For the last few days people have been flocking to the elite resort of Davos, Switzerland, where every year the World Economic Forum is held. Climate change activists also converge, but how can they persuade industry and governments to listen to science data? Rob La Frenais talked to activists present in Davos.
For the last few days people have been flocking to the elite resort of Davos, Switzerland, where every year the World Economic Forum is held. Some people arrive by private plane and military transport although it is possible to get there by train, or walk even. At Davos today Trump once again flailed against that constant flea in his ear, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who made person of the year in Time Magazine, attempting to borrow the rhetoric of science. “To embrace the possibilities of tomorrow we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and predictions of apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers” I think those are scientists he’s talking about. Thunberg, in her speech, upped the game further, rejecting as yet unproven technologies and offsetting. “We don’t need net zero, we need real zero”. She continued to go on to a session hosted by CNN Business where she continued to quote the actual numbers needed to reverse the situation despite the many ‘human interest’ questions.
“I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?”
Here’s a clip from my speech addressing the #WorldEconomicForum in Davos today. Full speech here: https://t.co/qAJIqYXxhd#WEF2020 pic.twitter.com/8Ev3HqRY7d
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) January 21, 2020
Open Banking and Climate Change
So how can we use big data to help us get to ‘real zero?’ And how do we persuade industry and governments to listen to this data? Gavin Starks, former astrophysicist, artist and now a climate entrepreneur officially represented at the World Economic Forum has launched a high level (CEO and ministerial level) session to work out just this. Calling himself a ‘data plumber’, his organisation Icebreaker One has just announced its inclusion in the ‘20 top multi-stakeholder processes in 2020 for a digital ecosystem’ as part of the United Nations Environment Programme. Alongside the University of British Columbia, the UN is calling for a digital ecosystem for Earth, harnessing the digital revolution to drive transformation towards global sustainability, environmental stewardship and human wellbeing”.
— IcebreakerOne (@IcebreakerOne) January 21, 2020
The EU is advancing clearer language for green finance—this is a sign of positive engagement and leadership.
— IcebreakerOne (@IcebreakerOne) January 21, 2020
18 years ago I worked with Starks on Marko Peljhan’s groundbreaking Makrolab in the Highlands of Scotland, along with Makery editor Ewen Chardronnet. How did he get from there to here? Starks: “18 years ago I was at Makrolab. How I got there is a big question in of itself. How I got from there to this…? I’ve no idea how to write that down. Writing it programatically it looks like this: Astrophysics (+music) ➤ Music (+science) ➤ Jodrell Bank (+music) ➤ Virgin Net (+Megastores+VirginRadio +ThatBalloon+Dgen+IWA) ➤ Tornado (+AmbientTV+Makrolab +Radioqualia+ResonanceFM+Binary Dust) ➤ Servecast (+Exequo+AssetTV) ➤ Consolidated Independent (+HCM+RinseFM+Climate Aid/Global Cool+AMEE) ➤ AMEE (+midata) ➤ ODI (+Open Banking+MoJ +SmartLondon+Longplayer) ➤ Constellation (Blue Ventures+Provenance +CupClub+TISC+Yoti+Soniverse) ➤ Icebreaker One (+Open Finance) … and now I’m at Davos.”
“There is one thread – data – that runs though all of this. My training was to interpret it, to understand, at macro and micro scales how the universe works. I suppose the diversity of the journey I seem to have gone on has been all about asking similar questions: how does this work at large and small scales, why and to what ends? Equally, growing up in a small village on an island off the West Coast of Scotland, there was a very strong sense of community – if something was broken, the only people who could put it right was us. I had a sense of agency in the environment I grew upon in.”
His ‘Constellation’ Whatsapp group is a lively one, ranging from government to industry employees trying to work out solutions through initiatives like Open Banking. I asked Starks how the session he is organising at WEF, which is very high level, can relate back to or emerge from DIY or lab culture. How does democratisation of data connect with this? “ The short answer is, in terms of individual impact – we all buy into financial products and services, we need to ask our providers how they are managing a net-zero portfolio. We’d like them to be more transparent about how they are doing this. And how they are going to help stimulate innovation. One of the significant things is the power of the consumer given they now own their data. Open Banking is a huge change. But the big challenge is that while it has ‘consumer impact’, it’s actually a b2b standard, driven by government and industry… and hard to make that meaningful to individuals even if they all use it… it’s more akin to saying ‘can we all have USB sockets please rather than thousands of proprietary cables’ (v useful but not very interesting).The real innovation in Open Banking is that there are nearly 400 fintech companies making things using it… And even framing it as getting the web-of-data right, doesn’t sound right – in the same way talking about the web in the mid-90s was really fun for a relatively small number of people…but has had vast impact. So, I think we’re the ‘data plumbers’ and I hope lots of people can make great things once we’ve helped connect the data infrastructure together in a way that’ll make it usable.”
Icebreaker One launches today at #Davos2020 with a £1m fund to develop urgently needed climate-ready financial products with Aon, Arup, Agvesto, Bird & Bird, Brit Insurance, Dais LLP, Lloyd’s Register Group and the University of Cambridge https://t.co/2Xzu7nXVhx pic.twitter.com/eJa0khjv7c
— IcebreakerOne (@IcebreakerOne) January 22, 2020
‘World Economic Failure!’
Meanwhile, on the outside, there was a dramatic 3-day hike of a thousand people from Zurich to Davos organised by Extinction Rebellion Switzerland, under the banner ‘World Economic Failure!’.
Hundreds of people marching to Davos: This is #strikeWEF, a 3-day demonstration starting today in Switzerland to protest for climate justice and against World Economic Forum #WEF20. Lightly snowing.@tazgezwitscher pic.twitter.com/RXG1Ai3YZU
— Anett Selle (@anettselle) January 19, 2020
En route, they gathered in Klosters where they were interviewed by the BBC, among other media outlets. I spoke to one of the hikers, Alexandra Gavilano, just as she arrived in Davos tonight. Was it a success? Did they have to split up on the last day? “Yes it was good. Some of us did a one hour road block and then others kept walking.” Others arrived at Davos on skis to gather with fellow protestors.
Of course there was nowhere for the hikers to stay in a resort where it was rumoured it was being charged €5000 a night to sleep on a floor. One solution was ‘Arctic Base Camp – motto “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”. This is now an annual manifestation at Davos where a team of arctic scientists pitch tents in from of a hotel in Davos and sleep in them, including last year, Greta Thunberg. Arctic Basecamp: “We set up a real Arctic science basecamp, with an expedition tent which acts as our workplace during the day and our dormitory at night, camping in sub-zero temperatures to bring a message of global risk to the world leaders at the WEF.
— DW Business (@dw_business) January 19, 2020
All scientists volunteer their time.” They will set up live-streamed events with scientists actually working in the Arctic for the WEF. It reminds me how, 18 years ago, with a primitive and expensive satellite link, artists and scientists on Makrolab, from the remoteness of the Scottish Highlands, were able to set up live transmissions with the equally remote scientists overwintering on bases in Antarctica.
Follow Arctic Base Camp on Twitter.