is a price worth paying for their desire to appear important and driven.

Today’s ‘radical activists’, including Greta, don’t tell politicians to get out of our lives. Instead, they call on them to play a bigger role in our lives, whether by changing our eco-behaviour, censoring hateful speech or managing our health. And that is music to the political class’s ears. The ‘1%’ needs these activists.

And the activists need the 1%. Social movements have been a force for good when they have demanded more freedom and less discrimination from the powers-that-be. But they tend not to do that anymore. Now, many social activists ask the state to take freedom away from ordinary people.

The anti-globalisation movement, Occupy and modern environmentalism all fall into this category. They have some legitimate concerns, such as the struggles of people in developing countries or the challenges of a changing climate. But behind these concerns, we can see an agenda whereby these supposed representatives of ‘the 99%’ turn to the 1% to ask them to make sure the rest of us change how we live. Be it consuming less, going local, cutting down on read meat, not flying with budget airlines, or substituting cheap and reliable sources of energy for expensive and unreliable ones, what started as campaigns to ‘raise awareness’ have become demands that the powerful force ordinary people to change.

The activists in Davos are really lobbyists. Only where the average corporate lobbyist tries to get a tax cut or favourable regulation, these activist-lobbyists are campaigning for changes that will have negative effects on all of us, especially on the less well-off in the global south. Alienated from the masses, these activists feel more comfortable with technocrats, bureaucrats and administrators who are happy to ordain them as legitimate representatives of ‘civil society’.

The world is indeed facing many critical challenges. Yet the solution does not lie in the elites meeting in mountain chalets and deciding what is good for the rest of us. The solution lies in trusting in human agency and ingenuity, and giving it the breathing space of freedom to flourish. We can be certain this is one thing that Greta and the other activists in Davos will not be campaigning for.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a lecturer in sociology at York St John University and the author of The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: from New Left to Occupy. Follow him on Twitter: @Nikos_17

Picture by: Getty

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Marvin Jones

27th January 2020 at 2:06 pm

I wonder if Dumberg and her creators have a manifesto on what and how they would like the planet to look like and how technologically we would survive. Do they see us living in caves, not allowed to keep ourselves warm by burning wood, or utilising animal skin, how would the carpenter, plumber and builder get their tools to the jobs, how all the millions of trucks on our roads daily would deliver their goods, or how life would survive with 20 billion people on the planet. “Let there be light!” that’s one way I suppose?

Alan Howatt

22nd January 2020 at 10:45 pm

As I see it, this is simply a struggle for power, using the environment as a crutch to disguise that struggle. After all, Greta and her minders have written: ‘ After all, the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fuelled it. We need to dismantle them all.’

But she isn’t the first to hint that there is more to the climate crisis issue than a love for a return to Eden.

A decade ago, Dr Ottman Endenhofer, the IPCC Co-Chairman of Working Group 3 of the Climate Group said: ‘We (IPCC) redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has nothing to do with environmental policy anymore’.

The chicanery is well laid out in two books by Rupert Darwall. The Age of Global Warming and Green Tyranny. Highly recommended.

Brandy Cluster

22nd January 2020 at 7:27 pm

I read this and I see the news on this topic and I think of Professor Henry Higgins:
“They will listen very nicely
And go out and do precisely

Owen Gaffney

22nd January 2020 at 6:26 pm

Has it occurred to anyone that Greta was invited because the organisers actually care about these issues. I have worked with WEF colleagues for several years and every single one of them has a fantastic in depth knowledge of the science on the state of the planet and global economic dynamics. They know something must change and they are committed to driving it. What no one seems to realise (WEF’s best kept secret) is that it is no where near as influential as pundits like to say.

A second unrelated point is that the common complaint about Davos is that these elites should not meet at conferences. In what way will the world benefit if people from diverse industries don’t meet? It may not be the ideal format or location but surely you must accept that talking in person about issues facing the world is better than living in silos or fortresses.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 8:53 pm

So what is the science?

Marvin Jones

27th January 2020 at 12:07 pm

That god created the Universe and created mankind on earth but forgot to make use of the other limitless planets and Solar Systems. So, maybe he/she has had enough, and global warming is out demise.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 5:37 pm

Whatever you might think of Trump’s previous conduct, as alleged by his detractors, he does seem to have a knack for coming up with what will knock his opponents off balance, and that seems to resonate with everyone other than the woke and the elite.
As Corporal Jones was wont to say: ‘They don’t like it up ’em!”

James Knight

22nd January 2020 at 5:35 pm

The “radical activists” ARE “the 1%”.

Nobody needs to listen to eco clap-trap from scientific illiterates.

nick hunt

22nd January 2020 at 3:33 pm

Once the left loved, represented and defended the ordinary working people who created and funded so many of their political parties and movements. So they famously promised ‘power to the people’. But whether rich or poor, today’s leftist elite is united in fear and hate for the dumb deploreables and democracy, and so fight for more power over the people. The sad truth is that they are the treacherous elite seeking to control and exploit the working people now best represented and defended by anti-leftists and populists: Donald Trump in the USA, and now Boris Johnson in the UK.

Jeandarc Breon

22nd January 2020 at 3:25 pm

I do get the feeling that the way Spiked talks about green issues is designed only to appeal within an echo chamber. To those with no real skin in the game, their articles on the subject lack the kind of rigour and balance that might persuade those who haven’t actually already made their mind up, to change their mind. I mean, what’s the purpose here? Do you want influence or not?

Jim Lawrie

22nd January 2020 at 3:02 pm

The great appeal of the urgency of climate of crisis is that it leaves no time for democracy, which must be discarded. This dovetails with leaders of every hue jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon wit a climate change ticket, because, as we all know, his win at the ballot does not count because of the woodentops who voted for him.

Prince Charles and St Greta, together, hand in hand, looking down on their shivering subjects. A thicker duo it would be hard to imagine. If pairings like that at the top of society start to couple, then the future does look bleak.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 1:34 pm

I see Prince Charles is flying by private jet to meet St Greta ( has she lost weight ?) to talk about lowering carbon emissions.
The irony, oh the irony!

Anjela Kewell

22nd January 2020 at 1:31 pm

It seems that yet again Prince Charles gets sucked in by spoofs. His character discernment has certainly left much to be desired.

nick hunt

22nd January 2020 at 3:34 pm

Naive Harry too. Like father, like son?

David McAdam

22nd January 2020 at 1:08 pm

Grown adults surrendering what’s left of their ideologically ravaged rationale to the drivel of a wee lassie’s Bunty comic worldview.

Ven Oods

22nd January 2020 at 5:29 pm

Yours is the most succinct (and amusing) summary I’ve seen.

William Brown

22nd January 2020 at 12:46 pm

No doubt plotting on how to either avoid carbon tax or charge it.

Mark S

22nd January 2020 at 11:00 am

“White’s attendance has raised some eyebrows. ”

Why should it ? These people are no different from the fake ‘experts’ that the BBC peddles – There to tell us what the Establishment / Elite want us to hear.

Jonathan Yonge

22nd January 2020 at 10:33 am

“Doing a FOX” joins the lexicon of terms like “Jumping the shark”.
I think more people are going to realise that doing a Fox is better PR than trotting out the same old bilge which , apart from anything else, is as Laurence pointed out…..

Almost anything these days can be tolerated (and also in-tolerated) except for BOREDOM.

Trump was the first to do it and at Davos ! You may not like Trump, but you have to admit that he has a nose for his good publicity.

J Chilton

22nd January 2020 at 10:31 am

The only thing I’d add to Mr Sotirakopoulos’ excellent commentary is the ancient notion that wisdom comes out of the mouths of infants and fools – which is another incentive for the Davos mob to pay attention to Greta and Micah White.

nick hunt

22nd January 2020 at 3:37 pm

Wouldn’t we be fools to swallow that?

Dominic Straiton

22nd January 2020 at 10:28 am

Any leader taking orders from a dumb 16 year old shouldnt be leading anything.

Jonathan Yonge

22nd January 2020 at 10:46 am

Your are right… and any competent spinner will tell you that the ‘optics’ are terrible.
Everybody knows this. So the fact that it is happening tells you our elite have very bad judgement.
Nobody believes for one moment that Davos cares one jot for any of their worthy causes. Its all grandstanding.
Only Trump so far seems to have the noggin to read the runes.

Fred West

22nd January 2020 at 12:53 pm

She does not talk unscripted. Who writes the script?

Dominic Straiton

22nd January 2020 at 4:55 pm

The mental spawn of Fred West

nick hunt

22nd January 2020 at 3:38 pm

i heard Greta’s dumb Anti-Fa father scripts her speeches and Facebook comments

Hugh Bryant

22nd January 2020 at 9:57 am

When you take away all the self-serving rhetoric this is really just another symptom of the fundamental weakness of social democracy. Sooner or later the social democratic state collapses under the weight of all the vested interests trying to live off it. France, where the state consumes 60% of GDP, is leading the way.

The question then is what comes next? Will it be genuine democracy or the Corbyn/Sanders/Venezuela style of authoritarian corporatism. Watch this space?

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 8:53 am

The environmentalists do not care about the ‘developing countries’ they are calling for depopulation, as two cultists over here Packham and Attenborough will confirm. It’s the very opposite of what ‘developing countries need, you need labour and lots of it to develop industry and technology.
I would argue that the world today is the most comfortable and prosperous it has ever been. Poverty at an all time low, we can travel, we can heat our homes, we can eat good food, we can communicate easily via technology.. None of these were available to me as a small boy in the sixties. The development of our world, a product or indeed by product of capitalism is something to celebrate.
If the capitalists are looking for some noble cause they are blind, they have it already, the emancipation of the working man.

Geoff Cox

22nd January 2020 at 9:02 am

Jerry – I agree with the second half of your comment, but not the population bit. How can more people be a good thing for Bangladesh or Mexico? It just means more squalor and environmental degradation, more dependents and therefore costs to central government and further dilution of what wealth they actually generate.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:42 am

Geoff Cox
Thanks for your partial agreement!
Declining populations do not thrive, for an economy to grow you need a stable or growing population. I do not offer a personal view on the populations of Africa, China and India as that is a whole different subject in it’s own right, which is not the topic here.
I would however say that we had our own industrial revolution which have benefited greatly from and that we cannot deny others that same opportunity without being hypocritical and I will not put myself in that position.


22nd January 2020 at 9:45 am

Geoff, oddly enough I have been to Bangladesh on holiday (and there’s not many indigenous English people who can say that). In passing, if I’m inclined to grumble about my lot in life (which, like anybody else I am) I think back to the woman who I saw breaking bricks by hand as she sat beside a road solid with belching traffic in Dhaka. But that’s by the way. My point is that – as I see it – people are Bangladesh’s great resort. If only the country could give enough of them a really good, international standard, education, and a sense of belonging to Bangladesh as a country – a real sense of place if you like – things there could improve. But it’s almost certainly a forlorn hope.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 10:03 am

Further to your post Bangladesh and Mexico are bits of land nothing more nothing
less so really you are talking about human beings. You have to argue your case as to why we could have our industrial revolution and prosper from it and why others shouldn’t.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 10:20 am

Neil Datsun
You use the phrase ‘forlorn hope’ .. I tend to agree with that as it has been thus ever since I can remember, but why is it, and does it have to be like that, these are relevant important questions to be asked before we go down the depopulation route?

Philip Humphrey

22nd January 2020 at 9:34 am

And yet the environmental movement is strangely inconsistent even with its own goals. It refuses to call out the developing world for their increasing CO2 emissions, yet persists in castigating the West, despite the fact that western emissions are dropping fast because of better technology, the move from coal to gas, and the adoption of renewables. Western emissions would have been much lower but for the green movement’s campaign against nuclear power that they successfully stopped, leading to more coal, oil and gas being burned.
Yet overall CO2 emissions are rising because emissions are rising in the developing world and that more than cancels out reductions in the west. But on that subject, the green movement is largely silent.

Stephen J

22nd January 2020 at 9:40 am

Excuse me, is this plant food that we are talking about here?

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:58 am

You have destroyed your own argument . We have cut our Co2 ( not an issue btw) levels down due to our improving technology, when you have a technological society you then have the means and wealth to clean up after yourselves and make your environment better, there are signs that China is starting to do this. Fossil fuels are the cheapest and most efficient forms of energy, a good jump start to prosperity as it were.
African women have the shortest life of all due to cooking over wood fires, should they not have power plants and nuclear power plants in abundance over there to make their lives comfortable? We do know from history that once you are warm well fed and have time on your hands as opposed to working 24/7 just to survive in a hostile environment that you can become productive in society and create wealth, humans are after all creative creatures as a general rule of nature. Everybody or nobody has a right to the opportunity of self enrichment, which is it
Yes, nuclear should be embraced renewable a waste of time, for me a mixture of fossil fuels and nuclear would be ideal.
You mention gas.. that is a fossil fuel so I do not understand your point. Further the greens want rid of gas, so just how do you envisage us surviving our energy poverty in the future, because we will end up like African India and China if we go down the renewables route?

Jim Lawrie

22nd January 2020 at 6:38 pm

Jerry they are against us having access to abundant energy. Cheap, clean, dirty, expensive. It matters not.
They know renewable is beyond our means – that is what makes it attractive for them.

They want us off the roads, out of the airports, off the beaches, banished from the world’s great sites.

Geoff Cox

22nd January 2020 at 7:16 pm

Hi Jerry – these threads … confusing or what! Naturally a rising population will produce growth in an economy, but not necessarily an increase in quality of life. This is the key thing here. GDP is a meaningless measure. GDP per head is better, but even then still subject to gross manipulation through government spending / quoted inflation rate etc.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:03 pm

Yes Geoff they are confusing which is why I always insert a name I’m replying to as a matter of course.
Western Civilization has done remarkably well out of fossil fuels and the industrial revolution , I see no reason why others shouldn’t.
As I have stated there are signs that the Chinese are starting to clean up after themselves and their population is becoming wealthier and therefore happier and more comfortable.
If your concern is world population, then only you can decide who you think should live and who shouldn’t but that puts you in the Attenborough / Packam camp…not somewhere I can be!

Geoff Cox

23rd January 2020 at 9:27 am

Hi Jerry – well I am in the Pakham / Attenbrough camp when it comes to population but it doesn’t mean people have to die (as you, of course know)!

Jerry Owen

24th January 2020 at 5:49 pm

Geoff Cox
How do you decline the population of Africa .. that is a serious question not sarcasm !!

Stephen J

22nd January 2020 at 8:19 am

Nikos wrote: “Thus, they are constantly searching for a deeper meaning in their work, such as going greener, eliminating poverty (as if they could ever achieve that) or saving us from ‘fake news’ and online ‘hate speech’.”

Do you not think that to these people, the above are above all, marketing opportunities?

Philip Humphrey

22nd January 2020 at 7:47 am

Absolutely right about top politicians and business people (Donald Trump possibly excepted) not being able to relate to ordinary people and being hostile to their basic values. And that they share much in common with radicals and activists including Thunberg. They are the “anywheres” as described by David Goodhart who have no loyalty to place or culture and want to radically change things. The populist revolt against them is led by the “somewheres”, ordinary people who are strongly rooted in their place and culture and inherently conservative. It is indeed much easier for the elites to listen to Thunberg’s diatribes and to include her in their clique than it is for them to relate to ordinary people.

Jerry Owen

22nd January 2020 at 9:00 am

I suspect that Trumps visions go ever the heads of most politicians, let’s face it they are not very clever are they?
This is why they like the dim witted simpleton Thunberg, she speaks politic speak ie soundbites, the politicians favoured form of communication these days.
I will be listening to Trumps full speech tonight at Davos on YT. I have read some excerpts of what he has said and they certainly cast him as someone who has a positive outlook of mankind, a belief I hold.


22nd January 2020 at 10:02 am

Philip, I agree that the ‘anywhere’ and ‘somewhere’ distinction is of critical importance (at the higher level, rather than the sense that Goodhart meant it, which is surely younger mobile types, few of whom can afford to remain internationally mobile after they have children and family responsibilities). Very nearly all of us are condemned to being ‘somewheres’ but there must be such glory to being an ‘anywhere’ like the CEO of Megacorp Int, the President of Kleptoland, Greta Thunberg or Christine Lagarde.

The antidote to their growing power and influence is surely locally based democracy, in which the electorate are aware of their rights and responsibilities. No taxation without representation, no ‘government spending’ without taxation.

Geoff Cox

23rd January 2020 at 9:32 am

Hi Neil – I’m replying here but in answer to your “I’ve been to Bangladesh” comment. I think you make a very good point – forlorn or not – about giving Bangladeshi people a sense of nation which may encourage some community spirit to do something about the quality of life for themselves and their neighbours. The problem is that Bangladesh is a new concept without a recent national history (except their war with Pakistan which demonstrate some patriotic feeling – or was it just a simple power grab by wannabe dictators?). Their other big problem is religion – ’nuff said!

nick hunt

22nd January 2020 at 3:54 pm

Trump certainly restated his ‘America First’ philosophy to the nowhere people at Davos: “Every decision we make on taxes, trade, regulation, energy, immigration, education is focused on improving the lives of everyday Americans.” I’m sure the globalists also hated his delicious reminder that ‘A nation’s first duty is to protect its own citizens’. But the globalists are the enemy or nations: A people’s president must prioritise his people over pretty ideology. Trump could never insult law-abiding US citizens as ‘bitter clingers’ or ‘deploreables’.

Jim Lawrie

22nd January 2020 at 6:47 pm

“We are a globalist company” screamed Google when the embargo on Huawei affected them “We should be exempt”. But when other countries steal their tech, they suddenly are all American, expecting the full weight of The USA behind the task of righting that kind of wrong. How Donald Trump must have laughed at them.

Michael Green

22nd January 2020 at 3:03 am

All signalling, no virtue.

Brandy Cluster

22nd January 2020 at 7:27 pm

All tip, no iceberg.

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