Davos - Day Zero

Reporting from Davos, on the eve of the World Economic Forum, Don Carlson delves into the polarizing event attended by global leaders and experts. 

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This week I’m writing from Davos, Switzerland, on the eve of the World Economic Forum – the notorious annual gathering of business leaders, heads of government, and experts from around the globe. Davos is hailed by its fans as the nexus of healthy collaboration among world powers and protested by others as the source of evil and the lair of greedy capitalists. I spent half an hour today talking to a large and very polite group of “save the earth” protesters today in the central square. They had some very good points and were open to hearing about how capitalism can be repurposed to save the planet rather than destroy it. And they were serving hot, hearty, excellent soup.


My 5 goals this week are:

  • To learn as much as I can about new frontiers in sustainable business practices, carbon reduction initiatives, and new technologies for combatting climate change.
  • To hear firsthand from experts on pathbreaking new research into the therapeutic uses of psychedelics to treat afflictions of anxiety like PTSD, severe depression, and OCD.
  • To learn about the cultivation of mindfulness and how it can be deployed to address the global mental health crisis and in creative new approaches to leadership.
  • To explore the problem of rigid orthodoxy in higher education and discover ways to bring our universities more in synch with the larger society.
  • To foster important conversations about protecting democracy from authoritarian threats around the world and to bring our own government more into alignment with true democratic ideals back at home.


Before the conference even starts some of those goals are already on the way to fulfillment. Just asking for help on buying a wall outlet adapter today at the local electronics store, I met the founder of a Brazilian company, MOMBAK, that is reforesting degraded land in the Amazon rain forest to remove carbon from the atmosphere. He was glowing because he had just landed the world’s most valuable company – Microsoft as of yesterday – as his biggest client. That single deal will result in 30 million newly planted trees reforesting 70,000 acres.


Ten minutes later I met the chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights who is representing the families of Ukrainian children being kidnapped by the Russian Army as well as the families of the hostages taken by Hamas in their terrorist attack on Israel. (He solved my wall outlet adapter dilemma – truly a man of many talents!)  Moments after that I met the organizers of the “Swedish Lunch” which aims to help all countries of the world advance their journey toward better alignment with democratic values. (They quickly got me off the waitlist and onto the guest list for their coveted event.)  The day ended with a long dinner conversation with the leading researcher from Imperial College of London on his latest findings on how psychedelic drugs affect brain function. Taken together with the protesters, I stumbled across a lot of good teachers today. Not bad for a first afternoon.


Davos is controversial. Half of the “one world government” conspiracy theories find their roots in this assemblage of CEOs, prime ministers, royalty, and tycoons in this tiny Swiss town. And it’s true that the wealthy and powerful who gather here consume most of the world’s resources and emit most of the world’s carbon and other environmental pollution. It’s also true that they are the people best positioned to make real and lasting change  . . .  if they choose to do so. This is my first experience of Davos, and I’m curious to explore how those truths balance out in the week ahead.


If any of these topics catch your attention, I hope you’ll check out my ongoing posts from Davos this week.

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