DAVOS, Switzerland (CN) – As President Donald Trump strode from the helicopter through a snow-covered field surrounded by the towering Alps, reporters were less interested in his imminent speech to global leaders at the World Economic Forum and more interested in getting his thoughts on the impeachment trial.
Calling it a “witch hunt that’s been going on for years” the president made his way briskly toward the Congress Centre to give a speech in the opening session of the forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The anticipation for the president’s speech was palpable throughout the morning, as measured by the throngs of attendees making their way briskly through the streets of Davos on the sunny but cold morning.
Inside, many of the attendees eager to capture a glimpse of the president were disappointed as they were shunted to one of several overflow rooms.
Trump delivered one of the more grandiloquent speeches of his administration, eschewing his typical insults and improvisational riffs for a measured talk that focused on America’s economic success under his stewardship.
“We’ve regained our stride,” he said. “We’ve regained our spirit and reawakened the powerful machinery of American enterprise.”
But Trump also delivered an alternative vision of how the world should tackle climate change and other environmental issues, talking about how to harness the power of free markets rather than succumbing to government control.
This year’s World Economic Forum, the 50th, is intently focused on climate change. Several government and business leaders have characterized the current moment as an international crisis that must be met with urgency and collaboration.
The phrase “ACT ON CLIMATE” was stamped in huge letters in the snow just up the slope from Davos, in plain view of the arriving trains.
“The world is on fire and we can’t leave the work to the firemen alone,” said Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the Swiss Confederation, who spoke just moments before Trump.
But Trump didn’t say the phrase ‘climate change’ a single time, only alluding to the subject.
He began characteristically by lashing out at those who harbor what he characterized as overly pessimistic views.
“Fear and doubt is not a good thought process because this is a time for tremendous hope and joy and optimism and action,” he said. “But to embrace the optimism of tomorrow we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”
The reference to young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg – whom Trump has mocked several times on Twitter – and others was unmistakable.
Thunberg also spoke at the forum on Tuesday, saying “pretty much nothing has been done” about curtailing global emissions. She used her time in a panel to lay out the science of carbon emissions, saying at the current rate of emissions, the planet has about eight years before irreversible damage to the atmosphere occur.
Trump attempted to cast Thunberg’s concerns and those of most scientists as akin to past predictions like overpopulation, mass starvation, the end of oil and other such concerns.
“They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers,” Trump said.
Instead, the president offered an alternative solution for climate change, saying the countries that unleash the power of technology and innovation through free-market solutions are destined to solve the pressing global problems quicker and more reliably than countries that attempt to solve problems through regulation.
“We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy and wreck our country,” Trump said.
The regulation-free economies will innovate their ways to a solution, the president said.
In one moment, Trump used uncharacteristically soaring rhetoric to describe the great marvels of the European cities built by craftsmen and laborers during the Renaissance – trying to use that time of unprecedented technological and commercial growth as an analog for the present moment.
He mentioned Il Duomo in the Italian city of Florence, noting that the city undertook the initial construction before it possessed the engineering acumen to ensure its completion.
“While the technology did not yet exist their designs city fathers forged ahead anyway certain that they would figure it out someday,” Trump said. “The citizens of Florence did not accept limits to their high aspirations.”
At a global event where most attendees at least try to signify concern about carbon emissions, a warming planet, and the pressing need to transition to a carbon-free energy system, Trump’s speech was remarkable in its advocacy for advocating a continuing commitment to fossil fuels and the attendant emissions while trusting a “vibrant market economy” to generate solutions to the pressing problems such emissions create.
Trump did not entirely scorn the environmental focus of the global summit, touting America’s record clean air and water – a frequent if not entirely accurate talking point for the president – and promising to join the 1 trillion trees initiative created by the World Economic Forum.
That announcement generated the most robust applause of the appearance, as the speech was punctuated with a tepid round of applause, as was the president’s appearance on stage.
He did not make a single mention of renewable energy sources.
It’s unlikely that many or any of the attendees will adopt the president’s stance on climate change and the array of potential solutions, but judging by the rows of private planes photographed and posted to social media, many of the CEOs in attendance at the forum either wholeheartedly agree with his views or at least behave as though they do.