Greta Thunberg speaks at last year’s annual meeting for the World Economic Forum. She’ll be speaking again this year.
Greta Thunberg speaks at last year’s annual meeting for the World Economic Forum. She’ll be speaking again this year.
Photo: Getty

For the first time ever, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has declared environmental issues as the world’s top long-term risks. The international organization isn’t just recognizing the deadly, terrifying climate crisis as a huge global threat, though.

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The report also recognizes the power the youth hold, and how the new wave of climate activism poses a threat to the bogus capitalist establishment—you know, the people showing up in Davos for WEF’s annual event next week—that’s ultimately at the heart of the climate crisis.

The Global Risks Report polls hundreds of experts around the world on the biggest threats to the world order. This year’s version lists extreme weather, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, and human-made environmental disasters as the world’s top five risks in terms of likelihood. In recent years, environmental issues have come to make up the majority on this list, but data fraud and cyberattacks have also made the list of risks. But this year’s report shows the world is finally at a point where nothing is more dangerous than the failure to act on climate.

“The political landscape is polarized, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning,” Borge Brende, World Economic Forum president, said in a statement. “This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks.”

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You know who world leaders should really start listening to? The teens! The report does that, surveying a network of young people (or “Global Shapers” in WEF’s terminology). They ranked the risks of climate catastrophe even higher on the scale than the report’s regular participants. The older you are, the less time you’ll spend in this climate hell. Teens have a lot of life left to live so naturally they feel more urgency.

That’s why they’ve taken to the streets to strike. That’s why they’ve stormed stages at international negotiations. That’s why they’re going after world governments. The mounting pressure on institutions to act is already starting to get results. Those results are just the beginning of the changes needed, and that’s why capitalist giants like WEF are sorta freaking out. In the report, the forum writes (emphasis added):

In the long term, the mobilization of youth could lead to a new green social contract reordering political and business life, as today’s striking children gradually become tomorrow’s voters, workers, investors, and consumers. Politicians will seek to attract them through policies such as the Green New Deal legislation that has been proposed in the United States. As today’s youth demand jobs that are compatible with their concern about climate change, workforce climate activism may become more common, and companies without strong environmental credentials could struggle for talent. Lastly, as consumers, the new generation of climate crusaders will make more sustainable lifestyle choices, such as eating plant-based diets or flying less, and demand more low-carbon goods.

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All those kids bailing on school to fight for a healthy climate will be deciding who runs the world by the end of the decade. Hell, they’ll be the ones running the world a lot sooner than we think. And their vision for the future is one that’s a lot different from what exists today.

A common refrain at climate strikes is “system change, not climate change.” Indeed, young people are more open to socialism according to WEF’s own polling in concert with Axios and Survey Monkey last year. At least part of that is because addressing climate change will require collective action. Even the personal choices young adults or others make like eating less meat or turning away from single-use plastic pose a risk to the status quo. In short, WEF knows we need to switch shit up. This is a bit rich coming from the heart of capitalism, but it also show the extent to which climate change could completely rearrange the way the world works.

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That transition will require a lot of work. But the risk of climate change is too great to ignore. The world’s energy system must pivot to renewables. Emissions need to drop. Banks gotta support this change because the economy needs to remain healthy during this transition. And let’s get Green New Deals popping all over the globe to ensure the transition is inclusive of everybody.

Sure, the capitalists fear the teens. But really they (and everyone else) should also listen to them.

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Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice, please. I'm addicted to Stardew and love few things more than I love my cat.

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