An outcry followed the refusal of World Bank President David Malpass to make a profession of faith on climate change. The New York Times reported (“World Bank leader accused of climate denial offers new response», September 22, 2022):
The uproar began on Tuesday when Mr Malpass refused to say at a New York Times public event whether the burning of oil, gas and coal was causing climate change.
Speaking on stage during a discussion on what industrialized countries owe developing countries struggling with climate problems, Mr Malpass was asked to respond to a remark made earlier in the day by the former vice -President Al Gore, who called the World Bank President a “climate denier”. Pressed three times, Mr Malpass would not say whether he accepted that man-made greenhouse gas emissions have created a deepening crisis that is already leading to more extreme weather.
“I’m not a scientist,” he said.
As the NYT headline above suggests, Mr. Malpass’s burst of dignity was short-lived. He quickly went online and confessed his social heresy. But, as with witches in the 16th and 17th centuries, admitting he slept with the devil did not earn him forgiveness. (See also “World Bank chief under pressure to resign over climate change doubts“, FinancialTimes, September 22, 2022; and “World Bank’s David Malpass says he won’t resign amid criticism over his views on climate“, the wall street journalSeptember 23, 2022.)
His answer “I’m not a scientist” makes some intellectual sense. That the climate is changing due to human activity is a valid question, but we shouldn’t necessarily accept the answer of politicized scientists for money. Their professional future and perhaps their daily bread depends on their respect for the reigning political vulgate pushed by power-hungry governments and complicit activists all over this dear land of ours. Agnosticism may be the best attitude.
“Science” can make mistakes. As Karl Popper argued, every scientist’s obsession is, or should be, with falsifying hypotheses. A scientific theory or “law” remains a tentative conclusion. (See Poppers The logic of scientific discovery [Harper & Row, 1959, 1968]). And social engineering in the name of science is a recipe for disaster. In the early 20th century, for example, mainstream biologists and medical scientists, including public health experts, supported eugenics. Under US state eugenics laws, in effect between 1907 and 1980 depending on the state, 65,000 mostly poor women were forcibly or fraudulently sterilized under the cloak of science (see sources in my article “Economic reflections on abortion”).
A the wall street journal editorial (Steve Milloy, “David Malpass’s climate change lesson for GOP candidates“, the wall street journalSeptember 26, 2022) maliciously reminds that
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson refused to define the word “woman” during her confirmation hearings, pleading, “I’m not a biologist.”
To keep a cool head, let’s also remember that climate change has followed the “population bomb“, the “hole in the ozone layer” and “global warming”, among other fears. But we must of course keep an open mind (see my opinion on Tyler Cowen Tenacious attachmentswhere I may not have been critical enough).
Another thing to remember is that the World Bank is already helping governments in poor countries to mitigate or adapt to the presumed consequences of climate change. A World Bank report published in 2021, edited by Mr. Malpass, The World Bank’s NDC Support Facility: Impacts and Lessons Learned in Support of NDC Implementation (NDC stands for Nationally Determined Contribution under the 2015 Paris Agreement), boasted:
The World Bank Group is the largest multilateral funder of climate investments in developing countries, having committed $83 billion in climate-related investments over the past five years.
In a scathing op-ed on attempts to further the World Bank’s submission to the agenda of environmental activists, the the wall street journal recalls what is the main function of the World Bank (“A blow to the political climate of Gore-Kerry», September 25, 2022):
The main task of the World Bank is to reduce poverty. This requires energy, which is still today the most efficient and affordable provided by fossil fuels. Yet Mr. Kerry [Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate] recently warned African leaders against investing in long-term natural gas production, as if they had an alternative if they wanted to grow. …
The World Bank has had enough trouble over the years to lend to corrupt governments and failing projects. But if it is to exist, it must remain focused on its mission of promoting growth in poor countries to reduce poverty. It should not be hijacked by rich country climate lobbyists for their own political ends.
It seems that the attack on Mr. Malpass is neither scientific nor rational.
We can add that if all poor countries had had laissez-faire governments and proper legal institutions like Hong Kong after 1945, they would probably now be at least as rich as Hong Kong (which has a real GDP per capita equivalent to 92 % of the US level, according to data from the Maddison Project) and would not need World Bank assistance to deal with a potential disaster.