Why I Passed on My Invitation to Davos

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This year, for the first time, I was invited to Davos to attend a couple of panels and conferences. I passed on it, and not because of the ridiculously expensive (if available) hotel rooms!

Davos is where the World Economic Forum hosts its annual shindig. This is how it describes it:

“The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

It sounds like an ambitious program. This year, climate change and plastics were a couple of the big features on the agenda, but in the end, that would be the reason that I didn’t attend. Davos, in my opinion, is always too little, too late and chock-full of hypocrisy.

I was slightly interested when I heard about the climate change agenda. After all, I live in Florida, and over the last 30-odd years, I have certainly noticed changes in the climate, such as the rapid development of very strong hurricanes. One of my friends is also a top researcher on climate change at nearby Rollins College.

Then I read that the local airports would host more than 1,500 private jets.

How much more inappropriate and stupid can you get? Aircraft are a disproportionately higher contributor to greenhouse emissions than any other sector. While automobiles might collectively cause more damage, aviation accounts for as much as 9% of climate change from human activity.

According to one very well-respected think tank:

Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone.

The issue of plastics is also something that really bothers me. It should bother you as well. We live in a world that thrives on pollution of all sorts. I am as guilty as anyone else, but it must stop – or we’re going to choke on all the trash we create.

In 1967, more than 50 years ago, Mr. McGuire pulled a young Benjamin Braddock aside in the movie The Graduate. He said, “I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”

I have witnessed that future firsthand in the developing nations I have visited. Plastic bags littered every crevice of the cities and towns I visited in Africa; it is such a critical issue that more than 15 countries on the continent have since banned plastic bags outright.

In Bali, plastic waste washes up on the beach in waves. It isn’t an isolated issue: Globally, of the 9 billion tons of plastic produced since 1950, only 9% has been recycled.

Marine animals get caught up in plastic lines, and when the stomachs of whales that wash up on shore are cut open, there are gobs of plastic inside. For example, a dead whale on the coast of Spain was found with more than 60 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Unable to digest it, the whale’s stomach had finally ruptured.

So what did Davos do about this issue? It invited folks from Coca-Cola and Pepsi to speak on a panel about plastics.

Great. Why not invite the heads of tobacco companies to give a talk on lung cancer next year? I’ll pass, thank you.

We’ve got a lot of problems in the world today. Different ones matter to each of us, but it is inarguable that we have the responsibility to leave this world in better shape than it was in when we entered it.

What better way to begin to fulfill that obligation than to educate our own children and grandchildren about the environmental perils we face and the solutions we should embrace?

Investors today can build a healthy retirement by supporting a healthy world. Even small, everyday decisions can make a difference: Try buying glass, rather than plastic, containers; using cloth or paper bags for your groceries; skipping the straw; and using the tap to refill reusable water bottles instead of going through so much plastic each week.

With a choice that small, and an impact that large, there is no reason not to take the step.

Good investing,

Karim

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