‘Going to Davos is probably reputational suicide’

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Micah White

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Micah White wants to orchestrate “a massive climate mobilisation” that involves hundreds of millions of people and governments

One of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Micah White, has said his decision to attend Davos, a conference for the ‘global elite’, is “probably reputational suicide”.

“Within the activist culture there’s an assumption that nothing good can come from that space,” he told the BBC.

But Mr White thinks marches and “denouncing the elites” are not going to help combat climate change.

Instead, he now believes in forging a link between “activists and elites”.

“It was not an easy choice to accept the invitation because it goes against contemporary activist understanding of how change should be achieved,” he said.

But, he added: “The global challenges that we face right now require a new attitude amongst activists and a new attitude amongst elites – and maybe we can start to get there at places like Davos.”

Mr White, who holds a doctorate in media and communications, was one of the architects of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which encouraged protesters to camp out in New York’s financial centre in opposition to economic inequality. He now runs the Activist Graduate School, an online school for activists.

Speaking to Radio Four’s Today programme, he said continuing to pursue traditional forms of activism, like demonstrations, would no longer have an effect. “The environmentalist movement has been trying those things since the 70s and it has not worked.”

And he will not be the only climate activist to attend Davos this year. Greta Thunberg is due to deliver combative message on climate change in speech on Tuesday.

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Ronald Patrick

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Greta Thunberg joined a climate march that was headed to the Swiss ski resort

Whereas Ms Thunberg has tried to avoided public transport in her trek to the resort in the Alps, Mr White confessed that he would fly to the conference from his home in New York.

But he said that his decision to make the trip was not a sign that he had been “compromised”.

“There’s a way to keep your revolutionary integrity, to maintain these people as adversaries but say we need a united front with them,” he said.

He believes the biggest challenge in the coming decade will be orchestrating “a massive climate mobilisation” that involves hundreds of millions of people, governments, civil society and activists.

And Mr White said Davos was the sort of event where an initiative of that scale could be negotiated. He revealed that activists had secured an “off record” session with industry leaders about “trying to get a mobilisation going”.

“We need to work with them at least on this specific goal of a climate mobilisation.”

He maintained that public denunciations did not work at Davos. “That’s the knee-jerk activist tactic and i think it misunderstands what Davos really is.”