WEF can be part of process of change

Okay, let’s cut to the chase.

I’m in favour of the World Economic Forum holding its annual meeting in Whistler in 2004.

There was a lot of emotion spent and a lot of steam blown off last week – within council chambers and throughout Whistler – when the World Economic Forum issue was finally discussed publicly. But now things seem to have settled down somewhat. It’s amazing how talking helps. No wonder psychiatrists get big money.

Certainly there are concerns about security, protesters and the possibility of violence if Whistler does host the WEF. The protesters are part of the meeting, and there has to be a plan to accommodate them; I have no idea about the details of the plan but it was suggested by the mayor they might be allowed to protest on the driving range.

Regardless of where the protests are held, security measures would have some negative impact on businesses and restriction of movement around the village. Without knowing the details of security plans it’s difficult to say how severe that impact would be. This is still the biggest unknown surrounding the WEF meeting.

But assuming we could live with the security measures, do we want these people here?

The suggestion has been made that the WEF is composed of unscrupulous business and political leaders who are largely responsible for the sorry state of the world today. No doubt some of the 1,000-odd WEF members fit that description.

But in the six months since Sept. 11, I haven’t felt as optimistic about the state of the world as I did when I was in New York at this year’s WEF meeting. You may say that was the whole idea; get a local reporter into the WEF meeting, give him a taste of what New York and some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world live like and he’ll buy into it.

Maybe. But my take from inside the WEF meeting was that these are people that need to get together if there is to be any progress made on issues like poverty, hunger and health. There wasn’t consensus on how to solve the world’s myriad problems, but there was recognition that these problems need to be addressed at grass roots levels. Opening up Western economies to goods from developing countries, providing free vaccinations against disease in Third World countries, AIDS education programs in rural Africa – of course everyone agreed these were worthwhile pursuits. But it seemed to me there was a sense these problems have to be taken seriously, immediately. And these were the people who could do something about it.

It may well be that this was the first year the WEF conference displayed a social conscience. It was undoubtedly influenced by Sept. 11 and by the New York setting. Whether social issues remain on the WEF agenda is up to every one of us. It’s up to us to make sure that our leaders and representatives follow through on their talk and promises. Nothing is accomplished by staying silent. And that’s why the protesters need to be part of the WEF meeting.

It has been suggested that rather than a WEF meeting Whistler should host a forum on sustainability. If that were to happen, a lot of the same people who attend the WEF meeting would – or should – be involved.

Why should Whistler host this conference? Whistler has a lot of other things to do to get its own house in order. It certainly doesn’t have to do this.

But one of the things Whistler has recognized, through the sustainability initiative for instance, is that we are not here in isolation. We have to take responsibility for ourselves and for the world around us. That isn’t an easy thing to do; there are obstacles to some problems that are bigger than any one of us. For example, if we were to chose to be less dependent on fossil fuels, how would we go about that? The system is so large and so established that it’s difficult to move outside of it and live in a manner without consuming fossil fuels.

There is no magic answer, but we have to move in the direction we think will lead to solutions. And there aren’t any solutions without dialogue. As Natural Step founder Karl-Henrik Robert said this week, corporations, cities and countries are abstract concepts that don’t really exist; they are made up of people. And people can change the world.


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